Monday, June 06, 2005

An Encouraging Weekend

The Twins took 2 of 3 against the Yankees at the Metrodome over the weekend, and could have easily swept the series if not for a tough loss on Saturday night. Now, while beating the Yanks this season is clearly not the same kind of accomplishment it has been over the past decade, the series still has to be seen as a huge success. Here are some reasons why:

Makeshift offense comes through
The Yankees pitching this year is not good, no doubt about that, and the Twins avoided having to face Randy Johnson in this series. Nonetheless, the guys they did face certainly were no walk in the park. Mike Mussina perennially dominates the Twinks, Chien-Ming Wang is a promising guy who has New York fans very excited, and Kevin Brown is a former Cy Young winner. The Twins' offense was without three of its top OBP guys for the entire series, with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau both ailing and Nick Punto on the DL. Shannon Stewart, the best hitter on the team, was not in the lineup on Sunday. Taking all of that into acocunt, a guy can't be blamed for thinking the offense would struggle this weekend. Well, aside from Saturday's game in which they got all three runs on a Jacque Jones homer and didn't do much else, the hitting was pretty impressive. This team seems to have some depth and that is a key characteristic for a club making a playoff run.

The starting pitching!
While the Yanks' pitching is down this year, this is still one of the top offenses in the league without question. You just can't downplay a roster with a $200 million payroll and featuring names like Rodriguez, Sheffield, and Jeter. The fact is that there is not a single bad hitter in their lineup, even the young second-baseman Robinson Cano is showing some serious ability. The Twins' staff performed admirably. I was particularly impressed with Kyle Lohse. I notched Friday night's game as a big test for him... it was nice that he was able to string together a few good starts against mediocre offenses, but if he could hold his own against the Bronx Bombers, I would truly believe he has turned a new leaf. Kyle did just that. After getting hit hard early, he uncharacteristically was able to settle down and make outs. It wasn't a fantastic start by statistical standards, but for those who watched it, it was a very nice sight to see.

Take a look at these stats from Joe Mays, who was again impressive on Saturday night:
2005: 3-2, 3.59 ERA, .264 OBA, Groundball/Flyball ratio: 1.21
2001: 17-13, 3.16 ERA, .235 OBA, Groundball/Flyball ratio: 1.28
Take away a couple bad starts and Mays is pitching as well as he did in 2001 when he was an All-Star and the team ace. And right now he might be the worst pitcher in the rotation. That says something about how incredibly good this team's starters are.

The emergence of Brent Abernathy
You have to love the way this kid plays. I know it's a cliche, but he plays the game hard every minute. The Twins needed some kind of production from him with both Punto and Luis Rivas on the DL, and Brent has answered the call. He busted out on Friday night with a couple of important walks and a rally-inducing solo home run, and went 1/4 with a sac fly on Sunday. If this kid can show the ability to consistently perform at a Major League level, it would be a big plus for this club.

Mike Ryan's Sunday show
In his first start of the season, Mike Ryan gave evidence that he should be the left-handed pinch-hitter for this club. He turned in a very impressive 3/5 performance, including a somewhat controversial bases-loaded bunt that worked out and kept a rally going for the Twins.

Jacque and Torii step up
Jacque Jones and Torii Hunter both had very bad months of May, but both did some very good things at the plate in this series. Jacque went 6/12 in the series with 5 RBI, while Torii had a couple hits on Friday and then followed up with a hit on Saturday and a hit on Sunday. Jones has his average back up near .300. Hunter is still hitting .267, which ain't great... but it ain't .230 either.

The fans
I was at Friday night's game and it was like a playoff game. It was awesome to see the Dome so packed. They drew 41,000 that night, which I figured they wouldn't be able to top; but the next night they brought in 45,000. In total, the series had the highest attendance of any since 1992 for the Twins. Great to see.

The Twins head to Arizona for their first road interleague series, which means we will all get to see the hilarious spectacle of American League pitchers attempting to hit. Pinch-hitting becomes significantly more important in an NL stadium so hopefully Stewart and Mauer will be able to play so the Twins can add some bench depth.