While Wednesday night's 11-run outburst for the Twins was a pleasant sight, one got the feeling that it didn't necessarily signal an "awakening" for the offense. Unfortunately, those fears were confirmed yesterday afternoon, when the Twins' lineup came out with an absolutely horrendous performance in a 1-0 loss to the Royals. With the Tigers dropping yet another game against the Devil Rays, the Twins had an opportunity to gain a valuable game in the wild-card standings, but they were unable to take advantage of a lop-sided pitching match-up and ended up throwing away another fantastic start from Matt Garza, who dropped to 1-3 on the year despite holding a 1.70 ERA.
The opposing pitcher in yesterday's game was Kyle Davies, who entered the contest with a 6.26 career ERA and a 1.72 WHIP, including 6.07 and 1.63 this season. In 89 innings this year, Davies had allowed 98 hits, 60 earned runs, 47 walks and 13 homers. Still, he proceeded to shut down the Twins' hitters for 6 2/3 innings, allowing just three hits and two walks while striking out five. When Jason Kubel doubled with two outs in the fifth inning, it was the first hit the Twins managed in the game. Davies walked Alexi Casilla to start the game, and then proceeded to retire 14 Twins in a row before allowing the Kubel double. It was Davies' first start since July of 2005 in which he did not allow a single run.
The Twins were absolutely pitiful yesterday, with six batters going hitless in the game against Davies and the Royals' pathetic bullpen. But, if you ask Torii Hunter, the Twins didn't struggle... they just ran into some great pitching.
I'm sorry if I seem overly disgruntled today, but I am confounded that a lineup with this much talent can be so inept at scoring runs, particularly against a pitcher like Davies. I realize there is some dead weight on the offense, but there are good hitters here who need to step up and hit the ball. Having the team's 2-5 hitters go a combined 0-for-15 in a game like this is completely unacceptable. Michael Cuddyer had one of the worst games of his career, striking out four times, including a key late-game situation with two outs and two runners aboard. What makes matters especially frustrating is that the Twins continue to hang on the fringe of contention, and it seems that the teams in front of them are just begging them to get back into the race. The Twins' repeated inability to capitalize on the numerous opportunities that they have been handed over the past few weeks is frustrating beyond belief.
Anyway, enough about that debacle. Some notes:
* Brian Buscher was placed on the disabled list on Wednesday because of an infection in his leg. This is a shame, because I was enjoying watching Buscher play. He was hitting only .227 with just two talks and no extra-base hits in eight games, but there was a lot to like about his performance in his first short stint in the big leagues. For one thing, he struck out only once in 24 plate appearances, a sign that he wasn't overwhelmed by the transition to major-league pitching. Another good sign was that, according to The Hardball Times, Buscher had a line-drive percentage of 23.8. The sample size is very limited, of course, but it's certainly encouraging that he was making good solid contact during his first smattering of big-league at-bats. For reference, Joe Mauer's line drive percentage this year is 21.1; Nick Punto's is 14.2. Limiting strikeouts and hitting lots of line drives are two things that will generally lead to a good batting average, so I am hopeful that Buscher can put up some reasonably decent offensive numbers if and when he returns this season. Hopefully he can recover quickly from his current ailment, because the alternative options at third base are not overly enticing.
One of those options will be Tommy Watkins, a utility infielder who was called up from Rochester to replace Buscher on the roster. My associate, Mr. Mosvick, was highly critical of this move, going so far as to call it "ridiculous." I think that might be a bit over-the-top, but the move is a curious one. The obvious choice would seemingly be Matt Tolbert, a 25-year-old infielder who is having a breakout year in Triple-A, having posted a .304/.362/.448 line as a 25-year-old with the Red Wings. According to La Velle, the Twins' reasoning is that Tolbert is "not mentally ready" for the big leagues. That's pretty vague and I don't really know what it means, but from an outside standpoint, it would seemingly make much more sense to give Tolbert a shot, seeing as how he may actually have a future with the big league club. By all accounts though, Watkins is an incredibly nice guy, so I'll be cheering for him regardless of my feelings about whether or not he really belongs on the roster.
Interestingly, the Twins filled Watkins' spot on Rochester's roster with Luis Ugueto, a 28-year-old shortstop who had been hitting .228/.297/.300 with Class-A Ft. Myers. Trevor Plouffe, who I recently named my Prospect of the Month for July, would have seemed to be a better candidate, but seeing as how he's only 21 I suppose there's really no need to rush him to the next level. I guess I just feel sorry for Rochester, a team that is in a playoff race and is now forced to replace a decent Triple-A hitter in Watkins with an awful Single-A hitter in Ugueto.
* Back in late July, when the Twins first called up Buscher, I predicted that his replacing Punto in the lineup -- along with the installment of Rondell White at DH -- would cause a gradual increase in the numbers on our "Bottom of the Barrel" sidebar feature, which tracks the performance of the Twnis' 7-9 hitters since the All-Star break. At the time, those hitters had posted a .195 batting average and .263 slugging percentage with 10 runs and seven RBI in 13 post-break games. In the 12 games since I wrote the article, the 7-9 spots have gone 32-for-125 (.256) with a .352 slugging percentage along with 11 runs and eight RBI. Technically, my prediction that things would improve was correct, although not for the reasons I had in mind. Buscher wasn't able to make a huge impact, and White has been horrible. Instead, the contributions have come in other unexpected forms: home runs from Jason Tyner and Lew Ford, a four-hit night from Mike Redmond, and so on. Mostly, I think this is just regression toward the mean; three lineup spots could not possibly continue producing at such a low rate forever. As you can see on the sidebar, the Bottom of the Barrel has still produced just a .224 average and .306 slugging percentage overall since the break, which is quite bad, but it's a lot better than where things were a couple weeks ago.
* Speaking of White, I'm not a professional scout, but isn't it pretty obvious that this guy cannot hit major-league pitching anymore? I don't know if it's injuries or age, but from watching him it seems clear to me that White's bat is way too slow for him to be playing in the majors anymore. Since returning to the team from a long hiatus, White has collected a total of four hits in 26 at-bats (at least a couple of which were groundball singles) for a .157 average. He has struck out six times while drawing zero walks during that span.
I had high hopes for White when the Twins signed him prior to the 2006 season, and even this year I had some optimism that he could have a nice little rebound year, but it is becoming increasingly evident that he has nothing left in the tank. The fact that he continues to start as a designated hitter is fairly ludacrous, as he brings absolutely nothing to the table at this point.
* The mailbag feature over at the Twins' official site can be a great source for unintentional comedy. As an example, here is one letter that someone sent in that was published in the most recent installment:
This question is so ridiculous that I would not be at all surprised if someone sent in as a joke and was gleefully shocked to actually see it get published. Whatever the case, MLB.com's Twins beat writer Kelly Thesier answered the query in serious fashion, but rightfully downplayed the notion.
Kelly, what is wrong with Johan Santana this year? Does it have something to do with the makeup of the rotation (i.e., no Brad Radke) or has the league figured him out?-- Steve M., Salt Lake City, Utah
Naturally, there is nothing "wrong" with Santana. He posted a 2.73 ERA in May and a 1.98 ERA in June. His July ERA was 3.44, but if you take away the ugly start in Toronto where he allowed six runs on four homers, that number drops to 2.17. Obviously, Santana has surrendered an unusually high number of homers this year (the 24 he's given up already matches a career high), and that also accounts for the 2.98 ERA which is slightly higher than we're used to. The spike in home run rate is slightly alarming, but I'm inclined to let it slide because the rest of his peripherals are generally just fine. He's holding opposing hitters to a .218 batting average (2006=.216; 2005=.210), and his K/9 IP rate is 9.56 (2006=9.44; 2005=9.25). The fact that he has only 12 wins is solely a result of the miserable run support he has received. It's a feeling that Mr. Garza is starting to become well acquainted with himself.