Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The End For Baker?

In yesterday's Star Tribune, manager Ron Gardenhire made it quite clear that if Scott Baker couldn't put up a decent outing in his start against the Angels last night, he would be out of the rotation. Well, Baker gave up six earned runs and failed to make it out of the fifth inning, so his fate may be sealed. On the one hand, I want to be a little frustrated, because I have seen the Twins stick by veterans through longer stretches of ineptitude. At the same time, Baker clearly can't get it done right now. While I'm far from convinced that Carlos Silva is ready to step back in and promptly widdle his ERA down, Baker could probably use some starts in the minors to get his confidence back up.

Meanwhile, Rondell White continues to get at-bats and continues to look absolutely horrific in each one. White stepped up four times last night, grounding out three times and flying out to foul territory in right field once. I'm almost as frustrated at the presence of White in the lineup every night as I am the presence of Juan Castro, and it's tremendously disappointing because I really expected White to be a solid addition to this offense. The sad fact is that for whatever reason, White simply cannot get it done this point. His average has fallen back below the Mendoza line and, not surprisingly, he ranks dead last in the majors in VORP at -18.1. If there was an award for baseball's Least Valuable Player, Rondell wouldn't have a whole lot of competition.

Last night the Twins' offense once again looked punchless against a sub par starting pitcher -- this time Jeff Weaver. Just when the Twins put together a string of good performances like the sweep of the Mariners this weekend and you start to think that just maybe it is a better team than their record shows, they play like they have in the last two ballgames and remind us that they most definitely are not. The Twins stand about zero chance of making the playoffs and yet they continue to regularly trot out Castro, White and Tony Batista, a trio of players in their mid-30s who will be gone next year. Now tell me, where's the sense in that?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Disgusting Loss

I had originally thought that this post would just focus on one thought for the game, but too many awful things happened. Yes, I know that it looks close with a 4-3 loss, but the Twins had this game. They just didn't seem to care at all.

From sloppy late-inning defensive play to managing mistakes to base-running errors to bad at-bats, the Twins did it all. Who are the criminals here? How about Rondell White to begin? Oh yes, he did go 2 for 4 with an RBI and got his average to .200. But with a .200/.216/.238 line, I can't really congratulate him. Especially not when he makes horrible base-running mistakes nearly every time he is on base or gets into bad counts so much that he has one 3-0 count all year and that was during an intentional walk. Of course, that doesn't excuse his absense of homers in two months either. Its about time to give him the boot probably. Anyone notice the better lineup Sunday with Mauer DHing? I'm okay with that sometimes or even Mike Redmond DHing. He'd at least do a better job. Heck, I'd even take Batista over White right now. (I realize that sounds absolutely nuts, but at least T-Bat is hitting .325/.386/.575 with runners in scoring position. That's significantly better than White's .220/.250/.280 line. By no means a solution, but at this point, any change is better. It's not as if Ryan is willing to let Batista go. He won't admit that mistake anytime soon.)

How about the defense? A sloppy play by Luis Castillo on what should have been a line-out and a pathetic attempt by Justin Morneau to catch a pretty good through from Juan Castro lead to the game-tying run in the eigth. Naturally, a Morneau defensive mishap (though the error was given to Crain) helped the Angels win later as well. Just terrible. For a team that puts so much emphasis on the "basics," the defense and the care of players has been putrid this year.

As for managing, although Crain was doing alright, putting him out there for a third inning of work in the eleventh was just plain stupid. Why wasn't Joe Nathan out there for one inning? Or Matt Guerrier? I understand they had worked the night before, but that's stupid. Especially when Crain has been on a slippery rope as of late.

Hitting-wise? Although Michael Cuddyer hit a home run in the fourth to help the Twins to a lead, his three strikeouts on the night basically offset that. The problem is that Cuddyer seems to basically guess at pitches. While he certainly has power and has shown that this year, when he is off, it's pretty bad. Last night, he struck out by essentially taking fastballs grooved down the middle of the plate. That's not discipline at all. That's as bad as Nick Punto is in terms of failing to protect the plate. You have to make a pitcher work and that pitch, with a guy like Cuddyer at the plate, needs to go over the fence nearly every time. No excuses there.

Otherwise, besides Justin Morneau's 2 for 4 night, it was a fairly tamed lineup. Tonight could be a major start, with Scott Baker set to take on the Angels. If he does well, he'll likely preserve his spot in the rotation. If not, we may (gulp) see Silva back out in the rotation soon.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Seattle Sweep

Just a quick post for today.

The Twins swept the Mariners at home over the weekend. Whether it was another encouraging start from Francisco Liriano, a resilient outing from rookie Boof Bonser, or a walk-off home run from the struggling Lew Ford, it was a good series for the Twinks.

Ford's walk-off dinger to lead off the 10th inning yesterday was his first hit of the game and his first significant hit in a long while. Lew is hitting just .229, which makes it difficult to justify his persistent presence at the top of the lineup, but he is a great defender and probably the team's best base-stealer, so if he can start hitting the ball more he could be an asset.

Next up for the Twins is a three-game series in Anaheim against the Angels, so get ready for some late-night baseball. The Twins have struggled mightily on the road this year and lost their first series agains the Halos at home, so it should be interesting to see if they can carry their recent success into this tough road trip.

Happy Memorial Day everyone.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Boof, Liriano on display

Friday's game was, by all purposes, won by Liriano. You can, actually, give credit to a few others, but mainly, it was Fransisco Liriano's outing and Joe Mauer's home run off of Felix Hernandez that probably sealed the deal in last night's victory.

It was actually an impressive overall effort by the pitching staff. The Twins pitching held this line last night: nine innings, seven hits, one run, one walk, and ten strikeouts. Of course, Liriano's six Ks probably helped alot, but Matt Guerrier, Juan Rincon, and Joe Nathan all did fine out of the bullpen as well. It was once again further proof that Liriano's banishment to the bullpen to start the year may have been awfully foolish. Sure, he gave the Twins some good innings down there, but considering the starts Carlos Silva made (he replaced Silva, remember), or for that matter Lohse, made instead of him, it probably would have worked better if he had starter in the rotation.

Consider the game a few Sundays back against the White Sox that the Twins could have easily won, as they scored seven runs against Mark Buerhle. But Silva easily gave those back. As far as I'm concerned, Liriano would not have done that. Looking back on how many awful starts Silva had (9 runs against Detroit, 8 against Anahiem, and so on), Liriano probably would have been worth a few more wins. The good news is, of course, he managed to beat Felix Hernandez, another phenom pitcher with amazing stuff.

Last night, I was actually at the game. I had the best seats I've ever had, as I was literally right behind home plate. Some bad experiences ensued (there are some really jerks in those seats, unfortunately), but what a view. Boof looked a little shaky, despite his three strikeouts in the first inning. He managed to get by with five Ks in five innings of work, but the eight hits and four runs weren't great to see. And, from those seats, Raul Ibanez's three-run shot got out very quickly.

When Jesse Crain came in the game in the eight, with the score at 8-4, I was actually excited. Not because he was going to pitch good, but because it meant that I might get to see Joe Nathan pitch from that distance. As I predicted, he coughed up a run, but in a very interesting fashion: Juan Rincon came in to relieve Crain after the bases were loaded. Kenji Johjima stepped up and hit a grounder to second. Sexson did score, but three outs were recorded as Adrian Beltre was tagged, Johjima was out at first, and Carl Everett was caught leaning off of third base. That was also nice to see. However, since the Twins scored in the ninth, Juan got the save and not Nathan.

The Twins did muster a fair amount of offense against Jamie Moyer and the Mariners. Juan Castro homered and went 3 for 4 with 2 RBI. That guarantees at least two more weeks at the bigs. (Sigh) Michael Cuddyer had a great night, going 2 for 3 with a two-run home run in the third to put the Twins up 5-4. Joe Mauer also had two hits to raise average to .340 and Luis Castillo had three, as the Twins went 14 for 36 on the night, scoring nine runs in a victory.

Overall, it was a great game to see. In two nights, thats one save (Nathan) and two victories (Bonser, Liriano) that the Twins got from players acquired in the AJ deal. The Giants really have to kick themselves for everytime that happens. A sweep is likely as well now, with Johan taking the mound tommorow. Lets enjoy creaming the hapless Mariners and hopefully, the Twins can start a streak.

Friday, May 26, 2006

A Misguided Philosophy

In 2001, after almost a decade of losing, the Twins posted a record of 85-77, finishing above fourth place in their division for the first time since 1992. They were able to accomplish this by faithfully trotting out young, mostly homegrown players. The Twins opened 2001 with an outfield of Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones and Matt Lawton. The infield was comprised of Doug Mientkiewicz, Luis Rivas, Corey Koskie, Cristian Guzman and catcher A.J. Pierzynski. With the exception of Guzman (who was acquired as a prospect from the Yankees in the Chuck Knoblauch trade), each one of those players was drafted and developed by the Twins, and at the outset of the 2001 season each was under the age of 30. The Twins played these guys and stuck with them through thick and thin. This strategy led to a winning season and that success carried over into the next three years, as the Twins formed a monopoly over the AL Central. Given the success of this philosophy, it is beyond perplexing that Terry Ryan and the organization have been so quick to abandon it.

The Twins are a franchise that has long been heralded for its ability to replace departed free agents with good young talent from their minor league system. For one reason or another, Ryan seems to have gotten away from this philosophy, opting instead to fill holes with overpaid veterans or bargain-bin free agents. This type of management is not only bad for the team in the present (as evidenced by the Twins' current 20-26 record), it is extremely bad for the team in the long run. Prospects are left to toil away in the minors without gaining valuable major league experience, while veterans who will almost certainly be gone next year put up below-average numbers for the tanking Twins.

One good example of Ryan's apparent change in philosophy would be his handling of the Kyle Lohse situation in the past offseason. With Lohse entering his last year of arbitration and fresh off the best season of his career ERA-wise, the time was ripe to get rid of him. The Twins had a kid by the name of Francisco Liriano who had absolutely decimated the highest level of the minor leagues the previous season and was pretty clearly ready to join the ML rotation. While I'm not of the mind that Lohse would have fetched Hank Blalock or Alfonso Soriano in a trade, I do think that he would have been a fairly valuable trade piece considering the dearth of quality young pitching around the league and the fact that Lohse has widely been viewed around the league as an underachiever in Minnesota. Instead of parting with Lohse at the right moment, the Twins went to arbitration with him and lost, meaning they'd have to pay him almost $4 million dollars this year.

I don't think anyone could have predicted that Lohse's season would be as disastrous as it has been, but there are plenty of people who could have told you during the offseason that Liriano needed to be in the rotation and dealing Lohse was a no-brainer. Five years ago it would have been, but for some reason the Twins have reverted to a different and pretty clearly less intuitive strategy.

And then there's the Juan Castro situation. This is something that has been harped on repeatedly all over the Twins blogosphere, but I think it is necessary because the situation is extremely undercovered in the mainstream press. Coming into the season, I didn't think shortstop would be an issue. Jason Bartlett, who had hit .332 for two straight years in Triple-A, had a terrific spring in which he hit .382. On a team that scored the fewest runs in the league last year, Bartlett seemed like the clear choice to take over at short. Inexplicably, just before the start of the season the Twins sent Bartlett back to Rochester once again and named Castro, a career backup and .230 lifetime hitter, as their starting shortstop. Ron Gardenhire explained the decision in a Star Tribune article in late March, claiming that Bartlett lacked a "commanding defensive presence."
"He's a quiet kid," Gardenhire said. "But in the middle, you have to be vocal. You have to lead, and that's what I told him you need to do. 'You go down there and take control of the infield. You be the leader. Once you start getting that part of the game down, you'll be more confident all the way around.' "
Leadership? Well, Castro certainly isn't leading by example with his six errors and his .551 OPS. Just in the past week, Castro has done several things to remind us why he has no business starting in the major leagues. Last Friday in Milwaukee, he went 0-for-4 at the plate, including grounding into a double play with two on and nobody out -- his usual rally-killing style. In Sunday's game against the Brewers, Castro booted a groundball with the bases loaded, allowing two runs to score. And in Tuesday night's game against the Indians, he failed to cover second base when Johan Santana picked off a Cleveland baserunner and caught him in the basepath. It should have been an easy out but nobody covered second base which allowed the runner (Lou Merloni) to slide in safely. Clearly, Castro is not even making the heads-up plays that you'd expect from defensive-minded veteran.

The only instance in which having a guy like Castro starting would be even remotely acceptable would be if there were absolutely no better options in the minor leagues. When you have a 26-year-old down in Triple-A that has hit .330 for two straight years and is currently hitting .321/.339/.470 there... it's flabbergasting to say the least. There is not a team in the baseball that is handling a prospect as idiotically as the Twins are Bartlett, and yet I have not seen a single reporter get after Gardy or Ryan about it, which is one big reason the mainstream media continues to bother me. We bloggers can complain about the team's management with rational analysis all day long, but we don't have access to the players and coaches so in the end there's only so much we can do. I realize that beat writers have a relationship to upkeep with the people they cover, but it is possible (and, I would say, imperative) to be objective and critical and ask the tough questions instead of writing trite crap about how Castro is "doing exactly what the Twins had hoped he would do in his first season as an everyday player." But, I digress...

The Twins are pretty clearly the fourth-best team in the AL Central this year, and that is more than likely where they will finish. Ryan's new-found strategy of trying to stock up on washed-up vets rather than trading expendable assets for young talent and promoting from within has come up with some pretty ugly results. For the sake of the team's future, let's hope he realizes the error of his ways and starts to make some changes in order to give guys like Bartlett the regular major league experience they need in order to be effective players in the coming years.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Another Sad Day in Twinsland

No surprise here. This is exactly what happens when a hard-throwing lefty on a roll comes in and faces a lineup that contains intimidating names like "Punto," "Batista," "White," "Ford," and "Castro." Ok, the last one actually counts if you consider who else has that name. But the point is, if the Twins continue to throw these guys out there, this is exactly what will happen against competition.

On Tuesday, the Twins managed to score runs off an overrated mediocre lefty and a hard-throwing reliever with enough issues to be sent to three different organizations in two years. (Yes, I realize that Cliff Lee was 18-5 last year, but his peripherals weren't phenomal, he has a 4.65 ERA so far this year, a 1.48 WHIP, and he got beat up by KC in his last start.) When the Indians threw C.C. Sabathia and the Cleveland lineup at Brad Radke, the Twins became absolutely punchless.

If Lee is overachieving, then Sabathia is certainly a perennial underachiever. With his stuff (a very hard fastball and good breaking ball from the left side), he is seen and as paid as a staff ace. Whereas in the past, he has been inconsistent, this year, after coming back from an injury, he has been lights out. Nothing was different yesterday. Throwing a six-hit shut-out against the Twins, Sabathia dominated the Twins while the Tribe's offense took care of some weak pitching.

That doesn't even cover all the Twins' problems in the game. How about the three errors, from Cuddyer, Punto, and Batista, that allowed two extra runs? Granted, the Punto error dwells from an awful obstruction call (following by another terrible call against Punto on the bathpaths), but the poorly officiated game certainly isn't the reason for the loss. Cuddyer's bone-headed throw to the wrong man in the second and Batista's booting of a potential play didn't help much either. But when it came down to it, the Twins didn't pitch or hit at all.

Now we have yet another starter throwing away every start who clearly doesn't deserve that much more slack: Radke. The problem, of course, is that he's a "veteran" and knowing how much Gardy and Terry Ryan love those veterans, it's tough to see him getting moved out of the rotation. However, he definitely needs to be. To put it simply, Radke now has allowed as many homers (14) as he has walks to opponents. Opponents are hitting him at a .366/.449/.716 clip against him. His 2.21 K/BB rate is the lowest of his career since his rookie season in 1995 (1.60). His 7.74 ERA is by far the worst of his career.

Since 2004, he has clearly been on the downside of his career. Opponent slugging has gone up from .394 in 2004 to .459 last year to .716 now. His K/G rate is down from 6.2 to 5.4 to 4.9. His HR/G rate has significantly increased, from .99 to 1.52 to 2.20. This can be understood as well by the dramatic increase in his HR/F (Home Run per Flyball) rate, which has gone from 10.5% to 15.6% to 23.1%. His infield fly percentage has gone from 15.1 percent to 14.9 percent (fairly stable) to 6.6 percent. All these stats (brought to you by The Hardball Times) show that Radke is clearly get killed on all levels and that its probably not a fluke.

You'd like to think that he had something left in him, but I think he's done. And for a $9 million player on the Twins roster, that's one big brick to move. I wouldn't consider putting him in the bullpen. All the Twins can do is either let him keep starting (bad idea), try to trade him (doubt he has much value), pressure him to retire (bad business), or see if he's "injured" (see previous idea). Basically, the Twins' hands are probably tied, but he shouldn't be starting. Instead, the next best person is Matt Guerrier, who I already thought should take Lohse's place.

Granted, a Santana-Liriano-Guerrier-Baker-Bonser rotation is far from great. In fact, they'd probably have some bad streaks. But none of these guys is likely to get smashed the way Radke, Silva, and Lohse have. While I doubt they'll make the move on one of the faces of the franchise, they should.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Twins 6. Indians 5

In Monday's post, I was a little critical of Michael Cuddyer's lack of discipline at the plate. Yeah, that remains a problem, but man has that guy been an incredible force in the middle of the Twins' lineup since mid-April. Cuddyer hit a two-run homer last night and in the 10th inning had a huge single that put Torii Hunter at third base representing the winning run with one out (Hunter would score on a Justin Morneau sac fly). Cuddyer has a .984 OPS, and it's looking less and less like a fluke with each great game. I've long been exasperated by Cuddy's inability to string together a full solid season, but now it looks like he's well on his way to doing so.

Johan Santana was on the hill for the Twins last night, and, for the first time in seven starts, he wasn't particularly dominant. Santana gave up five runs (four earned) on nine hits over seven innings while striking out five. To his credit, Johan did pull it together and collect a couple huge strikeouts to get out of the seventh inning while Jesse Crain warmed up in the bullpen. Getting those outs and keeping Crain out of the game may have preserved the Twins' chance to win.

The game itself was pretty wild. The Twins went up 4-0 early on a Juan Castro two-run double and the Cuddyer homer. The Indians rallied back with two runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth, putting them ahead by a run. The Twins tied it up again in the bottom half of the sixth with Morneau scoring on a GIDP by Tony Batista. After that, the Twins' lineup went into a state of hibernation. In innings 7-9, the Twins' hitters were 0-for-9 with five strikeouts. The only baserunner during that stretch was Joe Mauer, who walked in the seventh. Fortunately, the Twins' pitching from the seventh inning on was very effective and held the Indians at bay long enough for the offense to rally and win it in the 10th.

One performance that was particularly jaw-dropping was that of Joe Nathan. Nathan pitched the ninth and 10th innings, facing six batters and striking out five of them. With all due respect to Santana, Nathan might be the best pitcher on the Twins. And with his two innings of work last night, he's still thrown one less on the year than Willie Eyre. Brilliant bullpen management, Mr. Gardenhire.

* On another note, Matt Garza made his second start at Double-A New Britain yesterday. His line? 6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 9 K. This kid is for real.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Bullpen Issues

With an day off yesterday, I feel like it's time to address an issue we've taken on before: the lack of Joe Nathan appearances. I've complained that Nathan needs to be used more, even if in "untraditional" ways. There is this consensus among major league managers, it seems, that it's some sort of cardinal sin to bring in a closer in any inning other than the ninth. Only Joe Torre seems to think out the box by occassionally bringing in Mariano Rivera for the eighth inning. What's the idea here?

With Rivera and in the past, closers were used as their own set-up men. For instance, in what are widely considered two of the great years in closing, Goose Gossage saved 26 games in 1977 and 27 in 1978. More importantly, he pitched 133 innings in 1977 and 134 1/3 in 1978. He did this while allowing only 78 hits while striking out 151 in 77' and 87 hits while striking out 122 in 78'. The idea is simple: he was by far the best pitcher in the pen, if not on his team, and to win a lot of games, he was being used as much as possible.

Now, granted, I'm not suggesting that Nathan should pitch 133 innings. That simply wouldn't fly in this era. But, limiting him to just save opportunities when those aren't coming too often is silly. Currently, Nathan has less saves than "prestigious" closers like Tyler Walker, Fernado Rodney, J.J. Putz, David Weathers, and Tim Worrell.

Here are a few numbers: 24 1/3, 21, 20 1/3, 16, 13, 10. Those are the innings pitched for relievers. 10 innings corresponds to Dennys Reyes, and since he has only been around for a few weeks, it isn't terribly relevant. What is important is that Jesse Crain (20 1/3 innings, 7.52 ERA) and Willie Eyre (16 innings, 6.19 ERA) have pitched more innings out of the pen that Joe Nathan (13 innings, 2.77 ERA).

I wrote on Sunday that I thought Pat Neshek should get a shot in the pen over Willie Eyre. I still believe that but also, after Crain blew the lead Sunday, think that a alternative strategy could be pursued. That is, trying to bringing in Rincon earlier, and thus, Nathan earlier. Guerrier can be used in earlier innings, but by the seventh, if the Twins have a tight lead, give the ball to Rincon. When he tires, give it to Nathan. Forget about saves and think about holding leads, getting wins, and who best has the abilities to do so.

Even in close games, Nathan should be looked to. There is no way your best pitcher in the pen should have pitched only 13 innings on May 21st, especially when he is very hard to hit (.167 OBA), has great control (.77 WHIP, two walks in 13 innings), strikes out plenty (11.77 K/9), and has looked great all year. You don't let a guy who throws 98 MPH and has a great slider sit while batting practice pitcher guys like Willie Eyre get more innings.

I don't want to wear Nathan's arm out and I don't want to suggest that Gardenhire is completely clueless with the bullpen (hey, he's just following LaRussa's system, right?), but Nathan seriously needs to be out there more often. Plain and simply, that's how you win games.

* On a different note, the Twins placed Shannon Stewart on the 15-day DL with another foot injury. Although Gardy says he'll only be out for those 15 days, it's a tear of his left plantar fascia and that kind of pain could keep him out longer. With Jason Kubel finally getting back to the majors, where he belongs, hopefully he gets a decent shot. Let's hope that Gardy goes with Aaron Gleeman's suggestion and at least platoons him with Lew Ford, allowing him to get the majority of the starts against righties. At least this way, Luis Castillo may get to leadoff, like he should. We'll see.

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.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Bats Come Alive Again

There is finally a fair amount of good news in Twins Territory. For one, it appears the Twins will have a new stadium by 2010. But, bigger at the time, they clobbered the Brewers in a 16-10 victory last night.

Now, one thing to keep in mind, clearly, is that the Twins pitching didn't do too great. Two runs were unearned, as the Twins defense continued to be sloppy (another Castro error, his sixth this year), but it wasn't a great overall effort. Scott Baker looked better than his numbers, though, as he struck out eight and begun to trust his offspeed stuff more and more (a very good sign) despite giving up a few two-run dingers to the Brew-crew.

The relievers faired worse. Matt Guerrier was fine in his shutout inning (2.59 ERA this year has him looking pretty good) but Willie Eyre didn't fair well. He gave up five hits in his two innings and gave up a three-run blast to former Twin Corey Koskie in the eight. With his ERA now at 6.19, a .353 OBA, a 1.94 WHIP, and only 7 Ks in 16 innings, moves may be considered in the future regarding Eyre.

Currently, Pat Neshek is sitting in the minors with 52 Ks in 29 2/3 innings, 7 saves, a 2.12 ERA, and a WHIP under one. Neshek, though vulnerable against lefties, appears to be a very solid relief prospect who could help out the club if necessary. If Eyre isn't getting better and the club feels like trying to win this year, the Twins probably need to make the move. The fact is Neshek is younger (by three years), has better stuff, likely has a future with the club, and is more dominate. Throwing sidearm at around 95 mph the way he does is likely to fool a lot of major league hitters, at least right away. Right now, a lot of people should be asking why we aren't considering calling Neshek up.

Otherwise, it was another great offensive game for the Twins. Four Twins (Castillo, Mauer, Cuddyer, and Morneau) had multi-hit games and Mauer was clearly the Twins' offensive star. Mauer had his third home run of the year in the fifth and went 4 for 5 on the day with 4 RBI and a walk, including a two-run bases loaded double. Now hitting .336/.401/.460, Mauer is clearly devoloping into the offensive star fans have been waiting for. The power is coming, the average is there, and now we can just watch and enjoy this young man hit.

Cuddyer and Monreau also had great games. Justin had a two-run double in the first to help break things out for the Twins and went 3 for 5 on the day with 3 RBI. Cuddyer went 2 for 5 with a career-high 5 RBI and two walks, as he had a bases-clearing triple in the fourth to give the Twins a 9-2 lead.

Today, the Twins look to try and sweep the Brewers. It will likely prove difficult, though, with top lefty Chris Capuano (4-3, 2.80 ERA, 56 Ks) on the mound to face Boof Bonser in his first career start for the Twins. Lets hope the Twins get a little luck and that the news of the Senate passing this stadium bill comes soon.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Garza File

Hello. Nick Nelson is out this weekend, as he is enjoyable this weekend's series in Milwaukee. He'll report back on Monday with a review of what he saw. Of course, I don't want to igore what happened last night. It was a great game, as the Twins saw what they were missing with a great Liriano start. Makes you wonder, after that 7-1 victory, how many other loses could have been wins if a guy like Liriano had started in the bullpen over a undeserving and overrated guy like Kyle Lohse?

Anyways, Nick plans to review this Monday. For today, he put together a post on Matt Garza, the recently promoted and dominating right-hander in the Twins system, drafted last year. Here it is:

The Twins are in a state of utter disrepair. The season may still seem young, but the fact is that we are over a quarter of the way through now and the Twins are well below .500 and light years away from the top of the division.

The offense hasn't been anything special, but there can be no denying that starting pitching has been the main culprit in the Twins' punchless play. Somehow, three starters that were well above average last year have transformed into three of the worst pitchers in the league. Fortunately, there is hope for the future even if Kyle Lohse and Brad Radke are gone next year and Carlos Silva never recaptures his groundball-inducing prowess. The Twins have several pitchers in their minor league system that project to have some success at the major league level, and today I will highlight perhaps the most promising member of that group.

The Twins selected Matt Garza out of Fresno State with their first pick (25th overall) in last summer's draft. Since his selection, the young right-hander has done nothing but impress.

After being drafted, Garza posted a 3.66 ERA in four starts in the rookie league before moving up to Beloit and finishing the season there with a 3.54 ERA in 10 starts. His last year in college, Garza had a 9.97 K/9 rate and a 1.36 WHIP -- between Elizabethton and Beloit last year he posted a 10.59 K/9 rate and a 1.16 WHIP.

Garza impressed the Twins in a more direct manner in spring training this year. He took advantage of an invite to the big-league camp, pitching 7 and 1/3 innings and allowing just one run while wowing the manager and coaches with his stuff and his poise on the mound.

The Twins will likely try to avoid rushing Garza to the bigs after their experience with another high-profile college pitcher they drafted several years ago. Adam Johnson was the second overall pick in the 2000 draft -- the Twins took him ahead of such players as Rocco Baldelli, Chase Utley and Boof Bonser -- but he never had a lick of success at the major league level after the Twins called him up in just his first full year of pro ball and in fact never pitched well in the majors or minors again (he is currently struggling in the Athletics' minor league system). The last thing the Twins want to do is push Garza too hard and risk the same type of catastrophic results.

With that said, Garza's outstanding play is forcing the issue. He opened this season in Fort Myers pitching for the Miracle, the Twins' Class-A affiliate, where he went 5-1 with a 1.42 ERA, striking out 53 in 44.1 innings while posting a miniscule 0.86 WHIP. Apparently that dominance was enough to convince the Twins that Garza was ready for a promotion, which he received last week when he jumped to Double-A New Britain. In his first start for the Rockcats on Thursday afternoon, Garza was brilliant, pitching 7 and 2/3 shutout innings while striking out 13.

The Johnson/Garza comparison works to some extent, but Johnson never had the kind of success in the minors that Garza is having right now. And, as Patrick Reusse noted in the Star Tribune a couple weeks ago, "Garza has better stuff than Johnson." If Matt continues to dominate like he is right now, he will find himself on the fast-track to the major leagues.

If his success can eventually translate to the majors, Garza would provide a welcome respite to a list of questionable first-round draft picks for the Twins in the past several years that includes Johnson, outfielder B.J. Garbe, and pitcher Ryan Mills. In fact, since 1998, the Twins have had only two of their first round picks reach the majors, those being Johnson and Joe Mauer. Of those two, Mauer is the only one who's had any success. Things aren't all grim though, as the Twins have some first-rounders from the past few years other than Garza that will probably be making a splash with the major league club in the near future, including outfielder Denard Span (2002), third baseman Matt Moses (2003) and pitcher Glen Perkins (2004).

Garza's dominance in the minors is making the Twins look pretty wise and is helping to shape a trend of improved drafting habits for the organization after a string of wasted top picks. The second pitcher they selected in last year's draft, Kevin Slowey, is probably next in line to receive a promotion to Double-A. Like Garza, Slowey started the season in Fort Myers, and he has posted a 1.12 ERA with an incredible 63:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 48.1 innings there.

At 22, Garza is still young and certainly one great start in Double-A is no indication that he is a guaranteed major league stud. Still, everything we've seen from this kid has been extremely encouraging and if he continues to mow down hitters at the rate he is right now, we might see him contending for a spot in the starting rotation as soon as next year.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Another Sweep in Mo-Town

Well, as much as I'd love to write something positive about the Twins, there really isn't anything like that to say. Once again, the Twins went into Detroit and got swept convincingly. Sure, they actually scored more than one run this time, but in the end, it didn't mean much. When just a few measly runs would have won the game for Johan on Wednesday, they got nothing. Yesterday, with Brad Radke continuing his mediocrity, the offense didn't provide much and the defense crumbled behind him. And Tuesday, with the no- banished Kyle Lohse on the mound continuing to pitch worse than Jose Lima, the Twins couldn't put up much of a fight either.

This is not to say that Radke was great, either. He allowed 10 hits and walked three and that kind of lack of control is not very "Radke-esque." The hitters once again couldn't come up with much. A rally in the ninth was stunted when Torii Hunter flew out to end the game. Hunter went 0-for-3 over the course of the game with runners on, stranding a total of five and killing a separate rally in the third by grounding into a double-play. Sure, he walked and had a hit, but his struggles with men on certainly didn't help. Same goes for Justin Morneau and his three strikeouts.

Only Mike Redmond really counts as an offensive "star" for the day. Rondell White did have 2 RBIs, but one was a bases loaded walk (have to imagine that was more the pitcher's doing) and the other a sac fly. Redmond, on the other hand, went 3-for-5 with an RBI in the ninth inning to set things up for the Torii flyout.

Basically, it was all bad news for the Twins, who are now 17-24 and 9 1/2 games behind the first-place Tigers.

The only good news comes from other fronts. Matt Garza threw a great game in his Double-A debut, striking out 13 in 7 2/3 innings. There will be more on that later this weekend. And, much to my happiness, we may get something for Kyle Lohse. According to the Star Trib, the Mets have shown some interest in Kyle and a trade may occur within the next few days, as it appears Lohse has no interest in reporting to Triple-A. We will never have to see Lohse pitch in a Twins uniform again, and I, for one, am not too broken up about that.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Mo-Town Funk

One way or another, the Twins find a way to lose in Detroit. If it's not the pitching, it's the offense. Last night, it was the latter. Johan Santana predictably delivered another brilliant performance, striking out a season-high 12 while allowing only four hits and one walk over eight innings, but Vance Wilson hit a two-run homer against him in the eighth and that was all the Tigers would need as they picked up a 2-0 victory over the Twins.

Tigers' starter Justin Verlander was not exactly dominant -- he pitched eight innings and did not collect a strikeout. Still, he allowed only six hits and did not walk anyone, which was good enough to shut out the Twins.

Things are looking pretty grim right now for the Twins, who are on a four-game losing streak. The outlook probably won't improve today with Brad Radke facing Kenny Rogers. Still, there is at least some reason for optimism. We won't have to watch Carlos Silva or Kyle Lohse make a start in the near future, and instead we'll get a look at youngsters Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser in starting roles.

I'll be heading to Milwaukee this weekend, and I will be attending the Twins/Brewers game at Miller Park on Friday night. Hopefully I will have Internet access and be able to post on the experience, but if not, have a good weekend everyone and I will be back Sunday.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Breaking News

Mid-day post today. KFAN is reporting that Kyle Lohse has been demoted to Triple-A and Boof Bonser will start Saturday against the Brewers. I'll update if I hear it from a more solid source and can provide a link.

Here's a link to the Pioneer Press story, it's official. Bonser will start on Sunday, not Saturday as I mis-stated above. Should be an interesting series in Milwaukee, with the Twins starting a trio of rookies in Baker, Liriano and Bonser against a Brewers lineup that is filled with its fair share of young talent as well.

Oh the Irony! Lohse Passes Silva

I recall just a few days ago feeling this awful, dreadful feeling. It felt like my team had just began to get on a roll, just began to get their confidence going, when someone decided to get in the way and throw them in the ditch. Sunday night, that culprit was Carlos Silva. Luckily, following my plea (but not likely because of it), the Twins decided to demote him to the bullpen and finally promote Fransisco Liriano to the starting rotation.

Now, after last night's debacle, I am feeling about the same level of disgust with Kyle Lohse as I did with Silva. A lot of people, the Twins included, thought his last start against Texas was a good sign. Rick Anderson said that he had made adjustments on the mound. What I saw was a guy who got pretty lucky against a powerful Texas lineup after he walked four of them in six innings. Last night, he didn't get so lucky. Instead, he gave up five runs on six hits in just 2 and 2/3 innings of work. Lohse nows passes Silva for the league "lead" for the worst ERA at 8.92. His numbers, like Silva's, are just ridiculous. Opponents are hitting at a .339 clip off of Kyle and he has a WHIP of 1.98. In other words, he's allowing nearly two runners an inning. Sure, he is striking out a few, but that really doesn't matter if you walk nearly as many as you fan.

Therefore, as with Silva, I have to say it's time to take Lohse out of the rotation. There is just no way you can leave in a guy who is doing so incredibly awful and even worse now than the guy you just demoted. Who would take his place? Personally, I think Matt Guerrier should be the guy. It would be great if the Twins got more new blood around, with guys like Boof Bonser doing well at Triple-A, but they are unlikely to consider such options.

Guerrier has been solid since early struggles, as he has a 2.82 ERA. He is more of a long reliever for the Twins and came up as a starter. He has never had great success as a major league starter, but he would be a fine fifth starter for the Twins and if he could give them some good innings, that is a lot more than either Silva or Lohse has done this year. If not, they have to look into their minor league system and likely bring up Bonser after a move. Either way, they cannot let Lohse make another start if they have any ambitions of turning this season around.

Of course, I don't want to let the offense off the hook. Perhaps playing Joe Mauer against lefties still isn't a great idea. Yes, he is hitting .273 off them, but only with a .661 OPS and last night he grounded into two double plays, leaving a total of five men on base. Justin Morneau, although grabbing an RBI with a bases loaded walk, left two men in scoring position and grounded into a key double play. The team left a total of nine men on base, with Michael Cuddyer leaving seven on himself. That shouldn't be a knock on Cuddyer, though, since he did drive in a run with a sac fly, but in general, he and the rest of the Twins failed after gaining an early 3-0 lead to do much with the opportunities at hand.

Not to worry, though. Johan Santana is on the hill today and, if recent starts are telling of anything, he should have a good chance to end the Twins' ugly losing streak in Detroit.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Treading Water

Sunday night's 9-7 loss against the White Sox really had a deflating quality to it, the kind that can put a hot team into a slump. They had their starting pitcher throw away a four-run lead. They put up seven runs in the first inning against a pitcher that has historically dominated them, only to have that effort erased by the fourth inning. They committed blunders in the field. They hit into a triple play. It was brutal and demoralizing, particularly for a team that had played so well over the past week.

After putting themselves in great position for a series win over the first-place Sox by winning the first two games of the four game set, the Twins wound up with a split after losing 7-3 yesterday and now find themselves in essentially the same position they were coming into the series; four games under .500 and 8.5 games out of first place. The starting pitching continues to struggle and the offense, while decent, could not come up with enough timely hits to keep up with Chicago.

This time it was Scott Baker's turn to struggle. Baker fell to 1-4 on the year as he failed to make it out of the fifth inning. He allowed five earned runs on 11 hits in just 4 and 2/3 innings, giving Scott Podsednik and Chris Widger their first home runs of the season along the way. Baker is a different pitcher from most on the Twins staff in that he likes to work up in the zone rather than trying to keep everything down. It can be effective if he's able to keep opposing hitters off-balance, but when he doesn't make good pitches and leaves them hanging, pretty much anyone is going to nail them out of the park -- even a backup catcher and a speedy outfielder with only 22 career homers.

The losses on Sunday and Monday put the Twins in a difficult situation. At 17-21, they now head into a three-game series on the road against the Tigers; their last trip to Detroit wasn't pretty. I think it's pretty clear that the Twins are a better team now than they were then, but I'm still not at all comfortable with the starting pitching outside of Mr. Santana. Kyle Lohse and Brad Radke simply have to pitch better in this series than they have against the Tigers previously. The rotation is struggling.

Fortunately, help is on the way. Yesterday we called for Carlos Silva to be removed from the rotation in favor of Francisco Liriano, and now it appears that the Twins have answered. I'm not expecting Santana-like dominance from Liriano immediately as a starter, but I certainly expect him to be better than Silva and he should get better and stronger with each start. The Twins will continue to have problems with their rotation no doubt, but this is certainly a step in the right direction.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Historical Loss Leads to Inevitable Question

That question would be....why is Carlos Silva in the rotation? Or, why, for that matter, was he left in to away a lead and give Mark Buerhle the kind of victory that has happened only one other time, in 1900? (That is, a starting pitcher getting a win after allowing seven runs in the first inning.) Let's throw a few stats out here to create the picture, shall we?

* Silva is allowing a .363/.412/.715 line for opposing hitters this year. To put it mildly, only three players in all of baseball (Albert Pujols, Jim Thome, and Jason Giambi) have a higher OPS than Silva is allowing to opposing hitters collectively.

* Silva has allowed 15 home runs in 46 innings. If he were to throw 188 and 1/3 innings like he did last year, that would put him on pace to allow about 61 homers. Last year he allowed 25. The major league record for home runs allowed in a season is 50, set by Mr. Bert Blyleven. Silva is starting to look an awful lot like the guy the Twins traded to the Phillies to get him a few years back...

* Silva's 8.80 ERA, which is nearly one run higher than the second-worst starter in baseball currently, Josh Towers, is nearly double his worst ERA in his career (4.43). Something is clearly wrong and it doesn't appears to be getting fixed.

In fact, its unlikely anything will happen to change this trend. No doubt the fact that Silva's past gives no precedent his awful performance so far is what has caused the Twins to be so hesitant to make a move with him. However, at this point, it is clear that Silva needs to be banished from the rotation. He has allowed 5+ runs in every single start he's made this year except for a home start against Kansas City. If the Twins are going to keep him on the roster for the time being, which they almost surely will, he should be moved to the bullpen. As a reliever in Philadelphia, Silva had a 3.83 ERA over two years and allowed only 11 HRs in 171.1 innings. Whether it's a relocation to the bullpen, a trip to the minors, or a trade/release (highly unlikely), something must happen with Silva. He cannot be allowed to make another start. If the Twins do that, they might as well use the dagger they couldn't put through the heart of the White Sox to stab themselves. He cannot get it done and at this point, and leaving Francisco Liriano in the bullpen while the rotation continues to struggle so mightily seems insane and just idiotic. Silva has to go.

I'd love to say some negatives things about the offense, but you just can't really blame them for the loss. Sure, they were fairly inept after their seven-run first inning and even managed to hit into a triple-play in the sixth, but they cannot be blamed for this loss. It's all Silva. The Twins defense did make a few errors which made things harder on Carlos, but several great defensive plays also helped him from taking further damage.

As Jim Souhan notes in today's Star Tribune:

If the Twins hope to contend, or even crest .500, they'll need better starting pitching. Johan Santana and Liriano starting 40 percent of your games could solve a lot of problems, and putting Silva in the bullpen could ease the pressure on a pitcher who admits he feels wracked with guilt.
It's unfortunate that the Twins lost a game they easily could have won last night, but if it serves the larger purpose of getting Silva removed from the rotation, then perhaps it will be for the best in the long run.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Taking the Fifth

Halfway through last night's game, it looked like the Twins were back to their old shenanigans, producing nothing offensively and having their starter knocked around relentlessly. A big fifth inning for the Twins offense quickly reversed all that, as they rallied for five runs to take the lead and never looked back in what would end up being an 8-4 victory.

The Twins' offensive turnaround was abrupt to say the least. White Sox starter Javier Vazquez had cruised through the first four frames and the Twins entered the bottom half of the fifth inning trailing 4-0. Suddenly, in the fifth, they tagged Vazquez for five runs on six singles and a sac fly. The Twins scored eight runs on 12 hits in their last four innings after amassing just two hits in the first four. Meanwhile, the Twins pitching staff turned it around on the Sox as Brad Radke, Francisco Liriano and Juan Rincon combined to hold the White Sox to two hits in innings 6-9. Talk about a complete role reversal.

Radke's start had its positive and negative aspects. It was encouraging that Radke did not get crushed; the White Sox had to manufacture runs against him. Three of Chicago's runs came in on sacrifice flies, and the other came when Tadahito Iguchi was singled in after stealing second. It was discouraging that Radke's outing was still not particularly good. Over 5 and 2/3 innings, he allowed four runs on eight hits while walking two and striking out only one. Not a particularly good outing, but good enough to win on this night, and he didn't allow any home runs.

Luis Castillo continues to amaze me. He has been absolutely phenomenal when he's stepped to the plate with two outs and runners in scoring position, and he continued that trend last night. Castillo might have had the biggest hit of the game when he displayed some rare power from the left side and drove a two-run homer over the baggy. The sixth inning shot extended the Twins' lead from one run to a comfortable three. Castillo also doubled and singled on the night and stole third base. The second baseman is now hitting an outstanding .357/.408/.478. Other offensive stars included Justin Morneau, who had a pair of hits and RBIs and has his OPS up to a respectable .810. Joe Mauer also had two hits and two RBIs.

The Twins are still a couple games under .500 and well out of first place, but they are playing really well right now -- much more like I had expected them to play coming into the season. The Twins have won six of their last seven (with all of those wins coming against very good teams). They've averaged nearly 5.9 runs in 12 games this month, including double-digit outbursts against the White Sox on Friday and the Rangers on Wednesday.

I realize I said on Friday that it was pretty unrealistic to think the Twins have a chance at the postseason this year, but in reality this is a team that is by no means out of the race. With that said, Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan must prove that they are serious about wanting to win. They need to get Jason Bartlett up and put him at shortstop over Juan Castro. They need to start giving Luis Rodriguez more starts at third base. And if Carlos Silva gets knocked around tonight (which is almost a certainty) they need to seriously consider dropping him from the rotation in favor or Liriano.

The Twins' hot streak will more than likely come to and end today with Silva going against tough lefty Mark Buehrle. A Twins win would not only guarantee a crucial series victory against the Sox, it would make a pretty strong statement. I have pretty low expectations, but with the way they're playing right now, I really can't discount any possibilites.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Santana Rocks the Socks

Johan Santana continues to prove one thing to any doubters: He is the best starter in the bigs. Seven innings, 10 Ks, and several suprised A.J. looks later, the Twins have themselves a victory. Of course, when the score is 10-1, you can't exactly discount what the offense did last night.

From Santana's great start to Justin Morneau's two-run dinger to start the scoring in the second to Nick Punto's incredible play to end the game, the Twins had an all-out great showing against the top competition in the Central.

But if Johan Santana is the Cy Young of the game, Luis Castillo is the MVP. Sure, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau's homers were impressive. In fact, its great to see them hit with power to center. Especially Morneau, which is a sign that he may really be developing into a power presence. However, Castillo gets top honors. For one, he was 3-for-5 with 3 RBIs and a run scored. But more importantly, it was the way he got his RBIs.

His biggest hit came in the fourth, with the bases loaded and two outs. Castillo worked the count full against Chicago starter Jon Garland before driving a pitch to the opposite field for a two-run single. Later in the eighth, with side-arming lefty Boone Logan on the mound, Castillo showed off his power from the right side with a RBI double. He is now hitting .345 with 18 RBIs.

Also, I should note that Michael Cuddyer made a great play in the first. This is not to discount Punto's incredible play to end the game, but Cuddyer's throw to get Pablo Ozuna out at third when he led off the game with a double was a great display of his arm. He really looks pretty solid out in right and I am hoping he gets more and more comfortable out there.

There is not really too much more to say. Johan looked great and continued his domination of the White Sox. The Twins bats came alive against the Sox. Even Tony Batista managed to get his first home run in a month. What we have to hope is that this continues into today's game, where the Twins will face Javier Vazquez, who is having a very solid season for the White Sox since being aquired for Chris Young in the offseason. The hope is this can start momentum against the Sox and Brad Radke can produce his second quality start of the year.

Friday, May 12, 2006


It might be time to start looking ahead to the future for the Minnesota Twins.

I'm not a ridiculous pessimist, and I'm not going to sit here and write off the team's 2006 season in the middle of May. On the other hand, I have to acknowledge that at this point it is pretty unrealistic to think the Twins have a chance to be in the playoffs at the end of the year. Right now they are four games under .500 and 8.5 games out of first place. They trail three teams in the division, and passing three teams to return to first place would mean a whole lot would have to go right. While a couple winning streaks would cure a lot, the Twins have had their hands plenty full getting victories at home against teams like the Mariners and Royals. The pitching is not good, the offense hasn't improved a whole lot, and the management is shaky at best.

Let's take a look at the facts. It is more than likely that each of the following players will be gone next year: Juan Castro, Tony Batista, Shannon Stewart, Torii Hunter, Brad Radke and Kyle Lohse. Each of those players is currently in the last year of their contract (in Hunter's case, there is an option for next year that the team will probably buy out because it is inordinately expensive). That's half the current starting position players and 2/5 of the rotation, all gone after this year. Those are key spots on a baseball team and, in many cases, there are not immediate answers as to how these spots will be filled.

At shortstop, Jason Bartlett should finally get his chance at the everyday gig in 2007, since the Twins really won't have any other options unless they trade or acquire one in free agency. The answer at third base is less apparent. The third basemen in Rochester (Glenn Williams, Terry Tiffee) are backups at the major league level at best. 2003 first-round pick Matt Moses is off to a very strong start at Double-A this year, but who knows whether or not he will be ready to start in the majors by the beginning of next season. Luis Rodriguez may provide a stopgap until Moses is ready, but that's only if the team can get over stubborn refusal to play him there regularly.

The outfield is an even stickier situation. The Twins should retain three outfielders next year in Michael Cuddyer, Lew Ford and Jason Kubel. Many feel that Denard Span is the team's future at center field, but like Moses he is still in Double-A right now and it's not real likely that he'll be ready to jump in and start in the majors at the outset of the 2007 season. Ford is a potential stopgap there, but if he's in center the options for the other outfield spots become more limited. Would an outfield made up of Ford, Kubel and Cuddyer be a decent one? Optimistically, yes. Kubel has been a very good hitter in the minors and projects to be a solid major leaguer. Cuddyer is extremely hot right now and appears to have turned a corner after failing to put it all together in his first several years in the majors. Ford probably doesn't have a future as a starter in the majors, but takes good at-bats and is good enough defensively to fill in at center for an extended period of time. On the other hand, if Kubel struggles in his transition to the majors, Cuddyer reverts back to his past mediocrity, and Span fails to develop, the Twins will have a problem on their hands. There are no corner outfielders in the Twins' farm system that will be ready to make an impact as a starter at the major league level in the near future.

As for the spots in the rotation that will be vacated by Radke and Lohse, the solution here should be a little less tricky. One of these spots will go to Francisco Liriano. The other could be filled by one of the Twins' solid minor leaguers like Boof Bonser, or a veteran free agent. The pitching rotation should be in pretty good shape for years to come, as the lower-level minor league teams are flush with great talent.

With all that in mind, it seems to me that the biggest thing the Twins need to address through a trade or free agency is a corner outfielder or designated hitter. If Cuddyer and Kubel both live up to expectations, they will be solid major league players but not spectacular in any area. What the Twins need is a guy who they can insert in the middle of the lineup behind Joe Mauer. While acquiring a marquis player of this type has been a pipe dream for Twins fans in the past, it is realistic at this point for a few reasons. The biggest thing is the fact that Hunter, Radke, Stewart, Lohse, Castro, and Batista currently combine to eat up over $30 million in salary. Take all that out of the picture and you've got some serious financial flexibility, presuming Carl Pohlad is willing to keep the payroll around $60 million. Even after Terry Ryan takes care of some of the necessary motions, like giving long-term deals to Mauer and Joe Nathan and extending Johan Santana's contract, there will be room for the addition of a relatively large contract or two.

That opens the door to offering a handsome deal in free agency or else bringing in a big and fairly expensive name via trade. As I stated before, the Twins' farm system is loaded with top pitching prospects, and there are several teams in the league with a dearth of good young pitching who would be willing to part with an elite offensive player to upgrade in that department (I have discussed Tampa Bay and Cincinnati at length as potential trade partners in past posts).

The fact is that the door is open for the Twins to make a trade, and they'd be wise to do so. If they can get any value for the players that are going to be leaving at the end of the year regardless, they should do so.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Game of Inches

The Twins won yesterday's game in a rather unconvincing fashion, taking a road series from the Rangers 2-1. The Twins are, by a number of factors, lucky to have gotten the win. For one, the game was very nearly tied in the eighth inning when Mark DeRosa's deep fly hit off the yellow stripe on the side of the outfield wall where it rises several feet in left-center. Instead of a three-run home run, DeRosa provided a two-run double that left the game at 4-3. After Juan Rincon managed to get out of the eighth without further damage, Joe Nathan shut the door on the game with a quick and nasty ninth, striking out two.

Of course, DeRosa's fly wasn't the only luck the Twins got. Over the course of the game, the Twins had three hitters come to the plate with the bases loaded and no outs. Each time, the batter succeeded in getting a run in. The problem is that twice, a run scored on a double-play, and the other was the result of Texas starter Vincente Padilla's terrible control in the seventh inning that led him to hit Mike Redmond with a pitch after walking Torii Hunter and Michael Cuddyer before hitting Justin Morneau.

The only other run the Twins scored, which ended up being the difference in game, came in the form of a scalding single up the middle off of Hunter's hot bat in the eighth, scoring Nick Punto. Scoring four runs on six hits is normally impressive, but the luck is made more apparent by this stat: The Twins were 11/15 in scoring opportunities in Tuesday's blowout win, but were 1/10 in yesterday's victory. Much of the blame should and can be placed on the shoulders of the two gaping holes in the Twins' lineup: Tony Batista and Juan Castro.

Over a month into the year, Batista has proven with his .238/.292/.362 line that is he is no longer worthy of a lineup spot. That doesn't even factor in his sub-par defensive play. Same goes for Castro. His .222/.258/.270 is worse, but then again, what do you expect from a .230 career hitter? Not surprisingly, together they went 0-for-8 yesterday and left a total of six men on base, with Castro stranding three in scoring position. He also had an error in the eighth inning that helped continue a potential Rangers rally. We are merely left to wonder at this point why Luis Rodriguez and Jason Bartlett, or even Punto, aren't starting in their places. Plain and simply, Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan need to swallow their pride and bench or release these guys.

As for Kyle Lohse, his six innings were not phenomenal, but likely enough to keep his spot in the rotation. The four walks are concerning, but his six strikeouts were impressive. What I wonder is why Lohse is the only pitcher being singled out to compete for his spot in the rotation. As far as I can tell, Carlos Silva has been a worse pitcher this year and has not shown any signs of breaking out (I don't count the KC game). I am fine if Lohse is in the rotation, just as long as Silva is taken out to make room for Liriano if he doesn't improve.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


The Twins offense has been anemic at times this year, bringing back painful memories of a club that last year scored the fewest runs in the American League. However, on occasion, there have been outstanding performances that give a glimmer of hope that maybe, with good pitching, this offense will be good enough to win a lot of ballgames. Last night's game was one such occasion.

The Twins batted around against Rangers starter Kevin Millwood in the first inning, putting up six runs, and continued to pound the Texas pitching staff for the entire game. The Twins hitters were 11-for-15 in scoring opportunities. Last week, after the Twins' 6-1 victory over the Royals (a game in which the Twins scored six runs in two innings but had only one hit outside of that stretch), I made the following plea:
Some day it would be nice to just see them come out and hit the ball hard consistently all game long, without these long stretches of 1-2-3 innings. Is that so much to ask?
Apparently not. The Twins scored 10 runs in the first three innings of last night's game and another five in the last three innings, finishing with 15 runs on 19 hits. Now, a flurry of notes on some great offensive performances:

* Michael Cuddyer is on an absolute tear. Cuddy went 3-for-5 with three doubles, 2 RBIs and a walk, raising his OPS on the season to 1.054. How long can he keep this up? Who knows, but it does appear that Cuddyer is finally figuring it out at the plate. He is now on a 10-game hitting streak.

* Likewise, Torii Hunter continued his torrid hot streak. Hunter, who was hitting below .200 just a week ago, collected three hits and now sports a respectable line of .266/.321/.476. Hunter and Cuddyer have looked great hitting fourth and fifth, and as a result the Twins offense has taken off, scoring 4+ runs in seven of their last eight games. See what happens when you get a little production out of the middle of your lineup? The one disconcerting thing about all this is that both Hunter and Cuddyer have a history of being slump-prone players, and the thought of them both falling into a rut would mean another long run of incompetence for this offense. Here's hoping that even when they cool off, both can at least keep collecting extra-base hits and driving in runs at a reasonable rate.

* Luis Rodriguez started at third base in place of Tony Batista and batted leadoff in front of Luis Castillo. Elrod ignited the Twins' first inning six-run rally with a single to lead off the game and ended up collecting a pair of hits and a walk in the game. In today's Star Tribune, Ron Gardenhire said the following about the decision to start Rodriguez over Batista:
"With [Carlos] Silva throwing sinkers, we're trying to get a little more movement in the infield, especially on the left side," Gardenhire said. "I know Luis moves around a little better than Batista side-to-side, and he always seems to throw out better at-bats, too."
So, let me get this straight. Gardy will readily admit that Rodriguez plays better defense than Batista and has better at-bats. If he recognizes these facts, then why on Earth would he continue to start Batista at third? Is it Batista's superior power? No, that can't be. Elrod currently has just one fewer homer in 70 fewer at-bats and has a 50-point advantage over T-Bat in slugging percentage.

I supported the Batista signing in the offseason to some degree, sort of a "let's see what he can do" sort of thing. Batista got off to a decent start, but now, with 100 at-bats under his belt, I think we can plainly see that he's just not going to give us much offensively. He's not striking out a ton and his walk rate has been up a bit, but he's still been making a lot of outs and his advertised home run power has been absent for an entire month. On top of that, he is a horrible defender. Let's give Elrod a string of starts at third base and see what the kid can do.

* In the same Star Tribune article, it is mentioned that Scott Bakers scheduled Friday start will be bumped back, meaning Johan Santana, Brad Radke, and Carlos Silva will face the Chicago White Sox this weekend and Baker will pitch the finale of the four-game series on Monday. The interesting thing about this is that it pushes Kyle Lohse's next start back, and every indication is that if Lohse struggles today he will lose his spot in the rotation to Francisco Liriano, who would start Tuesday. This is very good news. It is becoming increasingly clear the Lohse can't get it done right now, and Liriano would be a massive upgrade in the rotation.

* Speaking of Silva, he continued to stink last night. His poor performance was overshadowed by the Twins' offensive explosion, but the fact remains that allowing five runs (four earned) and 11 hits over six innings, including back-to-back home runs, is not a good performance. Getting Lohse out of the rotation would be a good start, but eventually something is going to have to be done about Silva, who has shown no signs of improvement and has apparently lost his ability to do the things that gave him success last year. Last night, Silva had a 9:13 groundball-to-fly ball ratio, which means his pitches still are not doing what he wants them to. I guess that he's still not "fixed" yet after all.

* Justin Morneau has finally shaken the Mendoza nickname, as he went 3-for-5 with a pair of home runs (including one against left-hander C.J. Wilson) to raise his average to .224.

* On another note, congratulations to Matt LeCroy, who hit his first home run of the season for the Nationals last night in a 7-1 victory over the Reds. LeCroy is hitting a solid .281/.343/.469 in 32 at-bats this year.

Lohse versus Vicente Padilla, today, 1:05. Will it be Lohse's last outing in the Twins' starting rotation? We'll see.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Big Three Losers

The Twins certainly could have given the Rangers a run for their money last night, save for one person: Brad Radke. Radke, along with Carlos Silva and Kyle Lohse, has so far been among the leagues worst starting pitchers, if not the worst. If you forget about Radke's solid performance against Kansas City last week, he is 2-4 with a 9.19 ERA, not to mention that ugly .349 opponent's batting average. As for Silva, without his good start against KC, he'd be 1-4 with a 10.32 ERA. And Lohse is 1-3 with a 9.71. To put things in a different way, the Twins as a club are hitting .256/.313/.378 as a club. Opponents are hitting .311/.351/.506 with 44 HRs and 170 RBI. That's generally not conducive to a lot of winning.

If last night's start proved anything, its that if the Twins want to win, they need to do something about their starting pitching. Four runs may have been enough to beat the Rangers, if only a different man was on the mound. Radke's line -- 5 IP, 11 hits allowed, 6 earned runs, three walks, and one measly strikeout -- was simply awful. Even if Radke is a "veteran" who signed for less money and clearly a fan favorite, he needs to be called into question. The Twins need to considering trading or reassigning all three of these guys. I would rather almost anyone else was starting. Even with a rotation of Santana-Liriano-Baker-Guerrier-Bonser, I'd be more comfortable. At least there would be an apparent effort to get better.

The point is, its getting into May and the Twins are 13-19. Something needs to be done. Its getting ridiculous and we can't expect this lineup to go out and win every game, even if they are showing signs of life and starting to take better at-bats. If that kind of play results in nothing, the likeliness is that the Twins batters will just resort to old habits.

Everytime I see Radke, Silva, or Lohse's name before a game, I get nervous. Its almost never a good feeling. The good news is that change may be on the way. The Twins reporter, Kelly Thesier, noted in her mailbag that "the patience with Lohse also seems to be wearing thin, especially after two bad starts in a row against the Tigers. Carlos Silva showed promise, finding his sinker again in his last start, and Brad Radke has the proven track record as a 12-year veteran, so I think if Liriano is going to ease into the rotation it will likely be in Lohse's spot." I, of course, still think Radke may need to be moved and I am not yet sold that Silva is "back," since it was only KC. But I'd love to see Liriano take Lohse's spot. I think just about all Twins fans would love that.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Hellooo Johan

In his past few starts preceding yesterday's matchup against Detroit, Johan Santana had shown glimmers of his top form. It started with a great outing in Chicago on April 21 in which he shut down the powerful White Sox lineup for seven innings except for a 2-run homer by Jim Thome. In his next couple starts, Santana started running up his strikeout totals and picked up victories against the Royals and Mariners. All this led one to believe that Santana might be able to stop the miserable run of the Twins' rotation against the Tigers, who had demolished Twins pitching in each of the teams' first five matchups. And did he ever.

Santana carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning of yesterday's game, striking out eight in the first four innings. Johan was as dominant as ever, absolutely blowing away a lineup that has been perhaps the most dangerous in the league so far. Santana appeared to simply run out of gas in the seventh inning, where he lost his bid for a no-hitter as well as a shutout. He gave up four hits in that inning alone, including a two-run home run to Magglio Ordonez. Nonetheless, Santana's final line was excellent: 7 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 11 K, 1 BB. I'd be interested to see if Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan, who have been so content to blame all of Carlos Silva's struggles on his participation in the World Baseball Classic, will be willing to come out and admit the possibility that Santana's participation may have had a tremendously positive effect on him. Over the past couple years, Santana has set a trend of taking until about June to truly hit his stride, but now he appears to be doing so in early May. Could the fact that he was playing competitive baseball about a month before he usually does be the X-factor here? I don't necessarily have an opinion about it one way or the other, but I think it's definitely a possibility.

Meanwhile, the Twins offense once again did its part. After scoring a grand total of one run in three games in Detroit the previous weekend, the Twins put up 17 in this series. The series MVP offensively has got to be Michael Cuddyer, who hit .545/.615/.909 with a couple walks and 3 RBIs over the three games. Cuddyer hit a two-run triple in the first inning of yesterday's game that put the Twins on the board first and gave Santana some much-needed breathing room. As a guy who's been critical of Cuddyer's seeming inability to live up to the potential he showed as a minor leaguer, I'm absolutely thrilled with the way he's playing right now and I'm loving him in the five-hole. The thing that we'll have to watch for the next several weeks is whether Cuddyer is currently in the middle of a short-lived hot streak or if he's truly ready to break out and put together a solid full season.

Torii Hunter is having a very typical Torii streak right now. After a couple weeks of mind-numbingly bad play, Hunter is extremely hot right now and is in the process of bringing his batting average back up to respectability. At the conclusion of the Mariners series which ended Monday night, Hunter was hitting .194 with an ugly .607 OPS. Now, less than a week later, his average is up to .243 and the OPS has shot up to .768. A 160-point increase in OPS in less than seven days is pretty impressive. It's unfortunate that we know from experience that Torii won't keep this up for too much longer and is bound to drop into another nasty slump soon.

After starting the season 0-10 against legitimate division opponents, the Twins can feel a little better now after taking the last two games of their home series against the Tigers. At 13-18, they've still got a ways to go before they can get back to .500, but getting a couple impressive victories over a team that has embarrassed them all season is a good enough start. I'm a little frightened at the thought of what the Rangers hitters are going to do to Radke, Silva and Lohse in the three-game series that begins tomorrow in Arlington, but for now I'll just bask in the warm glow of a terrific outing by Santana and a good quality series for the Twins offense.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Twins 7, Tigers 6

In the bottom of the ninth last night, Luis Castillo drove Shannon Stewart in for the winning run in a 7-6 victory over the Tigers. It's the first victory for the Twins in 11 tries against the big three (Indians, White Sox, Tigers). And the credit should go to Stewart. After all, his triple tied the game and put a runner on third with one out. Dick and Bert were heaping praise on Castill and quickly award him the Player of the Game award, but that's just not right. It's wonderful that Castillo got the game-winning RBI single, scooting a grounder past a drawn-in infield, but Stewart basically won the game with his triple and Magglio Ordonez helped with his awful play out in right.

The great trend here is that of Twins patience. In past three games, the Twins have walked six times, two times, and four times. Those are good signs, since it paid off the last two nights (though, obviously not during Thursday's embarassment). Six runs Friday night and seven last night against the best pitching staff in the American League so far. Those are clearly good signs.

Of course, before the great comeback, the Twins ruined several rallies by grounding into double plays. Three, to be exact, from Tony Batista, Rondell White, and Stewart himself. White still looks ugly, with his .154 average and .332 OPS. In his last seven games, it's not like things have really got better. He's hitting .176/.176/.235 with a double and two RBI.

And Torii Hunter, who was great tonight, continues to be frustrating underneath. It's tough knowing that this guy killed the offense for weeks before he caught fire lately. He is now hitting .241/.296/.464 with seven home runs and twenty RBI. That isn't too bad in terms of run production, since that gives him a pace for 38 homers and 108 RBI. The problem is, for a streaky guy like Torii, it's tough to know what will happen. It's likely he won't be suited for the cleanup all year, but hopefully he helps now and someone steps up (Rondell?) is the year goes on.

On the other side of things, the pitching didn't get that much better. Scott Baker had a decent start, as he had good command and a solid fastball, striking out five in six innings of work, while giving up four runs. One of them should have been unearned, considering the ugly play Batista made in the second inning to give Carlos Guillen a double and allow Magglio Ordonez to score from first. Fransisco Liriano didn't fare too well, as he gave up two quick runs in the seventh before getting pulled in favor of Jesse Crain.

Crain, on the other hand, looks a lot better. He struck out the side in the eighth, mixing a fastball hitting the corners at 96-97 MPH and a very sharp-looking slider at 85 mph. It's a good sign if Crain can come back and start pitching the seventh effectively in front of Rincon and Nathan. That would potentially free up Liriano to move into the rotation in place of a guy like Lohse, who looks so awful.

Today should be interesting. With lefty Mike Maroth, who is 4-1 with a 1.78 ERA so far this year, on the mound, let's hope the Twins can continue to be patient. However, with Gardy likely keeping Morneau and Mauer in the lineup, they may not fare as well as they did against Rogers Friday night. Hopefully they won't have to with Johan Santana on the mound.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

What's Wrong with Ron-Ron?

The Twins have gotten some pretty poor offensive performances from a number of players up to this point, but at least the majority of those players have provided some type of value. Torii Hunter and Justin Mendoza have both seen their batting averages fluctuate around the .200 mark, but they have been run-producers, leading the team in home runs and RBIs. Joe Mauer has lacked power but has gotten aboard steadily and shown great patience at the plate. Juan Castro hasn't hit much but has provided steady (if unspectacular) defense at shortstop.

And then there is Rondell White. There is nothing good to be said about White's performance thus far. As designated hitter, his sole value to the team is offensive production, and he has provided almost none over the first month-plus of the season. With a line of .149/.157/.172, White has delivered just two extra-base hits in 101 plate appearances, while striking out 22 times and failing to draw a single walk. White has been pull-happy and has been far too anxious in the box, constantly swinging early in the count and falling behind. He has looked like anything but the veteran presence in the lineup that Terry Ryan was looking for when he signed White in the offseason.

With all that said, for some reason I find it difficult to get mad at Rondell. I'm not sure why this is; he is certainly as deserving of harsh criticism as any player in the league. Still, I won't endorse booing him when he steps to the plate and I don't find myself frustrated when I see his name in the lineup before a game, even if it's in the middle of the order. I'm not sure why I'm so inclined to go easy on White, while I'm perfectly apt to show my disgust with guys like Hunter and Mendoza. Maybe this is because White is, by all accounts, a genuinely good guy and a strong clubhouse presence. Maybe it's because I was such a huge proponent of his signing and I am not ready to admit that I was just horribly wrong.

White's sudden drop-off is fairly inexplicable. He didn't switch leagues. Heck, he didn't even switch divisions. It's not like he's facing pitchers he's never seen before. I not willing to buy as an excuse the fact that he switched from playing the field regularly to full-time designated hitter. I'm sorry, but there's no way that being able to sit on the bench and prepare for your next time up between every at-bat should adversely affect your ability to hit.

Whatever the reason for White's despicable play thus far, he's going to need to figure it out and get it turned around, because the patience of even his most avid supporters is growing increasingly thin.


And now, some notes on last night's 9-6 loss to Detroit.

* Tigers starter Kenny Rogers entered last night's game with a 2.87 career ERA in 47 games against the Twins. Considering the pathetic shutout at the hands of the hapless Royals the previous night, I didn't hold out much hope for the Twins hitters against The Gambler. Much to my surprise, they were all over Rogers last night, tagging him for 5 earned runs on 8 hits in 5 innings. Give some credit to Ron Gardenhire, who sat lefties Joe Mauer and Justin Mendoza against the crafty southpaw. Their replacements, Mike Redmond and Michael Cuddyer, combined to for 4-for-5 with two doubles against Rogers.

* It's a shame that the Twins couldn't show the same type of competence against the back end of the Tigers bullpen. Flamethrower Joel Zumaya and setup man Fernando Rodney made the Twins' hitters look absolutely foolish, combining to strike out five of the six men they faced.

* I haven't exactly been supportive of Cuddyer over the past year, but even I am a little baffled by the way Gardenhire and the Twins are handling him right now. Here is a guy who the Twins went out of their way to give opportunities for several years despite incredibly slow starts, and now that he's having the best April of his career, Gardy seems hesitant to play him and even when he does he sticks him at the bottom of the order while letting Lew Ford hit fifth. Cuddyer had a great game last night (and it was even against a good pitcher, SBG!) while Ford went 0-for-4 with a strikeout to drop his average on the season to .211. I still like Ford better as the regular right fielder for the time being -- mainly because of his defense and superior plate approach -- but Cuddy should be starting at first base every time the Twins face a left-handed pitcher and he should also get some action in right field and spelling Shannon Stewart in left.

* It seems the newfound patience of the Twins hitters carried over from the previous night. On Thursday, the Twins drew six walks against Royals starter Jeremy Affeldt. Last night, they drew a couple walks against Rogers and also worked deep into the count on a number of occasions. Judging by the results, it looks like it payed off.

* Kyle Lohse, once again, was awful last night. Lohse's stat line (4 IP, 9 H, 7 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 3 HR) does not even fully portray just how bad his outing was. Aside from the three gopherballs, the Tigers batters hit several deep line drives to center and right that Torii Hunter and Ford had to retreat to catch. Lohse was absolutely tattooed all night long. I have to wonder whether his spot in the rotation might be in jeopardy at this point. He has been terrible against every decent lineup he's faced this year, with the exception of one solid outing against the Athletics in his second start of the season. While he hasn't really fared worse than Brad Radke or Carlos Silva overall, I somehow doubt Gardy has the gall to take either of those two out of the rotation. Lohse, on the other hand, has had his issues with Gardenhire, and unlike Radke and Silva, he actually has decent enough stuff to lead one to believe he could possibly have some success in the bullpen.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Read It and Weep: Royals 1, Twins 0

The sweep at the hands of Detroit was pretty pathetic, but last night's game was worse in my mind. There are no excuses for losing games against the worse team in baseball. Or, for that matter, getting shut out by them. It was awful on so many levels.

Let's see. It wasn't just the 11 runners left on base. It was the seven left in scoring position with two outs by Justin Mendoza (two), Lew Ford (two), Juan Castro, Shannon Stewart, and Michael Cuddyer. The team managed only five hits, but in drawing six walks against Kansas City starter Jeremy Affeldt, they had plenty of chances. Ford is probably most culpable, going 0-for-3 in the five spot, leaving four men on behind Torii Hunter, who actually had the best night out of the Twins hitters, going 2-for-3 in the cleanup spot. Worse, the top of the order (Stewart, Luis Castillo/Luis Rodriguez, Joe Mauer) went 0-for-10 with three walks and five men left on. What is confusing is that Mauer (0-for-4, two Ks) was even started, when backup Mike Redmond is doing so well. Mauer is 4-for-22 so far against lefties this and definitely needed to get sat. Poor move on Gardy's part. And although Morneau had a double against Affeldt, he probably should have been benched as well. Overall, poor managing. A game like this shows exactly why the Twins should have just stuck with Jason Bartlett and Jason Kubel from the beginning of the season.

As for any positives, Twins fans can rejoice that Carlos Silva watched a video, "fixed himself," and threw 7 decent innings last night, giving up one run, eight hits, and striking out two. Like Radke, he redeemed himself with a quality start against KC, but unfortunately, the Twins batters were awful. The worse news is that it won't get any better this weekend, at all.

This weekend, the Twins face two left-handers, one they are historically bad against (Kenny Rogers; see last Sunday's horrific performance against him) and another (Mike Maroth) who is 4-1 this year with a 1.78 ERA. Their only real chance is against Jeremy Bonderman, who they have occassionally knocked around in the past. I'd like to think the Twins have a chance, but with Kyle Lohse on the mound versus Rogers, I'm not exactly psyched.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Twins 6, Royals 1

Brad Radke has had his fair share of struggles this year, but it's comforting to know that he can still mow down hitters against baseball's worst lineup. I don't want to go too far with glowing compliments about Radke's performance last night since it was against such a bad team, but it it is still worth saying that this is worlds better than we have seen Brad pitch all year. At the very least, it confirms that he has something left in the tank, which I was honestly starting to doubt after watching his five previous performances.

I'm sure Ron Gardenhire will be talking about how Radke is finally "locating his changeup" and "hitting his spots." Whatever he was doing, it was working. Radke was phenomenal, holding the Royals to 1 run on 4 hits over 7 innings of work, including a stretch of 11 straight batters set down. Radke never allowed more than one baserunner in an inning, and the only run he surrendered came on a home run by Matt Stairs in the 7th, with the Twins already well out front. Radke struck out 7 and walked none.

Meanwhile, it was a typical game for the Twins offense, as they did all their damage within a couple innings and were pretty inactive outside of that. In the 3rd and 4th innings, the Twins scored 6 runs on 8 hits. Outside of those two innings, they had a total of one hit. Some day it would be nice to just see them come out and hit the ball hard consistently all game long, without these long stretches of 1-2-3 innings. Is that so much to ask? Their opponents don't seem to have a lot of trouble doing it.

The fine outing by Radke leaves only one pitcher in the starting rotation without a quality start. It's Carlos Silva, and he'll be starting tonight against Jeremy Affeldt. Silva has been quite possibly the worst starting pitcher in all of baseball thus far (except for maybe Joe Mays, who the Twins crushed last night), and if he can't put together a decent outing against the Royals, I am ready to just give up on him.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Johan, Nathan Dominant

Johan Santana is looking mighty dominant and Twins fans should be happy. Its only May 3rd and he is already showing signs of his top form. Last night, against the Seattle Mariners, he had 9 Ks in seven innings and allowed just six hits. But that doesn't tell the whole story. Santana allowed three straight hits to start the game before striking out Richie Sexson, Carl Everett, and Adrian Beltre in succession. He also struck out the side in the sixth. Also, of his 99 pitches last night, 76 were for strikes. It seemed like he went 0-2 on every hitter. His fastball was routinely clocked from 95-97, hitting 98 at one point last night. When Santana is attacking hitters that aggressively and throwing strikes, that is when opposing teams need to look out. Even though it's only Seattle, a fairly punchless lineup, we should be excited to see his form coming out.

As for Joe Nathan, it didn't appear anyone could touch him. After Carl Everett singled to start the ninth, it was nothing but fastballs. 99-mph ones. Beltre, Johjima, Robert Petagine. None of them could do anything against his fastballs. And when the breaking ball came in, they looked even more helpless. Gotta love the pitching performance last night.

As for the hitters, scoring five runs was big. But how they scored them was positive at times and also negative. It was positive that the Twins had a few extra-base hits, with Rondell White driving in a run on a double and Joe Mauer and Luis Castillo picking up doubles as well. Tony Batista's RBI single was solid too and give Nick Punto credit, though his RBI single was basically a Texas-leauger. Shannon Stewart's double-play grounder scored the fourth run while Torii Hunter drove in the fifth with a sac fly. Those are all fine things, but what was disconcerting is that it feels like they can piece a few singles together in games where starters leave fastballs over the plate, but they quickly stop hitting. The Twins didn't have any hits from the third inning to the seventh. I'd like to think they are breaking out, but I need to see something more.

Of course, tonight's game is the perfect cure: Last year's "extra-batting practice pitcher champion" Joe Mays. Mays is 0-3 on the year with a ERA of 11.07. Of course, to be fair, although Mays' ERA is higher than the Twins' starter, Brad Radke's, Radke has allowed a higher OBA (.374) and of course those 10 dingers. It could get ugly. Look for a 9-8 Twins win. With all those runs scored in the first few innings.