Monday, April 23, 2007

Don't Get Comfortable

Yesterday was one of those games for the Twins' offense that just makes you cringe. After mounting a threat by loading the bases with one out in the first inning, the Twins shut down and provided one of the more pathetic offensive displays in recent memory. After walking Michael Cuddyer to fill the bases in the first, Royals starter Jorge De La Rosa proceeded to retire 16 straight Twins hitters. Then, after allowing consecutive hits to Joe Mauer and Cuddyer in the sixth, De La Rosa went on to retire seven of the last eight batters he faced. His final line: 8 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K. Twins hitters swung at the first pitch of an at-bat eight times in the game, making me wonder if the players even bother looking at the scouting reports on opposing pitchers (De La Rosa has historically been haunted by horrible control, as evidenced by his career 6.08 BB/9 IP ratio). Not only was De La Rosa's eight innings pitched a career-high, the game marked the first time he's ever gone more than six innings in an outing without issuing multiple walks.

With all that said, I'm not going to bitch too much about the Twins' offense today. The fact is that they've generally hit the ball very well lately. The Twins pounded Royals pitching in the first two games of the series, scoring 14 runs on 28 hits. In the six games they've played since I wrote last Monday about their lack of run production, the Twins have averaged 6.17 runs per game and have raised its season average to a healthy 4.78 (even with yesterday's dud). Of course, it's important to note that the only above-average starting pitcher the Twins faced during that span was Felix Hernandez, who had to leave his start after recording just one out due to an injury. Nevertheless, the offense generally got the job done on their latest road trip.

On a broader scale, despite having hit just nine home runs in 18 games, the Twins are tied for first in the majors in doubles and are tied for fourth in the American League in runs scored. They have raised their team hitting line to .275/.331/.403 from .254/.310/.372 just a week ago. All in all, their record stands at 11-7 and they sit in first place atop the AL Central. With that in mind, it's fairly reasonable to be satisfied with the team's performance to this point. Or is it?

Keep this in mind: 13 of the 18 games the Twins have played so far have come against the four worst teams in the AL (Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Seattle, Baltimore). The Twins lost their series against the Royals and split at home with the Devil Rays, two highly disappointing outcomes that are made tolerable by the sweeps of the Orioles and Mariners. I think many would agree that the Twins have not played particularly good baseball so far, despite their winning record, and they could have easily lost several of the games they won if not for being bailed out by some bad mistakes that are characteristic of bad baseball teams (the late-inning base-running gaffes by Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre come to mind). In their other five games, against the White Sox and Yankees, the Twins went 2-3. That has been the extent of the challenge to their schedule so far. This is about to change.

The Twins open a two-game series tonight at home against the Indians. This weekend they head to Detroit for a three-game set with the Tigers. Then, in early May, they have a 12-game stretch against the Red Sox, White Sox, Tigers, and Indians. By this time next month, we will know a lot more about this Twins team than we do now. I can say this much with great certainty: if they continue to play the same type of sloppy and inconsistent baseball that they have up until this point, the Twins will not still be four games above .500 in a month.

8 comments:

Corey Ettinger said...

Taken directly from my recap;

"Seriously, did he miss the part of the pre-game speech where he tells the guys the pitcher they're about to face has allowed walks at a rate of 5.85 per 9 innings? Did that just conveniently slip by? Did he miss the, "make sure to work the count so we can spend as much time pounding the worst bullpen in baseball," part? Sure, DLR's final strikes-thrown rating was pretty good at 68%, but I'm curious how many of those were Twins hitters flailing away at pitches out of the zone. My guess is a lot. I'm hoping someone who saw the game will confirm this, because I'm almost positive its true."

Thanks for the confirmation.

I can't imagine why this happened, and there's no good excuse. This loss is squarely on Gardy's shoulders, and thats too bad, because it should've been win #4 for Ortiz who's been way better than anyone could've expected. Instead, its hard knock loss #1.

Nick M. said...

Very sad performance from the Twins hitters. Sadly, it makes me nervous about the Twins start today against Jeremy Sowers. The Twins couldn't handle Casey Fossum and swung at a lot of first pitches that game. (At least, I'm pretty sure)

Time for Joe Vavra talk or something.

Bruce said...

Why are the Twins not using Kubel more? White is out and he should be playing every day, otherwise he will not get in a groove and never get his fielding back to where it once was. With only half the team hitting they need his bat now.

Bruce

Corey Ettinger said...

Mosvick, great minds...

"Tomorrow the Twins have to face a real team in the Cleveland Indians and yet another left hander in Jeremy Sowers, regretfully to say, this lefty has talent. So far this season the Twins have hit lefties at a .240 clip and righties at a .304 rate. The good news? We send Cy Young contender Carlos Silva to the mound to face a team who he's allowed a 4.87 ERA and .324 BAA against to over the past three seasons. Oh, hold on, thats not good news? Well, 11-8, here we come!"

Bruce...

Kubel is being platooned for a couple reasons. 1) Tyner is a superior fielder, regardless of how much Kubel readjusts to playing in the outfield, and Tyner is hitting well and its wise to stick with his hot hand. 2) As a left handed batter, Jason is more effective against right-handed pitchers than southpaws. 3) I believe the Twins have a long-term plan and that is to use Jason as a DH as much as possible and would therefor prefer to get him as acquainted with the position as possible.

All of that said, I'm generally in your camp and am a huge Kubel fan and would like to see more of him.

Nick N. said...

Whoa whoa whoa... Corey I've gotta take some issue with your points on Kubel here.

1) Tyner is a superior fielder, regardless of how much Kubel readjusts to playing in the outfield, and Tyner is hitting well and its wise to stick with his hot hand.

Since Tyner is also a lefthanded hitter, playing him over Kubel does not really constitute a "platoon." I think it's more frustrating to see Rabe playing over Kubel solely because of the fact that he's a righthanded hitter. He doesn't have a better chance of hitting anyone than Kubel does of hitting lefties.

2) As a left handed batter, Jason is more effective against right-handed pitchers than southpaws.

Actually, that's not really true. You're using a generalization without actually looking at the numbers. In his major-league career, Kubel has hit .256/.289/.395 vs. LHPs and .253/.298/.397 vs. RHPs. Last year in Rochester, he hit .306/.390/.639 against lefties and .274/.323/.405 against righties.

Meanwhile, when Jacque Jones was here he had an incredibly significant platoon split, and Gardy refused to ever platoon him. This is what I find highly frustrating about the Kubel situation.

3) I believe the Twins have a long-term plan and that is to use Jason as a DH as much as possible and would therefor prefer to get him as acquainted with the position as possible.

I don't agree with that, I think his future is in left field. He's a solid fielder with a very strong arm, he just needs to get acclimated out there with his routes.

And even if the plan was to have him DH for the foreseeable future, how exactly does one have to get acquainted with the position? All it involves is sitting on the bench and going up to hit four times a game. It's not really like learning a new position.

Nick M. said...

I have to agree with Nelson here. Kubel, given playing time, will certainly be a better outfielder than Tyner. He at least does not have a noodle arm. He also has far more offensive assets than Tyner, even if he is slumping.

Patience and power are not in Tyner's tool box. You can't tell me Tyner is going to better against lefties than Kubel, or for that matter Rabe, yet they continue to get those starts over Kubel.

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