Monday, May 22, 2006

Lessons Learned

It's official, the Twins will get their new stadium. And I have to say, after spending the weekend in Milwaukee and attending Friday night's game at Miller Park, I couldn't be happier with the news. This wasn't my first trip to Miller Park, but man, what a spectacular place to watch a baseball game. We scored some great seats behind home plate for 33 bucks and had a better view than I've ever had of a Twins game in the Metrodome (even with more expensive tickets). The food, atmosphere and general experience were all terrific and once again I came away extremely impressed with the Brewers' ballpark. Going back to the Dome will be tough, but at least now I can have some comfort in knowing that it's only a matter of time before we have our own outdoor stadium downtown.

As for the weekend's baseball, well, the Twins played pretty darn well for the most part. There are a few things we learned during the series, so instead of exhaustively breaking down all the stats and box scores, I'll go over seven of the important things we as fans and analysts can take from this 2-1 series win over the Brew Crew:

1) Francisco Liriano is ready.
Great start for Liriano Friday night. He pitched five innings and allowed only two hits and one run while striking out five. He did struggle with his control a bit, walking three, but for the most part he dominated the Brewers lineup and put the Twins in great position to win. I look forward to watching him pitch every fifth day, which I believe he'll be doing for the rest of the season.

2) Boof Bonser might be ready too.
It would be a mistake to put too much stock into a pitcher's first major league start (see: Gassner, Dave), but I'm cautiously optimistic about Bonser's debut on Sunday. He stumbled out of the gates, giving up a couple hits and a walk to start the game which loaded the bases with no outs, but he got out of the inning with only one run allowed and pitched extremely well for the next five innings, finishing with a line of 6 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 8 K. Very encouraging.

3) Michael Cuddyer is raking, but there is one thing...
Let me preface this complaint with some praise. Cuddyer has been absolutely fantastic hitting fifth in the Twins' lineup and had a big series in Milwaukee. Still, I continue to be irked by his lack of discipline at the plate. Last Saturday in Chicago, Cuddyer swung at a pitch that hit him. Fortunately for Cuddy, a bad call by the umpire led to first base being awarded in that situation. In Saturday's game against the Brewers, Cuddyer again swung at a pitch that hit him, and this time the first base umpire made the correct call and it was a strike instead of a free base. That's pretty embarrassing. Cuddyer just really seems to struggle reading the ball out of the pitcher's hand, and his guesswork at the plate often leads to awkward swings at balls out of the zone or hittable fastballs floating over the plate. I doubt Cuddyer will ever develop great pitch selection at the plate, but if he did he could be quite the offensive force. Of course, as long as he continues to hit the way he has been this year, you won't see me complaining a whole lot about his plate approach.

4) Lew Ford is a baseball magnet.
Lew got hit by a lot of baseballs in this series. He was hit by a pitch while batting three times (and didn't swing at any of them!), and in Saturday's game he was nailed by a Cuddyer line drive in foul territory. He also fouled several balls into himself while at the plate during the series. Ouch.

5) Jesse Crain is still not back.
I was close to being a believer in Crain again. After his miserable start this season, the reliever had strung together a few good outings and on Friday night he had perhaps the most impressive relief appearance the Twins have gotten all season. Crain entered the game with the Twins up 2-1 and the Brewers threatening with runners on second and third and just one out, and got a pop-up and a strikeout to escape the inning unscathed. Then, Crain entered Sunday's game to start the seventh inning and was absolutely horrible. With the Twins up 3-1, Crain gave up four hits, and all those runners came in to score (with the last coming in against Juan Rincon). The only out Crain got was a deep line drive that Torii Hunter had to flag down in center field. Just like that, the Twins were down 5-3, and ended up losing a sweep that was in their laps. Crain now has a 7.52 ERA and an opponent's batting average of .352... and this is a guy we're going to late in close games? Then again, with a bullpen that also features guys like Willie Eyre and Carlos Silva, there's not too much choice. The Twins' bullpen has quickly deteriorated from a strength last year to a pretty considerable weakness this year.

6) Juan Castro has got to go.
I have been relatively reserved in terms of criticism of Ron Gardenhire this season, but his continual insistence on regularly starting Castro at shortstop and the asinine thought process he uses to justify it are moving beyond the point of frustration. Gardy's reasoning all along has been that Castro's offensive output is unimportant since he makes the "plays he's supposed to make" at shortstop. Well, Castro committed his sixth error of the season on Saturday (an error that allowed two runs to score), which would indicate that he is really not making the plays he's supposed to make. Meanwhile, Nick Punto has committed just one error in 15 games (nine starts) at shortstop while hitting .304 (Castro is batting .225). More importantly, Jason Bartlett is hitting .325 in Triple-A. Being that the Twins are in fourth place and playing in the same division as perhaps the two best teams in baseball, it is time to start playing for the future. Bartlett has repeatedly proven his mastery of minor league pitching and it makes absolutely no sense to have him wasting away down there while Castro continues to provide absolutely NOTHING to the Twins.

7) Joe Mauer is really good.
...As if we didn't know it already. Mauer had a phenomenal series, picking up nine hits and 5 RBIs over the three-game set. He surprisingly got the start Sunday despite the fact that it was an afternoon game and the Twins were facing a tough lefty. Mauer had a couple hits and an RBI in the game.

All in all, despite the fact that it took seven hours to get there thanks to ridiculous traffic on I-94, it was a fun weekend in Milwaukee, with the Twins playing some good baseball in a great stadium.

4 comments:

dan said...

Good comments. It will be interesting to see who will be left out when Silva returns, as speculation has it he will be coming back soon. Bonser through tremendous, he deserves a legitimate shot, although I have a feeling he will go back to Rochester. Hopefully Radke and Baker feel some pressure to perform a little better.

The Castro thing is simply unexplainable, and do not need to elaborate on it at all.

Nick N. said...

If the Twins bring Silva back into the rotation right now, I would be extremely frustrated. I'm sick of the Twins feeling some obligation to have him starting. Despite Rick Anderson's BS about how he has looked great in his relief appearances and his ball is "sinking again" (which he said after pretty much every practice session while Silva was still starting), Silva has really not looked a whole lot better as of late. In his two relief appearances, Silva has thrown two innings, allowed two hits (one of them a double), walked two, struck out two, gotten two groundball outs and two flyball outs. I don't see how that could possibly be enough to convince the Twins that he is ready to return to the rotation and pitch well, particularly considering how awful he has been all season, and considering how much better the replacements have looked.

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