Sunday, July 22, 2007

One Way Or Another

Last night's game had a flare for the unusual. The Angels' consistently productive cleanup hitter, Vladimir Guerrero, who entered the game hitting .326/.412/.535, went 0-for-4. Their dominant setup man, Scot Shields, who entered the game with a 1.98 ERA, gave up three earned runs on three hits and a walk while recording just one out in the eighth inning. And then there was Garrett Jones, the Twins' lumbering rookie first baseman, who hit his first major-league triple in the fifth inning.

And yet, all of that paled in comparison to the Twins' game-winning home run, which came off the bat of Joe Mauer and didn't even leave the ballpark. Just after the Angels had scored a pair of runs to tie the game in the top of the eighth, Mauer came up with runners on first and third in the bottom half of the inning and hit a line drive to deep center field. Angels' center fielder Gary Matthews gave chase but ran into the wall and collapsed as the ball ricocheted off the top of the wall and bounced back toward the infield. As the other Los Angeles outfielders ran after the ball, Mauer scampered around the bases and eventually touched home plate to record his first career inside-the-park home run. It was the first inside-the-park homer for the Twins in six years, and it generated a three-run lead which Joe Nathan certainly would not surrender, as the Twins went on to win 5-2 and clinch a series victory against the Angels.

Boof Bonser's start was also a bit out of the ordinary. His outing was excellent, which in and of itself is not all that strange, but the way he went about it wasn't exactly normal for him. Over the course of the season, Bonser has struggled to pitch past the sixth inning -- he had completed seven innings just three times in 19 starts. Last night, he pitched a career-high 7 2/3 innings. Over the course of the season, Bonser has been a fly ball pitcher. Last night he induced 14 ground balls compared to just nine fly balls. Over the course of the season, Bonser has been a strikeout pitcher who has struggled with his control. Last night, he struck out just one while issuing zero walks. However he went about it, there's no arguing with Bonser's results. Over 7 2/3 innings, he allowed just two earned runs on five hits. Through the first seven innings of the game, he allowed just three hits, two of which were doubles that were misplayed by the Twins' outfielders and could have been caught. In the third inning, Jason Kubel took a bad route on a Maicer Izturis line drive and it sailed over his head for a ground-rule double. In the fourth, Garret Anderson hit a routine fly-ball to center but Torii Hunter never managed to pick it up in the roof and it fell in front of him.

Unfortunately, the Angels' rally in the top of the eighth was predicated on another defensive miscue by Kubel, whose ill-advised dive turned a two-out single for Chone Figgins into an RBI triple which put the eventual tying run into scoring position. Those two runs were the only ones charged against Bonser, and they took away his chance at picking up his first win since June 10.

Even though the Twins scored five runs and won the game, the performance of the offense was disappointing, most notably that of the bottom third of the lineup (not surprisingly). The Twins 7-9 hitters (Jones, Darnell McDonald and Nick Punto) went 2-for-9 with two strikeouts and seven men left on base.

Despite some frustrating failures, the Twins managed to score enough runs one way or another and got a big victory. Today, they look for the sweep, with Matt Garza taking the hill against another promising young starter in Joe Saunders.

4 comments:

S.Chancellor said...

Well, they earned a W, but those 7-9 hitters ...

Sid Hartman has noted that the Twins will likely not make a trade until they ascertain the status of Rondell White. Memo to GM: Rondell White does not play 3B.

I do not know why the Twins have not signed Shea Hillenbrand. He is a free agent. He can be had for the major league minimum, prorated, for two months. He plays 3B.

That is worth re-stating: Shea Hillenbrand plays third base.

Hillenbrand is a professional hitter - 31 years old, 2-time all-star, healthy, averages about .285-15-85.

Is Cooperstown preparing his bust? Hardly. He is not a threat to win a gold glove, or a silver slugger award. But he is no liability, and what the Twins need more than anything is a serviceable third baseman: a competent, veteran hitter who can drive the ball and give us a chance at the bottom of the order.

The Twins have more star power than they have had since the Hrbek/Puckett glory days. What they need are functional, complementary major leaguers to round out the line-up. What the '91 team had [I find no point using any team other than our best as a measuring stick. The goal is to win the WS, so use your WS champions as a blueprint] that '07 does not: a Brian Harper, a Dan Gladden, a Mike Pagliarulo. Instead, our lineup is watered down with Nick Punto, Garret Jones, and the like.

I never thought I could write so much on Shea Hillenbrand. But knowing our GM's aversion to trading prospects and assuming payroll, what player better fits our bill?

Anonymous said...

Saying that Hillenbrand plays third base is fairly generous. A more accurate description of his abilities would be to say he "stands at" third base while balls go by him.

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