Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Notes From a Rare Exciting Game

Whether wins or losses, one thing that pretty much all the Twins games as of late have had in common lately is that they have been relatively boring to watch. Low-scoring, few lead changes, and not much in the way of home runs or exciting plays. That trend changed tonight as the Twins finally put together a nice little victory, downing the Yankees 7-3. I have several thoughts about this game, so I'll get to them here...

*Johan Santana started the game like he has typically as of late; pretty good but certainly not the Cy Young winner of last year. But in the fourth inning, after he gave up a leadoff single to Hideki Matsui, I sensed a change. All of a sudden, it seemed like he had reverted to his 2nd-half 2004 form. He was locating his pitches, fooling hitters, and getting big strikeouts. After giving up the hit, he struck out Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada (Posada on the signature nasty changeup in the dirt), and then got Tino Martinez to pop out weakly to second. He ended up pitching 7 strong innings against the tough Bombers lineup, giving up no runs and 7 hits. It was a terrific outing for Santana, and hopefully a sign of things to come.

*I thought home plate umpire Ed Hickox did a pretty damn crappy job tonight. His strike zone was VERY inconsistent, for both teams. Pitches in the same place on the inside and outside corner were called variably balls and strikes throughout the night. On several occasions, he called balls on pitches that were right over the plate. If not for the poor strike zone of Hickox, Santana would have had more than 5 strikeouts and wouldn't have had two walks. In fairness, New York's Al Leiter also wouldn't have thrown 100 pitches in the first 4 innings. Major League Baseball really needs to take a look at the performances of some of these umpires, because their have been a few really poorly officiated games this year.

*Despite Leiter's bad game, the Twins' bats really managed to make it look a lot better than it was. Despite the fact that Leiter couldn't find the strike zone (5 walks) and was getting hit pretty consistently (7 hits), the Twins managed to score only one run off of him in 5 innings. In both the first and second innings, the Twins loaded the bases only to have Jacque Jones and Lew Ford (respectively) hit wimpy grounders to end the inning. This is getting so very tiresome to watch.

*Speaking of Ford, why the hell was he hitting third in the lineup with his .252 average? Ford had a terrible night, going 0/6 while leaving NINE men on base. Lew has quietly had a very disappointing year, hitting for low average and barely any power despite posting a decent on-base percentage. Another guy who needs to be removed from the lineup is Nick Punto, who was hitting second with a .260 average. He went 1/5 and looked totally over-matched every time he came up. I was very high on Punto earlier this season, before his most recent injury, but he just can't cut it anymore. To his credit, he did look pretty good in the field tonight.

*Torii Hunter has such an incredible arm. In the bottom of the third, with the speedy Derek Jeter on second, Gary Sheffield laced a single up the middle. It seemed like a given that the play would score Jeter and tie the game, but Hunter came up gunning and fired a phenomenal throw to Joe Mauer, who tagged out Jeter at the plate. Kudos to Torii, who also had three hits tonight.

*Another good game for Justin Morneau, he doubled in the first run of the game and then hit a nice solo homer in the 9th. He's been hitting the ball well lately, hopefully he can keep it going. I'm still skeptical of his ability to hit above-average pitchers though.

*After Santana came out of the games, things got a little out of hand. Juan Rincon came in to pitch the 8th, and had a terrible outing, allowing 3 runs in while recording only 2 outs. He came out with runners on the corners, and Joe Nathan came in. That was when the scariest moment of the game occurred. On Nathan's second pitch, batter Bernie Williams turned on a fastball over the plate and ripped it to right field. Off the bat, I thought for sure the thing was a home run, and the game would be tied and Santana would be robbed of a hard-earned win. Fortunately, the ball curved just foul, and Nathan was able to strike out Bernie, then retire the Yanks in the 9th to pick up his 28th save and secure Santana's 10th win.

One other thing I want to discuss, and that is the trade situation. I have been fluctuating on whether or not I think the Twins should make a trade. On Monday, I analyzed the Twins' offensive deficiencies at every position besides catcher, and wondered whether adding one player would really significantly help a lineup that is anemic essentially 1-9. But when I watch these games, and I see all the players left on base, and I see how well Santana is capable of pitching, I think that just maybe if we had one guy in there other than Mauer who could consistently drive in runners, if we could just get that extra couple of runs per week, we may have a shot at the post-season after all. I've made my stance very clear that I would be all for acquiring Alfonso Soriano, even for a high price assuming we would be able to retain him next season.

I don't think the Soriano trade is a realistic possibility though. Texas is not outwardly looking to trade him, and they seem to feel that unless they can absolutely fleece someone, they're going to keep him. On KFAN today I heard that a "reliable source outside of the Twins organization" said that the Twins will be making a move before the deadline, and that it will be for a player that hasn't been mentioned. Mentioned by who? I don't know. Take that however you want. My guess? Edgardo Alfonzo of the Giants.

I have one other question. For a team that's starved for offense, why the hell do the Twins continue to start Juan Castro (.249/.268/.383 - PUKE!) while Jason Bartlett hits .330 in the minors? I don't want to hear that it's because of defense, the Twins have clearly shown they're willing to sacrifice defense for the potential of some offense (see Bret Boone, Michael Cuddyer, Shannon Stewart). I don't understand the situation at all... they gave up way too quickly on Bartlett early in the season and now he could really give our offense a boost.

Day game tomorrow, rubber match in the Yankees series. A win would be very nice. Sadly, the human hitting machine Kevin Brown has been scratched, but replacement Aaron Small ain't exactly Cy Young.