Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Home Sweet Home

In their home opener last night, the Twins picked up a much-needed victory over a tough opponent in the Oakland Athletics. The Metrodome stands were packed with fans, including myself (I had awesome seats, not to brag), and fortunately we were treated to a great ballgame.

Brad Radke had a start very similar to his first outing in Toronto, as he put the Twins in a 4-0 hole early but watched the offense come alive to get him the victory. Radke managed to get through the first inning 1-2-3 (stunning in and of itself), but then got hit hard in the second, allowing 3 runs. He gave up a solo shot to Bobby Crosby to start the third inning but then settled down.

The Twins were hitless going into the third inning but then broke out in a big way against A's starter Dan Haren. After Juan Castro flied out to right to start the inning, the top of the Twins' lineup strung together six straight hits, including a 2-run single by Joe Mauer and an RBI single by Torii Hunter. Justin Morneau struck out, which was followed by a mammoth 3-run homer by Tony Batista which put the Twins ahead 6-4. Morneau added a solo home run in the fifth to put the Twins ahead by three.

After allowing the Crosby home run, Radke retired 15 of the next 17 Oakland batters to finish with a solid line of 7 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 1 BB and 5 K. Jesse Crain came on to pitch the 8th and made life harder for Joe Nathan by promptly allowing a 2-run homer to Eric Chavez. Nonetheless, Crain got out of the inning and Nathan pitched an impressive 9th to pick up his first save as the Twins won 7-6. A few thoughts:

* Ron Gardenhire's management late in the game left me scratching my head. In the bottom of the 8th, the Twins were up by one run and looking for some insurance to give Nathan a little more breathing room. Batista doubled off the baggie in right with one out. This appeared to be a good opportunity for a pinch-runner. Nick Punto probably would be able to score on a single, whereas Batista does not run well at all. Instead, Gardy left Batista out there. Michael Cuddyer hit a chopper to short, and Batista moved up to third. This brought up Castro. With two outs and an important run on third base, it would make sense to bring in a pinch-hitter, such as Jason Kubel. Gardy decided to stick with Castro, who proceeded to strike out on four pitches. Obviously, the non-moves did not end up hurting the Twins, but I really would have liked to see Gardy make more of an effort to bring that run in.

* Batista went 2-for-4 with a home run and a double. He now has four hits this season, all for extra bases. He's hitting only .200, but slugging .600. As predicted, he has been making a lot of outs, but hitting the occasional 3-run homer doesn't hurt.

* Joe Mauer is just a stud. He had two hits, including a double which would have been a single if not for some great aggressive baserunning. He also went from first to third on a Rondell White single when he saw that it was going to drop in front center fielder Mark Kotsay. It's enjoyable to watch a guy play as hard as Mauer does each night.

* The Twins need to get Crain out of the set-up role, he is just not well-suited to pitch the eighth inning in close games. Juan Rincon should be back in that spot.

* The Twins made several great defensive plays last night. Michael Cuddyer made a diving catch in right field. Luis Castillo showed some phenomenal range, diving to snag a grounder that got by Morneau and flipping it to Radke for an out. Castro made a very nice off-balance throw from the hole to retire Frank Thomas in the 8th.

Some general notes:

* There was a time when I was not a big fan of Jim Souhan as a columnist. I have complained in the past about some of his articles which, in my mind, were not particularly well thought out or strongly supported. That said, I really think he's gotten a lot better. He wrote a nice article in Tuesday's Strib regarding Francisco Liriano and his potential importance to the Twins' future. Notes Souhan:
A member of the Twins' braintrust told me Monday that Liriano has better stuff than Johan Santana, and could be more dominant in the long run.

Remember Santana? He's the guy who won the Cy Young in 2004 and should have won another in 2005.

Just wait until Liriano pitches his 30th inning in the big leagues.
I was struck by Souhan's (correct) assertion that Santana should have won the AL Cy Young Award last year. Perhaps he should tell that to his colleague Patrick Reusse, who voted for Bartolo Colon and employed shoddy reasoning to defend his choice, then backed up his position with more shoddy reasoning.

Another blurb from the article:
Regardless of his role, Liriano has made the Twins' braintrust look smart. They traded A.J. Pierzynski to the Giants to make room for Joe Mauer, and got All-Star closer Joe Nathan, pitching prospect Boof Bonser and a thrown-in prospect who turned out to be Liriano.
When I attended a Twins/Athletics game at McAfee Coliseum in Oakland last year, I sat next to a Giants fan who jokingly expressed his contempt for Terry Ryan and the Twins. The Pierzynski for Nathan/Liriano/Bonser trade is often written about in local media and on Twins blogs as one of Ryan's finest moments and a huge success for the Twins franchise. It's interesting to think about it from the perspective of a Giants' fan... they really got screwed over. Just think about how much better shape they would be in right now if their rotation featured young stud Matt Cain and Liriano and they had Nathan as their closer.

* Aron Kahn of the Pioneer Press writes that the Twins' stadium bill is in better shape than it has been in the past, but is still far from a lock.

* Joe Mays started for the Royals against the Yankees last night... you just knew that wasn't going to be good. His line: 2.2 IP, 3 H, 4 ER, 5 BB (!), and zero K.

* Last week, someone was led to our site by this Google search. That's just depressing on so many levels.

8 comments:

TheBentKangaroo said...

It's amazing how far Batista can hit a ball. He looks like he's swinging a 90 oz. bat...no bat speed at all.

But if he can keep his OPS above .800...

A man can dream.

bjhess said...

Good observation about Gardy's game management. For someone who seems to value every last run ("we have to do the little things") he doesn't mind leaving runs on the bases in close games in order to keep a marginally better defender on the field for the next half inning.

I wish I could remember, but I believe the exact same thing happened with Castro or Punto in a previous game where the Twins were with in 1-2 runs.

Nick M. said...

Yeah, that was my observation. Its baffeling to me. Why isn't he trying a squeeze in that situation with a pinch runner if he is going to leave Castro in the game? If not, stop talking about the "small ball" crap and put your best hitter up to hit. That means bringing in Kubel to hit for Castro and Punto or Rodriguez to run for Batista. If you are going to have them on the bench, might as well use them.

kris said...

Batista definitely should've been pinch-run for. Castro came into the game as one of the few Twins hitting over .300 and Kubel has struggled at the plate. Maybe Rodriguez would've been a better option as a ph; he's had some good pinch hit appearances so far.

That's funny about the google search...at least you were only the 52nd result.

Nick M. said...

Yea its consolation but there are much better ways to have your website found. At least its worth a good laugh.

As for Gardy, I dont expect any improvement. He's stubborn and tends to not learn from his mistakes. So, who knows, Punto could start...lets just hope we can beat up Loiza, as the scouting report suggests he's lost a lot.

Nick N. said...

Castro came into the game as one of the few Twins hitting over .300 and Kubel has struggled at the plate. Maybe Rodriguez would've been a better option as a ph; he's had some good pinch hit appearances so far.

I wasn't putting too much stock into the fact that Castro was hitting .300 coming into the game because he's hit some singles... we know what he's capable of. You're right though, Rodriguez might have been a better choice than Kubel... I would've been fine with either.

Regarding the first comment from TBK, it is kind of weird how Batista produces so much power with so little bat speed. It seems to me like there's something about his swing that really allows him to get the fat part of the bat on the ball with good timing.

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