What a strange, odd, crazy, but wonderful eighth inning it was yesterday. The Twins defeated Detroit in that inning, as the Tigers fumbled the ball around, committed errors, allowed a run on a balk, and allowed only two hard hit balls and a bunch of wimpy grounders add up to six runs.
The day initially looked pretty bad for the Twins. It looked like the White Sox would win, the Yankees had won, Johan Santana had a very unspectacular start, and the Twins offense could do nothing against Jeremy Bonderman (one hit through the first seven innings). But in the eighth inning, the Detroit fielding issues caught up with them.
The Tigers made four errors in the game, two in that eighth inning. After Justin Morneau singled and advanced to second on a Carlos Guillen error, Chris Shelton made an Buckner-esque error to get Jason Kubel to first and Morneau across the plate to score the first Twins run. Mike Redmond quickly following by hitting a ball down the line just fair for a double to drive Kubel in. After Jason Tyner singled, the Tigers committed another defensive mishap, as Jason Bartlett hit the ball down to third and third baseman Brandon Inge unsuccessfully tried to tag Redmond out as he dove back into third. Everyone was safe to load the bases.
The next play was even crazier. With Luis Castillo at the plate and looking just as nervous as he did last night with the game on the line, taking fastballs down the pipe to get in a hole, Bonderman balked to bring home the game-tying run. Castillo then gave the Twins a lead by driving in a run with a groundout. After Nick Punto flied out (to cap off an awful day at the plate for him, seeing him revert to his old strikeout-prone days) and Joe Mauer was intentionally walked, Michael Cuddyer got the big hit, a two-run triple, to seal the deal.
Of course, I can't let Cuddyer off the hook too easily. He's had a pretty down July and has been striking out in bunches recently. He had troubles with Bonderman, a hard right-hander, throughout the game before getting the big hit. Naturally, the whole Twins lineup did most of the game, but a .236/.331/.419 line against righties can't be ignored.
The point is, despite his huge hit, I still feel that Cuddyer needs to be moved down in the order in favor of Morneau in the cleanup spot. You need a guy whose hitting .316/.360/.599 in that spot, especially when he's two home runs away from 30 and second in the league with 86 RBI. With Hunter back, its even possible to put Hunter in the fifth spot and Cuddyer in the sixth, though Cuddy may be best-suited for the fifth spot.
The point is, just as they did in the eighth, the Tigers and other teams are constantly walking and pitching around Mauer because Cuddyer simply doesn't possess the same kind of threat Morneau does. Cuddy has some power and he drives in runners very well (.324/.430/.598 with RISP), but he could do that just as well in the fifth or sixth spot while making the team's offensive engine run a bit smoother.
However, Cuddyer may not be the Twins greatest offensive issue, especially in the near future. The issue lies with Ron Gardenhire, who takes way too long to make changes in the lineup. It's doubtful he'll realize that Cuddyer needs to be moved in time for it to mean anything. (More on this in tommorow's post with the other Nick.) Punto, not Cuddyer, is showing worse signs of reverting to his old form. While Cuddyer's walk rate has gone way down and he's been striking out too much recently, Punto has dropped off the last two days since his 19-game hitting streak ended.
As Aaron Gleeman notes in his post, it simply seems like some of the Twins have run out of steam in the midst of their huge run. Though they seem to have righted the ship for now with the luckiest inning you'll see in a long time, they may run into troubles with silly decision-making. How can the Twins or fans feel confident with Carlos Silva on the hill tonight against the gaudy Texas lineup? He's bound to give up at least five or six runs, if not more. That's a lot of pressure on the offense in games not started by Liriantanke and it may be catching up to them. It's about time the Twins call up Matt Garza or make any move, like inserting Matt Guerrier into the rotation, to replace the obviously washed up Silva in the rotation.
Here's hoping Silva can surprise again like he did last week in Chicago, and the Twins can start another winning streak.