Monday, May 21, 2007

Weekend Recap (w/ Pictures)

After winning the first two games against the Brewers this weekend and taking an early four-run lead in yesterday afternoon's game, it appeared that the Twins were on their way to a big sweep in Milwaukee before Ramon Ortiz imploded and surrendered the lead. You have to be happy with a series win on the road, but this series left me with an empty feeling because the Twins outplayed the Brewers thoroughly for the most part and seemed very close to picking up their third sweep of the season and moving back within a game of .500. As it stands, the Twins will need to sweep the Rangers in Texas over the next three days in order to come out of this road trip with a winning record.

My weekend in Milwaukee was a lot of fun. I only attended one of the three games (Saturday night's), but I think it was the best one. I've got a lot of thoughts on the weekend's series, so I'll get right to them in the classic bullet-point format.

* Mr. Mosvick and I were highly critical of the Twins' decision to sign Ortiz in the offseason, and some readers commented that they thought we were being overly harsh. While Ortiz got off to a fast start in April, a few people popped up in the comments section to give us some grief for our doomsday predictions about the enthusiastic 33-year-old right-hander. The whole time, I responded by saying that I was happy and pleasantly surprised by the way he was pitching, but that by no means was I expecting the facade to last. His slate of starts during the month of May have shown exactly why I elected to reserve my optimism.

Ortiz was awful yesterday. He managed to putter his way through the first four innings with only two runs allowed, but he was treading a very dangerous line by allowing seven baserunners during that span and recording just two strikeouts. In the fifth inning, the Brewers finally got to Ortiz, picking up a pair of singles before Geoff Jenkins smashed a three-run homer to center field to tie the game at 5.

After stringing together five straight quality starts in April, Ortiz has dropped off a cliff in the month of May. In four starts this month, he has seen his ERA jump from 2.57 to 5.36 while his opponent's batting average has rocketed from .217 to .282. Ortiz has allowed 20 earned runs on 30 hits over 15 1/3 May innings, numbers that are nothing short of atrocious.

The Ortiz we're seeing right now is probably the one we should get accustomed to. As nice as his production over the first month of the season was, the Twins really need to start looking at the possibility of cutting bait on him. I say this not because I'm overreacting to a poor stretch of four starts, but because the way Ortiz has pitched over the past four games is pretty much in line with the way he's pitched over the past two seasons. He isn't giving the team a legitimate chance to win when he takes the hill, and that's unacceptable with the number of guys lined up to replace him. I realize that the Twins are none too eager to bring up Kevin Slowey or Matt Garza right now; one temporary solution would be swapping Ortiz and Matt Guerrier's roles on the pitching staff.

* For much of the early part of the season, there was a sentiment from many Twins fans (including my colleague here at NNTB) that Jason Bartlett and Nick Punto should swap places in the Twins' lineup, with Bartlett moving up to the No. 2 spot with Punto sliding down to the bottom of the order. While I was never expressly opposed to this idea, my opinion was that having them switch places wouldn't make a whole lot of difference. Those people got their wish about a week ago when Ron Gardenhire finally made the switch. Bartlett didn't respond particularly well, and yesterday he found himself back at the bottom of the order with Punto again batting second.

The fact of the matter is that these two have been equally bad and they are pretty much interchangeable at this point. I tend to think that Punto is a slightly better candidate for the 2-hole simply because he works the count more and is a better bunter, but both players have been extremely unproductive offensively. Bartlett is batting .240/.329/.295, while Punto is sporting a very similar .241/.323/.305 line. Of course, Punto takes a lot more heat because he plays third base, which I think is a tad ridiculous, but there's no way around the fact that both of these guys need to pick up the pace.

* Friday and Saturday night's victories marked the first time the Twins have won consecutive ballgames since late April, a span of three weeks.

* Aside from Ortiz, the other goat in Sunday's game was Dennys Reyes, who took the loss. Reyes allowed the go-ahead run to come across in the seventh inning when he gave up a pair of hits (both by left-handers) and threw a wild pitch. He now holds a 6.57 ERA and .367 OBA. It wasn't fair to expect Reyes to be as good as he was last season, but he has been absolutely horrendous this year. At the very least, I'd expect him to suppress lefties and avoid walks, but he's done neither of those things this year. Southpaws are raking to the tune of .370 against him, and he's issued nine walks over 12 1/3 innings while striking out 10. During those 12 1/3 innings, Reyes has also thrown two wild pitches and committed a costly throwing error. It's starting to look more and more like Triple-A farmhand Ricky Barrett should get a shot as this team's bullpen lefty.

Incidentally, the Associated Press recap of yesterday's game included the following tidbit:

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was agitated and fidgeting with his sunglasses after the game because he learned that Reyes' throwing shoulder had been bothering him since late April.

"Those are the kinds of things that a manager has to know before the ballgame. I found out after the ballgame," Gardenhire said. "I don't know if that's affecting his throwing, supposedly he's fine to pitch ... (but) all I know is a manager should know about things like that."

In light of the recent events that have transpired with Jesse Crain, this is not good news.

* I was fairly succinct yesterday in my comments about Saturday night's game, so I'd like to go a little bit more in-depth about what Scott Baker was able to do.

I've come across very few people in the blogosphere who have a better grasp of the game of baseball than Ubelmann, who has become a regular contributor at SBG's site and comments on this blog occasionally. Prior to Baker's start on Saturday, Ubelmann wrote an article predicting the type of contributions that can be expected from the young right-hander during his current turn in the Twins' rotation. Ubelmann concluded his analysis with the following paragraph:
So I think Baker’s going to be fine, if he gets a couple breaks in his first few starts, or the team just cuts him a bit of slack. He’s not Liriano, and he’s not going to single-handedly turn the team around. But he should be able to keep the score close and give the bullpen and the sharks a chance to win the game, and every now and then, he ought to turn in a performance that nearly wins the game by itself.
I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with this take, and sure enough, Baker delivered a performance on Saturday night that pretty much won the game by itself. Baker was able to keep the ball down in the zone for the most part, as he set a career high by getting 11 ground ball outs, although he did leave a few pitches up which resulted in a pair of homers. Limiting walks and home runs will be the key to Baker's sustained success, and I think he can accomplish both those things if he can consistently keep the ball down in the zone. Of course, that's no secret, and it's something the Twins' coaching staff has vocally advocated each time he's been with the big-league club. Here in his third stint in the majors, it's time for Baker to make the necessary adjustments and prove he belongs.

* I was quite perturbed by the fact that Jason Kubel did not get a single start in this series, despite the fact that the Twins faced two right-handers. I realize that Kubel has struggled this year, but do the Twins really view Lew Ford as a superior option, even against righties? Ford went just 2-for-11 in his three starts.

* I have always spoken very highly of Miller Park, and once again I came away impressed after seeing a game there this weekend. It is just so much better than the Metrodome, and not even solely because the building and environment are nicer. There are a lot of things I really dislike about the 'Dome that don't even relate to its hideous appearance or the fact that it is extremely ill-suited for the sport of baseball.

For instance, I really like how the scoreboards in Miller Park display a pitcher's WHIP and a batter's OPS -- helpful statistics that are completely ignored in the Metrodome. Another vastly superior aspect of Miller Park is the food. The hot dog I bought at the game actually had grill marks on it! Imagine that. It's the little things that can make a sporting event enjoyable, and it seems like the Metrodome seems to mismanage even those, which certainly doesn't help to make up for the fact that it is a lousy stadium in the first place.

* Finally, here are a bunch of pictures from Saturday night's game that my girlfriend snapped on her digital camera.

A view from outside the stadium

A view from inside the stadium.

The outfield and scoreboard.

Hunter torques up...

... And follows through on his second-inning homer.

T.C. works his game.

Baker delivers amidst his masterful performance.

Blocked by the blond lady's head in this picture is Randall Simon, who was preparing to take a swing at the green-hatted sausage.

A view of the sell-out crowd.

The Twins celebrate the victory.

9 comments:

ubelmann said...

I ate for the sausage cycle back when I visited Miller Park (Bratwurst, Polish, Italian, and hot dog), and each one was far superior to anything I've eaten at the Dome.

ubelmann said...

Also, re: Baker. I'm glad to see that there's a number of people out there who still think Baker can get it done. I really don't see where the idea that Baker has had a ton of chances and failed in all of them comes from. This idea seems to have a reasonably large following, but it's really not based in reality.

Baker had a very good stint in 2005, which certainly was a big part in why he got a shot at the beginning of 2006. Then he faltered a bit starting partway through the season, and maybe had something like 50 bad innings, which is next to nothing.

Now that the stage has been set, I foresee Baker getting the inconsistent label that Lohse used to have, as it seems like his every move will be under intense scrutiny with Garza, Perkins, and Slowey knocking on the door. I hope I'm wrong. (Of course, for a second there, I thought Boof was going to take over that label, but his fun-to-say nickname and late-season heroics last year seem to have bailed him out.) If someone takes out the microscope and look closely enough at nearly any pitcher, they will conclude that he's inconsistent.

Beau said...

Baker nearly won the game single-handedly? He gave up two solo homers. Ask Santana how to win doing that.

the Dragon said...

Nick,

As one who was positive on Ortiz, I will readily admit growing concerns.

April DOES NOT a season make, not quite ready to surrender, but the "White flag" is in my hand.

Regards,

Dan said...

This is off subject, but Hunter's price tag seems to be going up every day.

Does anyone think TR will unload him before the year is over? I'd really hate to see him walk for for nothing.

Nick N. said...

Now that the stage has been set, I foresee Baker getting the inconsistent label that Lohse used to have, as it seems like his every move will be under intense scrutiny with Garza, Perkins, and Slowey knocking on the door. I hope I'm wrong. (Of course, for a second there, I thought Boof was going to take over that label, but his fun-to-say nickname and late-season heroics last year seem to have bailed him out.) If someone takes out the microscope and look closely enough at nearly any pitcher, they will conclude that he's inconsistent.

Ah, the power of first impressions. Isn't it annoying?

This is off subject, but Hunter's price tag seems to be going up every day.

Does anyone think TR will unload him before the year is over? I'd really hate to see him walk for for nothing.


I don't think there's any way Ryan will trade Hunter during the season if the Twins are still in contention. Whether or not it's actually the case, too many fans would view it as a surrender.

As much as I like the idea of dealing Hunter and getting a nice package for him if the Twins won't be able to re-sign him, the fact that there is no half-decent replacement available is a very real concern.

Anonymous said...

Nice article, but buy your gf a new camera.

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