Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Most Unimpressive

Twins 1, White Sox 0
Like every other Fantasy Baseball owner (who didn't drop him), I had Francisco Liriano on the bench for this game. So, naturally, the SOB pulls out the 1st CG shutout of his career. On the way to that, he managed to hand out another 6 BB while striking out only 2. My league scores those, so in that sense I'm glad I had him on the bench. But Liriano managed to get 27 outs from 24 balls in play, pitching the 1st no-hitter for the Twins since Eric Milton's in September of 1999. (I was working nights in those days, and that game started at 11:00 AM on a Saturday in order to accommodate a Gopher football game that night, so I slept through it. Yet another reason to be glad the Twins are out of the Metrodome.)

According to Game Scores, this was about the most unimpressive no-hitter in the last 30 years. Of course, that's like me saying that the 2006 Cardinals are the worst team ever to win a World Series. I'm sure that really bugs them every time they put their rings on. Things had been so bad for Liriano - his spot in the rotation was apparently in jeopardy - and for the Twins as a whole. They needed something good to happen, anything to spark them out of their slump. And while DIPS people will discount this accomplishment as a quirk of luck, I would remind them that the balls the Sox put in play were generally pretty poorly hit. How much of that is a credit to Liriano and how much a result of facing a Sox lineup that is every bit as cold as the Twins' I don't know. But anytime a pitcher can hold a team of Major League batters hitless for a full 9 innings, the guy probably deserves some props.

The control problems Liriano continued to show certainly don't make me any more confident about what he'll be able to give in his next start. I'm very much hoping that the Twins will use Thursday's off day to give him some extra rest, starting Nick Blackburn on regular rest for Monday's finale in Boston. After throwing 123 pitches, I'm sure he could use an extra day. And I'd much rather have him pitching at home against the Tigers. Because if he walks 6 against the Red Sox, he's going to get killed.

During his meetings with pitching coach Rick Anderson between starts, it was determined that Liriano would avoid using his 2-seamer for awhile. That's his GB pitch, and it was immediately missed, as he gave up more flies than grounders for just the second time this season. But most of those flies came off his changeup, and they tended to be popups. Mixed in properly, it can obviously be an effective pitch, especially if he can get back to getting swings-and-misses with his slider on the other side of the plate. He still needs to do a much better job of throwing strike one, though: he started 19 of 30 plate appearances in this game with a ball.

Whatever you think of the quality of this performance, it was absolutely necessary, because the Twins still can't hit a lick. Jason Kubel excepted, of course. His HR accounted for the only run of the game. I liked the aggressiveness I saw on the bases, though. Danny Valencia tested Juan Pierre's noodle arm and stretched a single into the game's only 2B. And though he was thrown out thanks to a friendly bounce off the wall, Alexi Casilla was right to try to gain second after Edwin Jackson threw past 1st on Casilla's 2-out bunt single. Even after the power comes online, the Twins won't be their best unless they force the issue like that.
These 2 free-falling teams each battled to be the one to give this game away. The Sox managed a whopping 6 H in this one, despite facing a starter in Blackburn who has averaged 9+ H/9 for his career so far. The Twins' pitchers helped them make up for that by issuing 5 BB and 3 HBP. The Sox declined that generosity by getting picked off, caught stealing, and hitting into 2 DPs.

For their part, the Sox gave the Twins 4 BB, an extra base on an error, and a critical gift base hit when Omar Vizquel failed to cover 1B on Matt Tolbert's sac bunt. The Twins reciprocated by getting picked off twice and caught on an attempted steal of 3B with 2 outs. The Vizquel gaffe proved to be the difference in the game, though, as the Twins used that extra out to score 2 R. But they gave one of them back in the 8th with a Drew Butera PB. C'mon, which of you guys wants to lose this game most? Attaway, White Sox.

Though the Twins did basically nothing in this series to show that they are on their way out of the woods, they did establish that their recent dominance over the Sox and at US Cellular Field is still in play for 2011. Let that be in everybody's heads the next time these 2 teams connect. For the time being, the Twins proved conclusively that they are not the most unimpressive team in the division. And that makes me damn proud.

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