Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Five Hole

Calling the fifth spot in the Twins' lineup the "five hole" is extremely fitting; it has been an abysmal hole in the team's batting order all season long. While Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have both put up gaudy on-base percentages in the 3 and 4 spots, the player following them in the order (usually Torii Hunter) has simply failed to bring them in most of the time.

Take today's game. The Twins won and managed to salvage some dignity by avoiding a home sweep against the Rangers thanks to a timely three-run homer from Shannon Stewart. The shot by Stewart in the 6th which hit the foul net broke a 2-2 tie and gave the Twins a 5-2 lead which would stick. Still, the offense wasn't what I would call dazzling. Tonight's 5-hole culprit was Lew Ford, playing in place of the banged up Hunter. If Ford has many more games like today, he's going to have his signature "Lewww" chant replaced with "Boooo". In the first inning, with runners on first and third with one out, Ford killed the Twins' potential rally by grounding into an inning-ending double play. Thus, after loading the bases with no outs, the Twins only collected one measly run in the first inning. In his next two at-bats he fouled out. The one time Ford did reach base, he was thrown out by a mile trying to steal. He also made terrible play in center, losing a ball in the lights and letting it drop a foot or two behind him for a double. It doesn't exactly give us the home field advantage when our players have more trouble dealing with fly balls than our opponents.

Something must be done, because right now this team simply does not look like a contender. I'm not going to say that their offensive performance today was terrible, they had 11 hits (though 8 came from just three players), but over the past week they have not been hitting well enough to win. They are putting way too much pressure on the pitching staff, and in my opinion, the problems all start with that lack of production in the five-spot. I have brought this up in the past, and my suggestion is to move Mauer to fifth in the lineup so that Morneau will have some protection. There is no reason for a pitcher to throw anything hittable to Morneau when Ford is hitting behind him. With Mauer hitting fifth, the third spot in the lineup could be occupied by Hunter. Torii's main problem seems to be terrible pitch selection, he swings at too many balls. Hitting in front of the M&M boys, pitchers would be forced to throw him strikes because they couldn't afford to put him on with those two coming up. Of course, in this situation, Jacque Jones would probably have to slide down in the order because you wouldn't want three straight lefties in the lineup, but his hitting has been absolutely miserable lately, I think any change for him would be a good thing. The day before Juan Rincon was suspended, I wrote an article saying that were the All-Star balloting to be completed that day, Jones was a lock for the All-Star team with his .352 batting average and .467 OBP. Now, three days after Rincon's 10-day suspension has ended, Jones is hitting below .300. That is a despicable plummet. I don't know what happened to that selectiveness he was showing in April (he had three strikeouts today).

Anyway, now that I'm done with that rant, I'll move on to the positives.

-I noticed in this series that Shannon Stewart has made a subtle change to his batting stance, and I gotta say, it seems to be working. Shannon used to have a much more open stance, with his left foot out towards third base, but he now has tucked his front foot in for more of a straight stance. The results have been good, Stewart seems to be exploding on the ball more, as evidenced by his two hits today, a hard liner to the gap in right-center and a hard-hit home run to left. After a slow start, his average is now up to .281.

-After being a bit shaky in his return to the bullpen on Friday night, Juan Rincon was back in top form today. He pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning, striking out the side.

-Michael Cuddyer finally seems to be legitimately catching on. He had three hits in today's game, two of them hit very hard. The guy still needs to start hitting for more power though... third base is a position from which a team needs to get home runs, and it doesn't help that Corey Koskie has already hit seven for the Blue Jays.

Speaking of Koskie, the Blue Jays are coming to town for a three-game set starting Tuesday. Since Roy Halladay just pitched today, we won't have to see their most formidable starter in this series, so hopefully we can produce some offense and win the series.

6 comments:

roger said...

After a dismal April, could Cuddyer be the answer for your 5 hole slot? Will never happen, but interesting thought.

Anonymous said...

The only problem is that this basically comes down to sports psychology rather than game management.

Why give Hunter more at bats when he's producing the most outs?

Yeah, maybe it would work out the way you have it described, but it would drive me nuts if the bottom of the ninth comes up and Morneau/Mauer are sitting in the "on deck" circle watching Torii strike out.

Nick N. said...

I see your point Anonymous, but it's just as frustrating when Hunter comes up in the bottom of the ninth with one out and Mauer and Morneau both on base and watching him ground into a game-ending double play. At this point, I don't think it would hurt to give that setup a shot... I don't think they could possibly produce any less.

As for Cuddyer... if he could produce regularly like he did on Sunday, I would be all for giving him a shot at the 5 spot. The problem is that I'm not at all convinced that he can.

Nick M. said...

Agreed on both points. Hunter is not the caliber hitter you want in your 5 spot. You need someone who can protect Morneau, not swing at the first pitch and show incredible impatience. Cuddyer isn't the answer either, though. Cuddyer is legitimate #6 or #7 hitter, but he isn't up to par in protecting Morneau. You just have to go with Mauer in that spot.

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