Friday, April 14, 2006

Power Surge

I titled Wednesday's post "Home Sweet Home" in celebration of the Twins returning to their home park with a victory Tuesday night. Perhaps a more fitting phrase with regards to their opening series against the Athletics would be "Homer Sweet Homer."

The Twins hit 6 home runs in their home-opening sweep against Oakland, which they completed with an 8-2 victory yesterday afternoon, and those homers accounted for 11 of the 21 runs they scored in the three-game series.

What's so encouraging about the team's performance in this series is not necessarily the fact that they scored so many runs, but the fact that they did so against good pitching. Esteban Loaiza is no good, but Dan Haren and Joe Blanton are two of the game's better young pitchers. Blanton was coming off a first start against Seattle in which he pitched 8 innings and allowed just two hits and no runs. The Twins shelled him for 11 hits and 7 earned runs in 6 innings.

Meanwhile, Kyle Lohse delivered the Twins their first quality start of the year, though he wasn't fantastic by any means. Lohse gave up a couple runs in the first inning on a Frank Thomas double, but then settled in and ended up pitching six solid innings. He still seems to be struggling a bit with his command, and his 6 to 10 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio seems to go against the philosophy he was trying to instill for this year, but the results were good.

A few thoughts on yesterday's sweep-clinching victory:

* It's not very often that you'll see a team's backup catcher hitting third in the lineup. It worked out for the Twins today though, as Mike Redmond went 3-for-4 with 2 RBIs as Joe Mauer took the day off. In our position analysis series in March, I said, "Catcher is easily the team's strongest offensive position coming into the 2006 season." So far, that assertion has held true. Redmond has 5 hits in 8 at-bats -- including 3 doubles -- and Mauer is hitting .333 in seven games.

* Francisco Liriano had another brilliant outing out of the bullpen. He struck out 5 batters in 2 innings. Here's a nice detailed analysis from Roger in Seth's comments section yesterday:
Liriano was unhittable. 3 K's on 12 pitches in the 7th without anyone toucching a pitch. In the 8th, he had 1 K and an easy fly...with Swisher swinging late and getting a double. Game wasn't in jeopardy, however, runner on 2nd with 2 outs and the Big Hurt up. Pitch 1 a 97mph fastball for a called strike. Pitch 2 a 84mph change that he was way in front and ticked foul off the end of his bat. Pitch 3 a 90mph slider that he took a huge swing and wasn't anywhere near the pitch. 2 innings, 5 K's and 1 hit...this kid has to get into the rotation.
I concur.

* Michael Cuddyer hit a solo home run in the 8th inning with the Twins up 7-2. It was a very typical Cuddyer homer: Nobody on base and with the game already long since decided.

* After nine games, Rondell White is hitting .088. He has not drawn a walk while striking out 10 times in 34 at-bats and grounding into two double-plays. I remain confident that White will come around and become a good hitter, but it's pretty difficult to accomplish much offensively when you're getting that kind of production from your cleanup hitter.

The three-game sweep brings the Twins' record to 4-5, which is a lot better than the 1-5 record they sat with after their opening road trip. They are hardly in the clear at this point though; tonight they open a three-game series against the Yankees. Winning the series would leave the Twins with a .500 record, but taking two of three against New York is a pretty tall order. Should be a fun series.