Entering a series against the team they trailed by 5 1/2 games in the division, the Twins needed a big-time effort from Carlos Silva last night. Silva had been excellent in his first four August starts, having posted a 1.61 ERA. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to step up with the solid outing the Twins needed last night. In fact, he was crushed by a Cleveland team that, for some reason, always seems to have his number. The Tribe notched an unearned run against Silva in the first inning, and then proceeded to knock him out of the game by scoring six times against him in the fourth inning. In total, Silva allowed seven runs (six earned) on seven hits and two walks over 3 2/3 innings. He did not record a strikeout.
Once Silva had given up the seven runs, the game was pretty much over. While the Twins chipped away at the big lead by scoring twice in the fifth and once in the sixth, they were ultimately no match for Paul Byrd and the stellar Cleveland bullpen. Every potential rally seemed to hit a wall, with the most notable example being the seventh inning when Mike Redmond grounded into a 5-4-3 triple play.
Jason Bartlett continued his hot August hitting by going 2-for-4 with his fifth home run, but his partner in the middle infield has been supremely disappointing. When the Twins traded Luis Castillo in late July, I expected the team to be able to insert Alexi Casilla at second base without losing a whole lot. That hasn't been the case; Casilla has been utterly horrible. After going 1-for-4 last night, he is now hitting just .228/.269/.265 on the season. Those offensive struggles have been exacerbated by his countless mistakes in the field and on the base-paths. He has already committed seven errors in 36 games at second base; he has also had numerous other miscues that don't show up on the scorecard, like when he froze on the base-paths with two outs in a game in the Baltimore series, or last night when he failed to put his foot on second base when handling a toss from Bartlett that would have been a force-out. I'm not advocating that the Twins remove Casilla from the lineup, because the only way he'll stop making these mistakes is through experience, but his inability to produce at the top of the lineup has really hindered this offense since the All-Star break, and that's just something I didn't expect.
There is one other thing that is really irking me. When Brian Buscher returned from the disabled list last Thursday, Terry Ryan said that the team would be playing the rookie third baseman a lot down the stretch to get a good look at him going into next year. Since that point, Buscher has started a total of one game. Holding him out of the lineup against a tough lefty like Erik Bedard makes sense, but there is no defending Ron Gardenhire's decision to bench him in favor of Nick Punto last night. Left-handed hitters have batted .320 against Byrd this year. Buscher mashed right-handed pitchers in the minors this season; Punto hasn't hit well against anyone all year. Gardenhire's reasoning was probably that he wanted to have his best defenders on the field with Silva pitching, but the fact of the matter is that this was a big game and the best hitters needed to be in the lineup.
It was a rough loss, and together with Detroit's victory over the Yankees it leaves the Twins in pretty bad shape. They basically need to win these last two games in Cleveland if they want to have any hope of hanging in the division race. Let's see if the boys can step up.