Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Keeping Perspective

Last week after the Twins opened their four-game set in Oakland with a tough 4-0 loss, I avoided the temptation to write a scalding post about the pathetic effort the team gave and chose instead to heap some praise on Joe Mauer. Someone in the comment section mentioned that it was nice to read an optimistic post on a day following a loss rather than a rant about how bad the team played and how stupid Ron Gardenhire is. You know what? It's a darn good point. It's just depressing to sit here and write every day about how hopelessly lost this season is and how frustrating it is to see Juan Castro's name in the lineup every night. Instead, I will try to extract some positives from the Twins' series in Oakland, as hard as that might be.

Granted, it's tough to put an optimistic spin on a four-game series in which the Twins scored a total of four runs. Obviously I'm not going to be able to say a whole lot of good things about the offense. Michael Cuddyer is regressing; his walk Sunday was just his second since May 21. During that span he has struck out 13 times. Are pitchers figuring him out? I have stated on several occasions in the past that Cuddyer's terrible plate discipline is going to haunt him if pitchers can consistently find a way to take advantage of it. Not surprisingly, Torii Hunter has followed up an early May hot streak with some brutal play, posting zero hits in five of his last seven games. Jason Kubel still isn't hitting. Luis Castillo has fallen off the charts, as his average his dropped from around .350 to .294 over the span of a couple weeks.

Not everything is dark clouds though. Mauer has watched his batting average dance atop the league leader board while he's shown more and more power at the plate. Mauer's slugging percentage on the season is now up to .500 and his fifth home run on Sunday has him on pace to hit out a respectable number this season after hitting just one in the month of April. The lineups that Gardy filled out in the Oakland series were fairly encouraging as well. Rondell White did not start in any of the the last three games, with those DH at-bats instead going to young players like Kubel and Terry Tiffee. It was also nice to see Gardy avoid using Kubel in the leadoff spot, a lineup position for which he clearly is not well-suited (though I'm still waiting to see Castillo get the nod there; it's really getting hard watching Lew Ford constantly waste at-bats at the top of the order).

While the compliments of the offense may seem superficial, the pitching does seem to be experiencing a turnaround which is very encouraging. Outside of Carlos Silva's predictably bad start in his return to the rotation on Sunday, the starting pitching has been very good lately. Johan Santana was phenomenal Friday night, tossing eight innings of two-hit ball, and Brad Radke's last couple starts have been very positive. Boof Bonser gave up three home runs Thursday night, but looked pretty good outside of that. Francisco Liriano has been unbelievable since joining the rotation. When the pitching is good, the games are a lot easier to watch.

When the Twins played a three-game series against the Athletics at home earlier this season, they swept them and scored 21 runs. In Oakland this past weekend, they lost three of four and scored four runs. For whatever reason, the Twins have been absolutely horrible on the road this year. Now, as they head into Seattle to face a Mariners club that they swept at the Metrodome just over a week ago, it should be interesting to see if they come out and put up as a pathetic a performance as they did in Oakland or if they can come out and take exercise the same type of dominance they did in their last meeting the Mariners and take the series.

In case you missed the battle of the young phenoms (Liriano vs. King Felix) on May 26 at the Dome, you can catch an encore tonight as they face off in Seattle. Hopefully the results will be the same, with the Twins scraping together enough runs to get by and ride their young stud to victory. Liriano, who threw 104 pitches against the Angels in his last start, is probably no longer on a strict pitch count but it is still unlikely he'll pitch much past the sixth inning due to his tendency to need a lot of pitches to get outs even when he's going good. That means we'll more than likely be needing the bullpen to come through. Here's hoping they can, and here's hoping the Twins can get over their home sickness and put up a good effort this week to finish this West Coast road trip on a positive note.