Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Luck of the Twins

The Twins have won their last three games and it's safe to say that two elements have been mainly involved: great pitching and luck. What's missing? Offense of course. Luck might come in the form of a Josh Barfield error or it might mean that the wind blows just hard enough for Jason Tyner to get his first ever home run. Last night's victory wasn't totally attributable to luck, but the song and dance didn't really change much besides the fact that for once in the past three days, the starter managed to get a win.

Scott Baker's performance was a natural highlight for the Twins. He displays in all facets the new and improved pitcher that we have seen for most of his recent starts. Granted, Kansas City isn't a great offense, but eight innings of two-hit ball with no walks and seven strikeouts is impressive against any team. Baker threw 71 of 99 pitches (71.7%) for strikes and subdued a Royals team that really hasn't been a bad team this year and in fact, has the best record amongst teams in the AL Central over the past month. I'm sure Terry Ryan is somewhere patting himself on the back for not trading Baker for Hank Blalock or some other rent-a-player over the last few years. Baker's record and ERA remain relatively unimpressed at 5-4 and 4.88, but the 59/15 strikeout-to-walk ratio is excellent and the 1.22 WHIP is a very impressive marker that suggests Baker has in fact been quite good and that his ERA has obscured that somewhat.

If you combine Baker's dazzling start with Matt Garza's impressive domination of the Indians on Sunday with yet another great Johan Santana start on Saturday, the starters have combined to go 21 innings, allowing just 11 hits and three runs while walking four and striking out an outstanding 30 hitters. These three pitchers could possibly lead the Twins rotation down the stretch could give the Twins a devastating rotation next year if Francisco Liriano can come back strong. Add in the hope that Boof Bonser will return to form and the future starts to look fairly bright.

Of course, luck tends to even out, so unless the Twins get jump-start their offense, their winning streak will likely be coming to and end soon. Jason Tyner had another good game last night, going 3-f0r-4 in the leadoff spot (replacing the departed Luis Castillo) with a double, a triple, and two runs scored, improving his batting line to a respectable .291/.333/.374. This, like the Twins' luck right now, simply will not last and it would be a mistake for Ron Gardenhire to keep him in the leadoff spot. Of course, it wouldn't be quite the sin as the one he made this weekend by putting Nick "The Black Hole" Punto in the second spot to produce outs and unsually spotty defense. Punto went 0-for-3 last night by fouling out, grounding into a double play, and striking out, leaving him with a horrific .211/.301/.275 line.

Naturally, Punto isn't the Twins only out machine. Rondell White is hitting .138/.219/.172 and is only adding to the idea that his bat can't hack it in the majors anymore, Jason Kubel continues to frustrate with his "two-good-games-ten-awful-games" approach to hitting, and Torii Hunter is regressing towards the mean in July. So how did the Twins win another close game that involved another ugly offensive performance last night? Not another Tyner home run, right?

No, but he did come awful close with a hit off the baggie. Instead, the Twins got great pitching from Baker and closer Joe Nathan along with Joe Mauer having a 2-for-4 night with 3 RBI, with MVP Justin Morneau sitting right behind him with a 2-for-3 night with a walk. This kind of run won't be maintainable unless the Twins offense can find a way to replace the out machines Gardenhire continues to run out there. Of course, an addition before three o'clock this afternoon wouldn't hurt.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Update: Castillo To Mets

FoxSports.com and Joe Christensen are reporting that the Twins are nearing a deal that will send Luis Castillo to the Mets. In return, the Twins get two of the things they need least in the world: a struggling catching prospect and a light-hitting minor-league outfielder. The catcher is 23-year-old Drew Butera, who had been playing with Class-AA Binghamton, where he had posted a miserable .439 OPS over 117 at-bats. The outfielder is Dustin Martin, also 23, who was hitting .287/.358/.421 in Advanced Single-A.

Neither of these players look remotely impressive, but I guess that's the going price for two months worth of service from a mediocre veteran second baseman. If any of the details change or any other deals go down, we'll let you know as soon as we do.

Now Or Never

Like Johan Santana the day before, Matt Garza tossed an absolute gem in Cleveland yesterday but was unable to collect a win because the Twins' offense could not support him. Garza pitched six innings, notching a career-high 11 strikeouts while allowing five hits and just one run. Sadly, the Twins were down 1-0 when Garza left the game, and it appeared that by the end of the day the right-hander might have held a 1.37 ERA and a 1-3 record.

Fortunately, the Twins offense once again managed to get the job done in the late innings and they came away with a 4-1 victory, taking the series against the Indians and moving within 6.5 games in the Wild Card standings.

With the non-waiver trading deadline approaching tomorrow afternoon, one must wonder what is going through Terry Ryan's head right now. The Twins have a lot of ground to make up in the standings, but they're not dead in the water. If they want to get back into the thick of this race, they're going to need to start stringing together some victories, and that will have to start with the eight-game homestand that opens tonight against the Royals. In order to get back on the winning track, there is little doubt that something is going to have to be done to improve the offense.

Despite the sweep over the Athletics and the series victories over the Angels and Indians, the Twins' offense has been mired in an awful slump ever since the All-Star break. They've averaged just 3.4 runs per game, and haven't scored more than four runs in a contest since July 21 (a stretch of seven games). Sure, they managed to win on Saturday and Sunday, but you can't expect to get pitching performances of that caliber on a regular basis.

A post-season run is not out of the question at this point, but it's still a real long-shot. With that in mind, any hitter the Twins make a move to acquire had better be someone that can help them beyond this year. They've already seemingly missed the boat on a couple guys who would fit this bill in Dmitri Young (who signed a two-year extension with the Nationals) and Ty Wigginton (who was traded to Houston), but there are plenty of other fish in the sea. One thing is for sure: tomorrow is going to be a rough day if Ryan once again stands pat and sends the message that he's satisfied with this team's current offense. With Santana, Garza and Scott Baker as their top three starters, the Twins have a chance (albeit remote) to climb back into the race within the next couple weeks, but as long as Nick Punto and Rondell White continue to start almost every day, I have a hard time believing they'll score enough runs to make that happen.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Just Barely

Johan Santana did a lot things right in last night's close victory over the Cleveland Indians. He carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning, he struck out 12 in seven innings of work, and his only real mistake was allowing a two-run home run to Travis Hafner. All things considered, he should have been lined up for the victory, but Twins fans by now have probably learned just how hard Santana has to work to avoid a loss, let alone get a victory, with the pathetic Twins offense.

Based on basic numbers, the Twins' 7-9 hitters going 2-for-11 wouldn't seem out of the ordinary, but rather keeping with their inability to do anything since the break. However, there was one big surprise that Twins fans have been seemingly waiting for since 2005: Jason Tyner hit what was likely his only home run of his career, just getting it over the wall and forever embarrassing Jake Westbrook, a pitcher whom the Twins should have knocked around anyway. Not surprisngly, Tyner's power display (he had a double as well) accounted for most of the Twins offense, as they managed a total of five hits, with Justin Morneau picking up an RBI single, Jason Bartlett going 1-for-4, and Torii Hunter getting a double in the ninth that set up Brian Buscher's game-winning RBI groundout.

Outside of that, the Twins offense was its usual awful self, picking up three walks, but doing little to nothing to support yet another pitching gem from Santana. It's very sad that Santana is on pace for a 17-12 record, considering his 2.92 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 156 Ks (to 35 walks), and .212 BAA. The eight losses are already a career-high for Santana and the only way he won't set a career-high in home runs will be if he allows only one home run the rest of the season. It's feeling a lot more like 2005, when Santana pitched well, but ended up with only 16 wins and saw his rightful Cy Young end up in the hands of the now washed up Bartolo Colon. That year the Twins offense couldn't do much against terrible pitchers like Westbrook, just like they can't now.

The Twins did pull out a win, but it simply wasn't a very convincing one, as it depended wholly on the Twins pitching combined with a power streak that will never return. I'd like to hope that luck is in their favor today as well, but C.C. Sabathia is a significantly better pitcher than Westbrook and he's also had a fair amount of success against the Twins. Here's to Matt Garza pitching another gem and improving that 1-2 record that covers up a sparkling 1.33 ERA. Sound familiar?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Rising to the Challenge (Or Not)

This weekend's series in Cleveland has widely been viewed as the Twins' last chance to make a push for contention in the 2007 season. Torii Hunter has been quoted as saying that the Twins needed a sweep, not a series victory. General manager Terry Ryan called this weekend's set "a huge series." La Velle E. Neal has dubbed the series the Twins' "final stand."

So how did the Twins respond in the series opener in Cleveland last night? By playing one of their ugliest games of the season. The Twins struggled in every aspect of the game. The pitching was terrible (Boof Bonser, Ramon Ortiz and Juan Rincon combined up give up 10 runs on 16 hits over the first eight innings of the game, which included four walks, two home runs and two wild pitches). The offense was terrible (the Twins hit into three double plays and didn't score a run until the seventh inning, by which point they were already down 10-0). The defense was terrible (two errors, plus plenty more sloppiness). The final result was a 10-4 loss that leaves the Twins with a .500 record and trailing the Indians by nine games in the Wild Card standings.

The Twins have lost five straight games and have been outscored 43-11 during that stretch. They have been desperate for victories, but have been getting thoroughly dominated, especially over the last three games.

The one mildly exciting aspect of last night's game for Twins' fans was the debut of Brian Buscher at third base. In Thursday's entry on this blog, I said the following: "If Buscher replaces Punto as the regular third baseman and Rondell White can stay healthy in the No. 7 spot in the order, I suspect that the "Bottom of the Barrel" stats on our sidebar will start to gradually creep up." Sure enough, White started in the No. 7 spot last night and Buscher batted eighth, and the two combined to go 3-for-6. Unfortunately, Punto still found his way into the lineup as the starting shortstop, and he went 0-for-4 with a strikeout while stranding three runners on base. In 81 games before the All-Star break, Punto drew 41 walks and stole 13 bases. In 14 games since the break, he has drawn two walks and stolen zero bases, all while hitting for a low average with almost no power. And yet Ron Gardenhire cannot bring himself to take Punto out of the starting lineup.

Buscher did look shaky defensively, but I'm guessing that first-game jitters had something to do with that. He looked good at the plate, collecting a couple solidly hit singles and driving the ball to the outfield in each of his four at-bats.

The Twins are now 0-6 against the Indians this year, but it seems almost certain that they'll pick up their first victory today, with Johan Santana facing off against Jake Westbrook, who is 1-6 with a 6.20 ERA and 1.67 WHIP this year. Of course, with the way the Twins are playing right now, there are no guarantees.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Forward Thinking

After getting mangled and outscored by the Toronto Blue Jays 26-5 over the past few days, it's difficult not to imagine that the Twins' season is essentially over, making them sellers at the deadline. The problem is that it feels like Terry Ryan isn't going to be doing much at all between now and Tuesday, whether the Twins want to be a buyer or seller. I am convinced that Ryan wants to protect his prospects at all costs, which obviously rules out the idea of being big buyers of any sort. However, I also believe Ryan won't be making any of the smart trades he should consider, such as moving Torii Hunter, Carlos Silva, and Luis Castillo (all free agents at the end of the year) and even Joe Nathan, as suggested by Howard Sinker. Rather, it also appears that Ryan wants to hold out hope of re-signing Hunter, as some many fans hope, and no rumors suggest that he is actively shopping Silva or Castillo, even though there is as little chance of re-signing either as there as of Ryan giving Hunter a six year, $90 million contract he's probably envisioning.

The most the Twins have been involved in numerous trade rumors: one regarding a scout watching Kevin Slowey at Triple-A; another indicating some interest in the Devil Rays' Ty Wigginton; a recently shot-down rumor regarding the Phillies' Pat Burrell coming over for Kevin Slowey; and other supposed (but mostly unsubstantiated) rumors of interest in players like Dan Johnson, Jacque Jones, and Mike Lowell. Yes, that makes for a few interesting possibilities, but as noted, most of those have died down or been completed negated and none of them involve the possibility of the Twins as sellers. LaVelle Neal suggests the Twins remained interested in a Wigginton trade or a trade with the Phillies, but as pointed out, those are old rumors at this point.

If this is true, the true source of hope for Twins fans must lie in the future, with the prospects that Ryan protects so diligently. We've written considerably about some of the Twins' top-flight prospects, like Jeff Manship and Anthony Swarzak, but today, I'd like to highlight a few other prospects that Twins fans can look forward to soon:

Brian Dinkelman, 2B Fort Myers Miracle:
While it's true that the Twins are viewing Alexi Casilla, who is doing fairly well in Triple-A, as the second baseman of the future, Dinkelman has been opening some eyes in the lower levels of the Twins' minor league system. A eighth-round pick in last year's draft, Dinkelman has made quick progress since batting .298/.338/.420 in 188 at-bats with four home runs and 32 RBI in his 2006 debut for Elizabethton, the Twins rookie-league team. This year, he has excelled with the bat at both Beloit and Fort Myers, hitting .296/.383/.496 with 12 home runs, 36 RBI, 77 runs scored, and 16 stolen bases between the two levels, displaying patience, power, and speed. For a team devoid of middle infielders with any power (see Nick Punto, Luis Rodriguez, Jason Bartlett, and Luis Castillo), Dinkelman is an awfully intriguing prospect, especially if he ends up being good with the glove, which is somewhat iffy according to many scouting reports.

Brock Peterson, 1B New Britain Rock Cats:
Peterson is quite the unlikely prominent offensive prospect, as he was the 49th-round pick in the 2002 draft for the Twins. After a solid debut, in which he hit .290/.404/.473 in 207 at-bats at Elizabethton with nine home runs and 31 RBI, he had two down years in 2004 and 2005 before breaking out at Ft. Myers last year, where he hit .291/.356/.494 with 21 home runs and 76 RBI. So far this year, Peterson has been one of New Britain's best bats, if not the best (his main competition was the recently called up Brian Buscher). He's hit .276/.359/.459, continuing to show solid power and patience at the plate and he has 11 home runs and 45 RBI so far this year. The major concern with Peterson, however, has been his defense, as he had 10 errors at Ft. Myers in 2005 and seems to be viewed by the organization as having more of a future as a DH. Even if that's true, Twins fans know very well that the DH spot could use some improvement in the future.

Daniel Valencia, 3B Ft. Myers Miracle:
Valencia has been mentioned a few times on this site, as he has thrived while two of the organization's major third-base prospects, Matt Moses and David Winfree, have flopped this year. Valencia, who played his college ball at Miami, was a 19th-round pick in last year's draft and he had a good debut in Elizabethton, hitting .311/.365/.505 with eight home runs and 29 RBI in 190 at-bats. This year, he started out very hot in Beloit, hitting .302/.374/.500 with 11 home runs and 35 RBI in 242 at-bats before moving up to Ft. Myers in June. So far, he's been solid there, batting .285/.321/.439 with four home runs and 17 RBI in 123 at-bats. Overall, thats .296/.356/.479 with 15 home runs and 52 RBI. Considering the terrible void at third base now and the floundering third base prospects in the system, Valencia should give Twins fans some hope, as he has already shown better power and patience than Moses or Winfree did at Single-A.

Alex Burnett, SP Beloit Snappers:
Burnett was a 12th round pick in the 2005 draft who has gotten lost in the fray of so many other prominent pitching prospects in the Twins system, including his teammate Manship. Burnett had a solid debut, going 4-3 with a 4.04 ERA and 71 Ks in 71 1/3 innings for Elizabethton last year. So far this year, he's been far more impressive, going 6-5 with a 2.97 ERA with a 1.10 WHIP in Beloit. His peripherals are particularly impressive, as he has posted an 87/25 K/BB ratio in 115 innings and has limited opponents to a .238 average while only allowing eight home runs so far. All those numbers speak very good things about Burnett's future potential and only reinforce that the Twins have plenty of good pitching prospects, even outside of the big three fans have gotten to know this year.

Robert Delaney, RP Ft. Myers Miracle:
Delaney is probably the most interesting prospect on this list, even moreso than Peterson, because Delaney didn't even go in the 49th round and instead went undrafted out of St. John's University. The reason? He wasn't particularly impressive in either season he had at St. John's, going 5-2 with a 4.37 ERA in 2005 and 7-3 with a 4.01 ERA in 15 starts in 2006 and in both seasons he gave up more hits than innings pitched. His debut last year wasn't anything special either, as he had a 4.64 in 33 innings for the GCL Twins and gave up three runs in five innings at Ft. Myers (5.40), continuing the trend of high ERAs and more hits than innings pitched. This year, however, things appeared to have changed or Delaney has been very lucky, as he threw 46 innings at Beloit to pick up 28 saves, giving up only four earned runs (eight total) for a 0.77 ERA and only 25 hits while displaying an amazing 56/6 K/BB ratio. Since moving up to Ft. Myers again, he has been a little more human, giving up two runs in six innings so far (3.00 ERA) while striking out eight and walking one. Its quite possible Delaney is riding a hot streak, but if he has really turned a corner, then the Twins not only found a great diamond in the rough, but another bullpen gem to replace Nathan if he leaves.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Blame Canada

You have to rally to score runs. The Blue Jays did it yesterday, in an 11-run sixth inning where they collected seven hits (four for extra bases) and three walks against Carlos Silva and the Twins' bullpen. Meanwhile, the Twins offense could not put together one rally in the entire series. During the three games against the Jays, the Twins managed to get two hits in an inning only five times, and they never had more than two. They scored just five runs in the series, and four of them came in off the bat of Justin Morneau. With that being the case, it's no surprise that the Twins went down in a sweep that culminated yesterday with a 13-1 blowout loss in Toronto.

Of course, the pitching was awful yesterday, but the lineup continues to be the most gaping weakness on this team. The Twins' offense has gone from inconsistent to consistently terrible -- since the All-Star break, they have averaged 3.3 runs per game and have scored more than four runs just four times in 13 games. Despite starting their second-half schedule with a four-game sweep over the A's, the Twins have gone just 6-7 since the break and have watched their record for the season fall within a game of .500 at 51-50.

That the Twins scored just one run yesterday against a mediocre starting pitcher in Jesse Litsch is not overly surprising, considering that the starting lineup they trotted out included seven players with an OPS under .725. Jason Tyner and Mike Redmond, who belong at the bottom of the order, were the Twins' No. 2 and 3 hitters in yesterday's game. They went a combined 0-for-8, continually stranding Luis Castillo (who doubled twice and walked in the game), and keeping the amount of damage that Justin Morneau and Torii Hunter could do to a minimum.

The Twins did finally make a move to bolster their horrid offense yesterday, sending down outfielder Darnell McDonald and replacing him with third baseman Brian Buscher. Regular readers of this blog regularly are probably aware that I've been advocating a call-up of Buscher for some time now, so I am certainly supportive of this move. If Buscher replaces Punto as the regular third baseman and Rondell White can stay healthy in the No. 7 spot in the order, I suspect that the "Bottom of the Barrel" stats on our sidebar will start to gradually creep up.

I don't expect that the bottom of the Twins' lineup will become a force to be reckoned with from this point forward, but getting White back and adding Buscher should give them a boost back toward mediocrity, which would be a major upgrade. The Twins will need all the offensive help they can get right now, as they head to Cleveland tomorrow to take on the Indians, whom they trail by eight games in the Wild Card standings and are 0-5 against so far this season. A sweep might get the Twins back into contention mode; a series loss would almost certainly put them in "seller" mode at the trade deadline.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

No Surprises

It appears the new sidebar counter that we just added on Monday is entirely appropriate. What did the Twins' 7-9 hitters do last night? It was Rondell White, Lew Ford, and Nick Punto; they went 2-for-9 with a walk and a double and if you count in misplaced number two hitter Jason Bartlett's night, they went 2-for-13.

Essentially, last night's victory was a Twins lose-by-numbers. The starting pitcher gave up a few runs, but pitched well overall. The offense did nothing, as the 3-4-5 combination of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Torii Hunter went 2-for-10 with two walks and thus, not surprisingly, the Twins scored no runs off of Dustin McGowan who, outside of a one-hitter earlier this season, has been very inconsistent over the year.

The pitching victim was Scott Baker, had a very solid outing outside of a two-run homer by Vernon Wells, completing seven innings while allowing four runs on five hits and striking out five. Unfortunately, the Jays surprisingly managed a few runs off of Pat Neshek, putting the game out of reach for an absolutely punchless offense.

Although I'd love to have more analysis to give, there simply isn't much to say, as the problems aren't new. The roots causing these issues haven't changed at all. Until Terry Ryan and the Twins make a change or two to improve the offense, nothing is likely to change. Unfortunately, they might not do anything if they are truly convinced that the return of White is as good as any trade they can make. It's especially concerning when the Twins' announcers (who usually tow the company line anyways) are so excited about a 2-for-4 night that is somehow proof that the move is enough.

The news doesn't get much better today, when Carlos Silva faces off against Jesse Litsch, a finesse sinkerballer with the kind of stuff that usually stifles the Twins offense. Hopefully there's a surprise, but it feels like nothing is changing and the ship is sinking awfully fast.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


It was a rough night for Johan Santana in Toronto. By surrendering four home runs to the powerful Blue Jays lineup, Santana gave up a season-high six earned runs while failing to complete six innings for just the second time this year. In total, Santana gave up six runs on seven hits while walking two and striking out four over five innings of work. It was his worst outing of the season, and of course it ended up as a loss because, even though Justin Morneau and Torii Hunter combined for four runs on three homers, the rest of the offense was completely ineffective and the Twins would fall 6-4 in the series opener.

* Yesterday, we added a "Bottom of the Barrel" feature to our sidebar to track the ineptitude of the bottom third of the Twins' lineup, since it seems we have been commenting on the poor performance of the Twins' 7-9 hitters almost daily as of late. When I first calculated the results yesterday, the three lineup spots had produced a .192 average and .269 slugging percentage since the All-Star break. Last night's trio went 3-for-11 to raise those numbers slightly, but still the game produced yet another shining example of how utterly worthless the bottom of the lineup has been.

The return of Rondell White in the No. 7 spot predictably did nothing to boost the lineup, as he went 0-for-4. Nick Punto had a pair of singles and Jason Tyner had one as well; however, despite the three hits, the 7-9 hitters still managed to make 11 outs in 11 at-bats thanks to some hideous baserunning.

In the third inning, Punto hit a one-out single, but was caught stealing during the next at-bat. In the fifth, Tyner singled and then Punto hit a grounder that snuck through the infield thanks to a hit-and-run play by the Twins putting Toronto shortstop Royce Clayton out of position. Tyner moved up to third and Punto checked in at first on the play, and the Twins had runners on the corner with no outs, trailing by one run. It looked like the start of a 2006-style "piranha rally," but this year those have been hard to come by and last night was no different. The Twins managed to get zero runs in the inning, as Tyner and Punto both ran into outs on the base-paths on the very next play. Tyner foolishly tried to score from third on a sharp grounder to first by Luis Castillo, and was retired after a short run-down. During Tyner's misadventure, Punto tried to advance from first to third, and he was easily thrown out at third base after Tyner was tagged out.

The Twins entered the ninth inning down by two runs, and Hunter led off the inning with a double. He then moved up to third on a pop-out by Jason Kubel, giving the Twins a runner on third base with one out. And yet, it felt like the game was essentially over because those 7-9 spots were due up. True to form, White struck out and Tyner hit a lazy fly ball to center to end the game.

As you can see, the .200 average and .270 slugging percentage don't even begin to tell how hapless the 7-9 spots in the Twins' lineup have been over the past couple weeks (and for the majority of the season). Here's something to keep in mind: the average major-league player hits around .265 and slugs about .420. Think about how much of a difference it would make to stick even a couple average hitters into the bottom of that lineup.

* Last week I wrote about two relatively simple moves the Twins could make to improve their fledgling offense. One of those moves was calling up Brian Buscher from Rochester to replace Punto as the regular third baseman. In the next seven games after I wrote the article, Buscher went just 4-for-23 (.174) and saw his season average at Rochester drop from .347 to .297. However, between the two games of Rochester's double-header yesterday, Buscher went 5-for-8 with a double, three runs scored and an RBI, bringing his average back up to .321. Meanwhile, Punto has played in every single game since the All-Star break for the Twins and has batted .250/.275/.375 with five strikeouts and one walk.

* Indeed, you have to wonder how many more gaffes Punto can make while maintaining his everyday spot in the lineup. The aforementioned poor hitting line does not tell the whole story; Star Tribune blogger Howard Sinker wrote earlier this week about the numerous mistakes the third baseman has been making in every aspect of the game:
Nick Punto’s .214 batting average is troubling enough, but he’s also managing to make mistake after mistake in other parts of his game — the hustle and defense parts that are supposed to make up for his lack of hitting. Sunday, he failed to tag up at second on Jeff Cirillo’s sacrifice fly and has to return to second when the ball was caught. Saturday, he got picked off second base. Friday, he made a throwing error that allowed the Angels their first run, a throw he never should have tried to make. Thursday afternoon, against Detroit, his was timid on a ground ball that went into left field. That’s four blunders in four games.
You can add last night's costly baserunning mistake to that list. I have always liked Punto and by no means am I trying to demean him with all this, but his play has been absolutely atrocious and he looks like a player who has totally lost his confidence. The fact that he continues to be penciled into the starting lineup each night is unbelievable -- the Twins need to find a way to get him back into his utility role where he can actually be of some value.

Monday, July 23, 2007


Yesterday's game was only the latest piece of evidence in a growing theory: no matter how many times the Twins get lucky or their big offensive stars have big games to go along with good pitching, none of it will be enough to overcome the massive black hole in the bottom of the horizon. If you speak in the metaphorical language of astrophysics, when the offense reaches the event horizon, there is no looking back.

Who exactly makes up this "black hole" in the lineup? Yesterday, it was quite obvious. The trio of Darnell McDonald, Luis Rodriguez, and Nick Punto probably wouldn't knock fear into a softball pitcher in the local rec league, let alone a major-league hurler. It's true, they went a combined 2-for-7 with a walk, which isn't exactly horrible, but their combined contribution this year is beyond atrocious. You begin with McDonald, who is hitless with a walk in 9 at-bats so far (and a total of 5-for-37 in his MLB career); add Rodriguez, who is 18-for-96 (.188) this year; and finish off with Punto's 67-for-313 (.214) this season. You end up with a hitter, who in 418 at-bats this year, has a .203 average with three home runs, 27 RBI, 14 stolen bases, and 52 walks. That's a hitter with no power, some speed, and some patience. Realistically, you might say you have a one-tool player if not for Punto's defense. Also, as Ubelmann points out on SBG, these hitters (including Garrett Jones and Jason Tyner) hit .179/.258/.250 over the weekend series against the Angels in 31 plate appearances.

Ignoring those seven through nine hitters who are going to do little or nothing, your left with all the pressure on the other hitters. Yesterday, with the inconsistent Jason Kubel going hitless two days after his offensive break-out (sounds just like the team), the pressure was on the remaining five hitters. With Jason Bartlett and Jeff Cirillo being nothing special and Michael Cuddyer being on the DL, the pressure to score runs fell almost entirely into the laps of three players: Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Torii Hunter. Reason the Twins lost yesterday? Those hitters went a combined 3-for-12 with one RBI. This is, of course, not in any way to lay the blame on the Twins' best hitters; instead, I am merely pointing out that when these guys don't drive in run after run, the offense tends to do very little, considering the talent around them. This isn't exactly new, as it's been happening all year and most fans are aware of it, but its reached a nexus of sorts in the last week after Cuddyer's injury, when we've seen lineups including Tyner and Jones alongside Punto and McDonald.

With such a huge hole in the lineup, when the pitching isn't pitch perfect, the Twins tend to lose. It's almost funny that announcers Dick and Bert continue to speak about how the pitching needs to continue to be perfect in order to win while praising the Twins' lineup. On this blog, we've pushed the need for a trade, but nothing seems to be coming up and that just makes the situation more critical. Starter Matt Garza had 15 scoreless innings this year (minus one unearned run) before yesterday, when he gave up four runs, three earned, in 5 1/3 innings. Garza wasn't great, but you could easily sense that after his last game, in which he lost despite not giving up an earned run in seven innings against the Tigers, he knew he couldn't rely on his offense, affecting his control early on as the pressure on himself showed immediately.

The Twins naturally have a solution to all this: the great Rondell White was activated from the disabled list yesterday, with Garrett Jones being sent down . Sadly, after all his injury problems this year, it seems doubtful that White will be a major contributor. The good news for Twins fans is he cannot be any worse than Tyner, Punto, McDonald, Jones, or any other of the replacement-level bats the Twins have thrown into the bottom third of the lineup this season. Lets hope White brings some spark to the batting order to support Johan Santana tonight, who faces off against Shaun Marcum and the Blue Jays.

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.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Quid Pro Quo

The last three posts on this site -- and for many across the blogosphere in the last few days -- have consisted of breaking down and analyzing the failing and fluttering offense of the Minnesota Twins. Naturally, as Newton's Laws would have it, our actions and words required a response. The response came in the form of a Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel-fueled offense beating out John Lackey and the Los Angeles Angels of Hollywood of Los Angeles of California in a 7-5 victory last night to end three straight games of offensive tragedy.

Morneau was an obvious candidate for an offensive standout, as he continues to be an MVP force in the middle of the lineup for the Twins. Morneau went 2-for-4 with three RBI, with an RBI single in the second and a big two-run blast that gave the Twins the lead for good in the the third. However, Kubel is probably more important to discuss. Before the last two games for Kubel, he had been on a hitless streak for 15 at-bats, culminating in the ugliest at-bat of the year in Wednesday's punishing loss to Detroit.

He finally broke it at 16 at-bats Thursday and in that game and last night's victory, Kubel was 6-for-7. Yesterday, he had hits in all three at-bats, drove in two runs, walked, and stole his third base of the year while raising his season line to .257/.310/.424. After what was likely the worst week or so of his career offensively, there is once again hope Kubel has pulled out of his slump. Of course, for many Twins fans, it became hard not to write Kubel off after he stared at three straight strikes down the middle on Wednesday. However, his power numbers really aren't that bad, as he is on pace for 31 doubles, 15 home runs, and 74 RBI. Kubel needs to show more patience and learn more consistency, but the talent still seems to be there and as hard as it is at times, fans should continue to show patience. It should be noted that despite his awful slump, due to the last two games and his performance in the double-header against Chicago earlier this month, Kubel is hitting .310/.367/.595 in July with 3 home runs and 13 RBI.

It's interesting that after facing two great pitchers from Detroit in Andrew Miller and Jeremy Bonderman and largely flailing away, the Twins offense broke out against John Lackey, who came into the game with a 12-5 record and as one of the major Cy Young candidates in the league. As much as Lackey was shelled, the Twins' Carlos Silva didn't fare too much better and the defense for both teams added to their starting pitchers' troubles, as three of the twelve runs allowed by the two starters were unearned. While Silva was largely ineffective, the Twins once again show what an asset their bullpen is, as Dennys Reyes, Juan Rincon, and Joe Nathan combined for 2 1/3 scoreless innings to end the game.

Today's matchup should prove interesting for fans and Twins hitters alike, as young Angels phenom Jered Weaver takes on Boof Bonser. Let's once again hope that there is even a figment of consistency in this offense. Better yet, let's hope that Jason Tyner and Garrett Jones aren't in the outfield at the same time.

Friday, July 20, 2007


The Twins were able to put themselves in good position with a four-game sweep of the A's coming out of the All-Star break. Now they have managed to completely take themselves out of that good position with a heart-breaking sweep at home against the division-leading Tigers. The Twins had not been swept at the Metrodome in a three-game series in more than three years, and they picked the absolute worst time imaginable to break that streak. The truly sad thing is that all three games seemed so very winnable. The Twins got three Quality Starts in the series, but wasted them all by scoring a total of five runs over three games. The sweep was clinched for the Tigers yesterday afternoon when the Twins scored just three runs over 10 innings (including zero runs over 3 1/3 innings against Detroit's formerly horrible bullpen) before Joe Nathan finally gave up the deciding run in the extra frame. The Twins now find themselves nine games out of first place in the AL Central and seven games out of the Wild Card lead. In order to make the playoffs, the Twins would have to either make up nine games in just over two months against an excellent Detroit ballclub, or surpass three star-studded teams (Indians, Mariners and Yankees) in the Wild Card race.

Yesterday's atrocity of a loss was marked by missed opportunities, bad base-running and poor defense. What do you expect when two of your outfield starters are Jason Tyner and Garrett Jones, and your No. 5 hitter is a backup catcher with a .680 OPS? The Twins' lack of depth is laughable, and it has been exposed time and time again this season. This has not been not difficult to see for even the most casual of fans, but as Jim Souhan writes, Terry Ryan elected to sit back and watch the Twins' season slip away as the offense continually sputtered and failed to support great pitching performances. Over their last nine games, the Twins have gotten eight Quality Starts from their rotation, allowing an average of 3.1 runs per game during that span. Their record over those nine games was 4-5. How did that happen, exactly? There's a pretty easy answer.

In those last nine games, the 7-9 hitters in the Twins' lineup have gone a combined 19-for-87 (.213) with eight runs scored and five RBI. That's absolutely abysmal production from one-third of the lineup. The problems with the bottom part of this lineup have been very clear for some time, and even low-scale moves like calling up a Brian Buscher to play third or bringing in a Ty Wigginton to DH would have almost undoubtedly given a boost to this ridiculously punchless portion of the batting order. Instead Ryan sat still and watched the team continue to feed at-bats to guys like Tyner, Jones and Nick Punto. For this, considerable blame must be placed on the shoulders of the general manager.

What makes this situation truly frustrating is the fact that the Twins are so close to being a great team. They have so many pieces in place: a slugging first baseman who is on pace to put up numbers very similar to the ones that captured him an MVP last year, a catcher who is getting on base at a .400 clip, a center fielder who has been one of the league's best and is playing his ass off in the final year of his contract, a stellar rotation with young pitchers who are stepping up right when the team needs them, and a bullpen that continues to be one of the league's most reliable despite several injuries and performance issues. Despite all this, the Twins cannot distance themselves from the .500 mark because the bottom half of their lineup is a black hole that produces outs at an alarming rate.

The Twins went into a home series against the team they are chasing hardest carrying all the momentum in the world. They got spectacular pitching against the league's best offense, and still managed to lose by one run in each of the three games they played. That's utterly devastating. For all intents and purposes, the Twins have pushed themselves out of contention with this depressing sweep. This ship is quickly sinking, and if you want to know why, look no further than the bottom-heavy lineup that is pulling the team asunder, and the general manager who has sat idly by and watched it happen.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Santana "Ripped" By Tigers

This is what the ESPN.com main page had written about the Twins loss last night. For some reason, when a two-time Cy Young award winning pitcher goes eight innings, gives up five hits and three runs while walking one and striking out seven, it qualifies as getting "ripped." For those counting, those numbers amount to a 3.38 ERA and a 0.75 WHIP. Not too shabby. Of course, headlines like that only add to the ridiculous notion that Santana is having some kind of down year and that he isn't in the Cy Young race with Dan Haren, John Lackey, and C.C. Sabbathia.

What is more unfortunate, though, is that Santana did pitch so well without picking up a win. His only mistakes came against Magglio Ordonez, who came into the game hitting .400/.435/.850 against Santana in 40 career at-bats. Just like on Tuesday, the Twins offensive motor seemed to be in perpetual first gear. Sure, they got a few runs, but not enough and they never really got going. The offense left a total of 14 men on and a total of seven runners in scoring position with two outs. Consider that the Twins had 10 hits, four more than the Tigers, but managed only two runs (neither of which was actually driven in on a hit). They also walked four times against Tigers starter Andrew Miller, whose wildness granted one of the Twins runs when Justin Morneau was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.

Who were the main culprits? For one, Joe Mauer and Morneau, the Twins' biggest bats, went a combined 1-for-9 with while leaving 11 men on together, helping to make Michael Cuddyer's 4-for-4 performance go widely unnoticed. Additionally, Lew Ford, making the start in place of the beleaguered Jason Kubel, went 0-for-4 and left seven men on base. He is now hitting only .237/.308/.351 on the season and is hitting .167 (2-for-16) in July so far. After what was a good June, Ford has gone right back to being a pumpkin. Kubel didn't fare better, as he replaced Torii Hunter after his injury and subsequently struck out in his only at-bat, a very important one that saw the bases loaded with two outs. Kubel has been absolutely atrocious as of late, going hitless in his last 15 at-bats since his big performance in the double-header against Chicago before the break. He spent his one at-bat staring at three strikes in what can only be described as a pathetic and depressing attempt at hitting. Lastly, it certainly doesn't help the Twins cause that their last two hopes with Cuddyer on in the ninth were Jason Tyner and Garrett Jones. But Tyner is a battler, right John Gordon?

Losing these two key games essentially puts the Twins out of the division race, as they are now eight games back of a team that looks like the best in the American League. The good news for Twins fans is that they still might have a shot at the Wild Card, which they are six games back from after a Cleveland loss yesterday. If they want that shot, games like last night's can't happen again. The Twins can't afford to lose when Santana hands them pitching gems. However, if you listen to ESPN, he got ripped with the rest of them anyway.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Hardest of Luck

In their last two games against the Tigers, the Twins have given up a total of two runs... and lost twice. The last time the two teams faced off, on July 1, Scott Baker was the hard-luck loser, as he delivered eight terrific innings while allowing just one run on a late solo homer by Marcus Thames but got zero run support . Last night, Matt Garza had even worse luck. In seven innings, Garza allowed just one unearned run, yet he was saddled with the loss as the Twins came up empty against Nate Robertson and the Detroit bullpen.

I was at the game, sitting in the third row behind the Tigers' dugout, so I was lucky enough to have a terrific view of Garza as he spun his gem. His fastball didn't seem to have its usual zip and he was frequently missing with his breaking balls, which explains why he collected only three strikeouts, but he still held the powerful Detroit lineup to just three hits over seven innings. That's a great sign. Sadly, because his offense could not support him with a single run, Garza now finds himself with a 0.00 ERA over 15 innings and a 1-1 record. You don't see that too often.

Last night's inept offensive performance is much less defensible than the one put forth back on July 1. In that game, the opposing starter was Jeremy Bonderman, who had good numbers on the year and had at least shown the potential to dominate. Robertson entered last night's game with a 5-6 record to go along with a 4.92 ERA and .300 BAA. He had struck out just 48 in 82 1/3 innings. For the Twins to fail to score a run against him over seven innings while collecting just three hits and striking out five times is shameful, particularly on a night where their young starter came through with arguably the best outing of his career. Seven starters in the Twins' lineup went hitless in the game. The Twins put runners on first and second with one out in the sixth only to have Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer end the inning by striking out back-to-back. Two innings later, Luis Castillo came up in the same situation and grounded into an inning-ending double play. The 4-9 hitters in the Twins' lineup went a combined 0-for-17. With games like this, it's not hard to see why I wrote up a relatively long post yesterday detailing some things the Twins can do to shore up an offense that is sorely in need of improvement.

Of course, sometimes there are things a manager can do to give his team a better chance to win. Check out the numbers for the following players versus left-handed pitchers:

Lew Ford: .250/.333/.438
Jason Kubel: .279/.340/.395
Jason Tyner: .190/.261/.190

Guess which one got the start in left field against the southpaw Robertson?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Improving the Offense In Two Easy Steps

The Twins played very well in their four-game sweep of the A's over the weekend, but they didn't really prove anything. They showed that their starting pitching was good enough to suppress an Oakland lineup that has been woefully ineffective pretty much all month, and they showed that their offense could score enough runs to support those great pitching performances four games in a row. Unfortunately, pitching like that cannot be counted on on a daily basis for the rest of the season, especially when the Twins are taking on offenses more potent than that of the A's, which ranks second-to-last in the American League in runs scored. The Twins scored 19 runs over the four-game series, which isn't bad, but they hit just one home run and failed to capitalize in numerous situations. Nick Punto started in all four games and went 3-for-14 with three strikeouts and no walks. Four different players started at designated hitter in the series. The Twins need to make a few adjustments to their lineup in order to get some consistency.

I'm a strong supporter of a trade to bring in a hitter, and I think it's fairly evident that the positions that most need to be addressed are third base and DH. Bringing in help at third base via trade would not be an easy task, as there aren't many cheaply available third basemen out there for the plucking right now. Acquiring a player who can DH would be much easier, as there need be no consideration for defensive ability. Mike Piazza and Ty Wigginton are a couple of players who are believed to be available that would nicely fill the role of a right-handed bat the Twins could stick in the DH spot regularly. Neither would cost the Twins a top prospect, which is not the case with some of the young third basemen who have been mentioned as potential acquisitions for the Twins (such as Colorado's Ian Stewart and and Los Angeles' Andy LaRoche).

But what to do about the third base dilemma? Despite his big two-run triple in Sunday's game, Punto's offense has been atrocious this year and with his .212/.307/.280 line, his continued regular presence in the lineup is hurting the team. It's very possible that the Twins can replace Punto and get a big offensive boost at third base without looking outside the organization. There's a third baseman down in Class-AAA Rochester who is absolutely crushing the ball, and he might be the biggest surprise of the season in the Twins' organization.

The Twins acquired Brian Buscher from the Giants organization through the minor-league Rule V draft during the offseason. The Giants, who had selected Buscher out of the University of South Carolina in the third round of the 2003 draft, were not too terribly sad to see him go. Buscher had never shown the type of power in the pros that he did in college, and he never dominated pitching in the minors, despite being relatively old for each level he played at. In his final year in the Giants organization, Buscher batted .259/.321/.366 with seven home runs and 49 RBI over 130 games as a 25-year-old in Double-A. Needless to say, expectations were fairly low when he came over to the Twins organization.

Buscher started the 2007 season in Class-AA New Britain, where he got off to a solid start by batting .308/.391/.478 with seven homers and 37 RBI over 63 games. Most encouragingly, he showed very good plate discipline by drawing 31 walks while striking out just 30 times. Buscher had never been hugely strikeout-prone in his minor-league career in the Giants organization, but he had never collected more walks than strikeouts in a season. Of course, Buscher's initial success at New Britain this season wasn't exactly overwhelming -- it was about what you'd expect, given that he was 26 and in his third stint in Double-A. What is truly exciting is what Buscher has done since being promoted to Triple-A back in mid-June. In 23 games for Rochester, Buscher has raked to the tune of .347/.425/.613 with five home runs and 16 RBI. He has drawn 10 walks while striking out just six times.

It's possible that Buscher is in the middle of a flukey hot streak, but it's also very possible that he has turned a corner and revitalized his fledgling career by latching on with a new organization. After striking out 244 times in 1,431 career minor-league at-bats entering this season (17 percent), Buscher has struck out just 36 times in 322 at-bats between New Britain and Rochester this year (11 percent). He's hot right now, as he has hit .424 with two homers and eight RBI over his last 10 games in Rochester. And on top of his offensive outburst this season, he is considered to be an above-average defensive third baseman. It would seem like the time is right to call him up and give him a shot at the bottom of the Twins' lineup.

The one downside with Buscher is that he's a left-handed hitter, and some believe he will struggle against southpaws in the big leagues. I don't think that's necessarily true -- he's batting .268/.391/.368 against lefties in Rochester after batting .357/.419/.554 against them in New Britain -- but even if it is, a Buscher/Jeff Cirillo platoon would almost certainly provide a great deal more offense than Punto currently is, and the defensive drop-off would not be as dramatic as one might think.

So there you have it... my plan to eliminate a couple of the major weaknesses in the Twins' lineup with a few relatively minor and very doable roster moves. There is minimal risk involved with these moves, but there is potentially a very big payoff. I don't suspect that Buscher will light the world on fire in his first stint in the majors, nor do I expect the Twins to bring in a marquis hitter to plug into the DH spot. But, if you consider the guys who these players would be replacing, the upgrade could be massive. When you've got a core that is made up of stars like Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Torii Hunter and Michael Cuddyer, all you need to do is surround those guys with mediocrity in order to form a pretty darn good offense. So far, the Twins have been unable to accomplish even that, but with a few small moves, the lineup surrounding the big boys could be quite a bit better than mediocre.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Eerie Repeat?

It's been mentioned on this site a few times over the four-game series against the Oakland A's that ended yesterday in a Twins' sweep, but it is awfully reminiscent of the way things went in 2003. Just as in that case, the Twins came out of the break well behind in the standings and have started off the second half with a bang. Of course, unlike in 2003 when they traded for Shannon Stewart, no big trade of any kind has been pulled off to help the Twins out. And as Patrick Reusse points out, the mighty Tigers and Indians don't exactly resemble the Royals of 2003.

The final game of the series yesterday resembled the one on Saturday. Both games were won 4-3, with each contest coming close due to the mistakes of a reliever that allowed two more runs to be charged to a starter that had pitched into the seventh effectively. In Saturday's case, it was Dennys Reyes giving up the hit and yesterday, it was surprisingly Matt Guerrier who ended up blowing a 2-1 lead by allowing a two-run single to Travis Buck.

Luckily for the Twins, two of their biggest bats came up huge in the clutch. Those bats belonged to Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer. Morneau tied the game in the eighth with his only hit of the game -- a solo blast into the upper deck off of Santiago Casilla for his 25th homer of the season. Up until that point, Morneau had been very ineffective, leaving a total of five runners in scoring position. With the game tied in the ninth, Mauer gave the Metrodome crowd a walk-off hit -- a slow roller up the middle that got just sneaked through the infield. Naturally, it helped that Mauer's game-winner was set up by Luis Castillo's triple and Jason Bartlett's walk, but Mauer had a great offensive day overall, going 3-for-4 with a walk and a stolen base while raising his average to .312. On the contrary, Jason Kubel, who had been doing well in the month of June, spent the series doing absolutely nothing offensively and is now hitless in his past 14 at-bats with only one walk in that time.

As mentioned earlier, another starter, in this case Boof Bonser, completed six effective innings before getting charged with a few extra runs thanks to the ineffectiveness of a bullpen member. Bonser in total threw 6 1/3 innings, giving up five hits, three earned runs, and three walks while striking out six. Bonser was effective through six, giving up only the solo home run to Eric Chavez and completing two consecutive 1-2-3 innings before the unraveling in the seventh. Bonser wasn't fantastic overall, but he looked much better than he had throughout July, striking out plenty of batters while showing a good curveball and notably tossing his second quality start in a row. For Twins fans who recently watched Bonser's ERA balloon from 3.61 to 4.76, the last two starts have been very encouraging.

While the four-game sweep over the A's was both impressive and wonderful to watch, the next series is a far bigger test for the Twins. After a day off today, the Twins will open a series against the Tigers this week at the Metrodome. With the Twins currently six games behind the Tigers in the standings, this will be a huge set of games. Thankfully, Matt Garza looked good in his first start, Johan Santana is on a surge, and Scott Baker has looked a lot better in his recent starts. The Tigers will pose a much larger challenge than the A's from a pitching standpoint; let us hope for a repeat of past success again.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Silva Cruises, Twins Take Another

After defeating the Athletics 4-3 last night, the Twins have now won three straight games coming out of the All-Star break. They have essentially dominated the Athletics in those three games, rarely not holding a lead. The offense has been a bit spotty, but the one constant in the series so far for the Twins has been excellent starting pitching. Scott Baker delivered a very good start on Thursday night, Johan Santana was phenomenal on Friday night, and Carlos Silva continued the trend with a terrific outing last night. A glance at his pitching line will tell you that Silva was merely good (6.2 IP, 2 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 K), but in this case the stats certainly do not tell the whole story.

Silva set down the A's 1-2-3 in the first inning, and then after giving up a walk and a single to start the second, he retired Mark Ellis on an RBI ground-out, the first of 15 consecutive Oakland batters Silva would put away. Silva entered the seventh inning with just one hit allowed, but proceeded to put a couple runners aboard with a walk and a double. He left the game with two outs and runners on second and third, and if Dennys Reyes could have done his job and retired the lefty Mark Kotsay, Silva would have been charged with just one earned run over 6 2/3 innings, which would have lowered his season ERA from 4.58 to 4.40. Unfortunately, the one pitch Reyes threw in the game went for a two-run double into the gap in left-center. Silva was charged with both runs, and his ERA came down just three hundredths of a run, to 4.55. Nevertheless, do not be mistaken -- it was a great outing by Mr. Silva, who I maintain would be a sensible trading piece for the Twins.

The Twins have allowed just eight runs in three games against the A's, and that number could have been lower if not for a couple bad pitches by Reyes and Juan Rincon. I'm not sure how much of that can be attributed to great pitching by the Twins and how much can be attributed to a struggling A's offense, which had averaged just 2.2 runs per game over their last six games heading into the break; either way, it's hard not be encouraged by the way Twins' starters have thrown the ball over the past three days.

The Twins will make a bid for a four-game sweep today in a game that will certainly be their most daunting challenge yet, as the inconsistent Boof Bonser goes against Dan Haren, who recently started for the American League in the All-Star Game. It's a good bet that Bonser will have to continue the Twins' recent trend of great starting pitching in order for a sweep to be possible.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Close Call

With another victory over the A's following the All-Star break, things seem to be more and more like the 2003 season. Except the teams the Twins are chasing are still both vastly superior to the one they chased in 2003 (the Royals). Last night, though the Twins got the victory, they showed one more reason things are quite the same as they were in 2003.

That year, Juan Rincon had his first effective season as a reliever, giving the Twins 85 2/3 innings in which he gave up 74 hits, walked 38, and struck out 63. Rincon had a 3.63 ERA and gave up only five home runs. The following three seasons he gave up a total of twelve home runs in 231 1/3 innings. So far, including last night's disastrous ninth inning, Rincon has allowed seven home runs in just 32 1/3 innings. In another comparison, between 2004 and 2006, Rincon allowed a total of 26 out of 101 inherited runners to score. This year, he has allowed half (six out of twelve) to score. Thus, the 4.78 ERA is just the beginning of how bad Rincon has been in comparison to previous seasons, including 2003.

What should make Twins fans optimistic, as displayed in last night's game (other than the fact that Rincon is nowhere to be seen in a traditional seventh or eighth inninmg role), is that hitters other than Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, and Torii Hunter were getting involved. Michael Cuddyer, who had been slumping going into the All-Star break, was 4-for-4 in Thursday's game and 2-for-3 with a walk and a double in last night's game. That raises his season line to a good, but not fantastic .287/.371/.454. Another important batter who had been slumping, Luis Castillo, went 3-for-4 with two RBI, a double, and a walk. Lastly, the whole lineup once again showed good patience against a pitcher with mediocre control in Lenny DiNardo.

Of course, a discussion of last night's game wouldn't be complete without mentioning the great start by Johan Santana which only gives more weight to the prediction made by many (including this blog) that Santana might end up with his best overall numbers yet this season, as he is starting his traditional second half run with great numbers already -- 11-6, 2.60 ERA, 133 Ks, .212 BAA, 1.02 WHIP. As for today's starter Carlos Silva, the Twins and their fans can only hope that he is as good as he was last time against the A's, when he went eight innings and gave up only one run and five hits. Silva has had three straight awful starts, so it's about time for him to break out.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Break Time's Over

Back in 2003, the Twins came out of the All-Star break with a 44-49 record and a 7.5 game deficit in the AL Central standings. Their first post-break series was a four-game set at home against the A's, and they opened it with a 6-2 Thursday night victory before going on to sweep Oakland and begin a marvelous second half that ended with a second consecutive Central Division crown.

Flash forward to 2007. These Twins find themselves with a better record than the 2003 version, but in a similar position -- needing victories to start making up ground in the standings. Last night, they opened their own four-game home set against the A's in similar fashion, picking up a 6-2 victory. Of course, almost all the faces have changed since '03. In that 6-2 victory four years ago, it was 38-year-old Rick Reed who picked up the win; last night it was 25-year-old Scott Baker. Four years ago, Shannon Stewart was batting lead-off for the Twins, whom he had just recently joined to help with the playoff push. Last night, Stewart was batting lead-off for the A's, whom he signed with in the offseason. After struggling through his last couple seasons with the Twins, Stewart is having a bit of a comeback year with the A's, and I'm happy for him.

The Twins drew four walks against Oakland starter Chad Gaudin in the first inning and scored twice in each of the first two frames, building a four-run lead that would be plenty for Baker, who controlled the Athletics over six innings to pick up his fourth win of the season. Amazingly, he got 14 outs through the air and just one on the ground.

Baker really seems to be pulling things together -- even with the ugly outing in Chicago last Friday in which he allowed seven runs over five innings, he holds a 3.77 ERA and 1.03 WHIP over his last five starts. Baker could be a big key to the Twins' success in the second half.

Meanwhile, Michael Cuddyer was the star on offense, going 4-for-4 with a double and a triple. Joe Mauer went 0-for-2, but walked twice and came around to score both times. Torii Hunter drove in a pair of runs and Justin Morneau chipped in with a bloop RBI single. Morneau is now tied with Vladimir Guerrero for second in the American League in RBI at 75, while Hunter ranks fourth with 71. Back in that 2003 season, only one Twin finished the season with more than 75 RBI (it was Hunter, with 102).

Of course, I would be remiss not to mention the contributions of one Garrett Jones. In his first game back with the Twins after being recalled from Rochester, Jones went 2-for-4 with a double off the top of the baggy in right field. Jones is far from a solution at DH, but he's a better option than Jason Tyner. Neither one of the two really belongs in the major leagues, but Jones at least has the potential to hit the ball over the fence. And, being that he struck out in over a quarter of his at-bats in the minors, it's nice to see that he's fanned just once so far in 12 big-league at-bats.

Tonight, Johan Santana toes the rubber for the Twins against Lenny DiNardo, who has been solid for the A's this year. Here's hoping the Twins can continue to do their best impression of the '03 squad and work toward a big four-game sweep. In 2003, the Twins won two-thirds of their games after the All-Star break -- if they managed to do that this year, they would finish with a 94-68 record. Of course, this year's team doesn't have the luxury of a mid-season Shannon Stewart addition... but who needs him when you've got Garrett Jones?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Seeing Stars

After what seemed to be an endless introduction to the All-Star, which included a sincerely heartfelt tribute to Giant great Willie Mays, the 2007 All-Star game began. For Twins fans, it took a few innings before any Twins took the field. The first was Justin Morneau as a defensive replacement for David Ortiz, followed by Torii Hunter replacing MVP Ichiro Suzuki in center field, and finally followed by Johan Santana getting the seventh inning.

Offensively, the two Twins didn't do very much at all. Morneau hit a ball hard right at the right fielder in his first at-bat and popped out in his last at-bat. Hunter also flied out in his first at-bat and then grounded out with a runner on second to end the ninth inning for the AL. As for defense, the most that can be said is that it wasn't a reprise of 2002 for Hunter.

However, well Morneau and Hunter did not stand out, Santana's one inning was worth remembering. With only 10 pitches, Santana quickly set down Carlos Lee, Alfonso Soriano, and Jose Reyes. Santana struck out Lee after a few fouls on a nasty changeup and then followed up by striking out Soriano on a similarly nasty changeup. Often at All-Star games, starting pitchers just rear back and throw heat like a reliever does, but in this case, Santana showed America the same skills that have made him so devastating and dominate year after year.

Of course, while Santana was great, most viewers will likely remember Suzuki's In-the-Park home run, which was the first in All-Star game history, along with Soriano's two-run blast in the ninth that made the contest a very close game, with the NL loading the bases before Aaron Roward flied out. Good news for Twins fans is that they'll get more of Santana's magic right out of the gate after a day off today.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Adios, Carlos?

As I discussed here yesterday, it has become blatantly clear over the first half of the season that the Twins could really use an additional bat or two. Obviously, the best way for Terry Ryan to go about acquiring such help would be to part with some pitching in a trade. But, which player would make the most sense to deal?

The answer, in my mind, is Carlos Silva. Silva has been a pleasant surprise this year, entering the break with a 4.58 ERA and 1.40 WHIP after finishing the 2006 season with those numbers registering at 5.94 and 1.54. He has cut down on his gopher-ball tendencies and is on pace to allow just 20 home runs, which would be 18 less than he surrendered last year and also his lowest total since becoming a starter in 2004. He's probably been the second-most reliable starter on the Twins' staff this season. And yet, I would argue that it would be silly not to trade him before the July 31 deadline.

Silva is in the final season of his contract with the Twins and will be eligible to hit the free agent market following this season. There is probably close to zero chance that the Twins will re-sign him, because his value on the open market will likely be much higher than the Twins can afford. Teams around the league showed during the past offseason that starting pitchers with the ability to deliver 180+ innings at an ERA around the league average are pretty valuable. How valuable?

Take a look at Jeff Suppan. The right-hander entered the past offseason as a 31-year-old with a 4.60 career ERA. He signed a four-year contract with the Milwaukee Brewers worth $42 million. Jason Marquis, who holds a 4.46 career ERA, signed a three-year, $21 million deal with the Cubs over the winter and he was coming off a season in which he'd posted a 6.02 ERA.

Then you have Silva. He's just 28, he currently holds a career ERA of 4.38, and he's been a workhorse with a proven ability to stay durable and healthy. He's pitched 180+ innings in each of his three seasons as a full-time starter, and is on pace for over 200 innings this season. Granted, he had the rough season in 2006, but that year appears to be an outlier when you compare it to the rest of his career; he posted earned run averages of 4.21 and 3.44 in his first two seasons as a starter, and if he stays the course in the second half this year he can finish with an ERA right around 4.50.

Considering his age and his career numbers, there is a good chance that Silva could be offered a contract worth an average of $10 million per year this offseason. With their budget restrictions and their glut of young pitching talent, it would be both unrealistic and unnecessary for the Twins to make a run at re-signing him.

Keeping in mind that Silva will almost certainly be gone after this season, it seems foolish not to explore the idea of trading him. While the Twins would get draft pick compensation by letting Silva walk, pulling the trigger on a trade would provide more immediate help and the right player(s) could help the Twins make a playoff push this season. There are plenty of contending teams out there that will be looking to add a pitcher to their rotation before the deadline -- the Mariners, Yankees and Mets come to mind as a few examples. Silva won't bring back a marquis player, but I'd have to believe that the Twins could get some useful hitters by trading him, especially if he was a part of a package that included a mid-level prospect.

Of course, it's important to note that losing Silva for the last couple months of the season would be a blow to the pitching staff. As I mentioned before, he's probably been the team's second-best starting pitcher this season and he is also the only member of the rotation outside of Johan Santana with a decent amount of major-league experience. Yet, with Matt Garza, Boof Bonser, Glen Perkins, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn all in the mix with Santana, you'd think the Twins could piece together a more-than-serviceable rotation for the rest of the season.

I like Silva and I'm glad that he's turned things around this season, but I just don't see anyway that he'll be back in a Twins uniform next season. With that being the case, the Twins have little to lose by trading him for some offensive help.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

After a wild weekend in Chicago, the Twins ended up right where they started -- two games above .500 and scratching their heads over a supremely inconsistent offense. The Twins racked up 32 runs in their two games on Friday thanks in large part to the 13 extra-base hits (including eight homers) they amassed, but in their next two games on Saturday and Sunday they managed just four runs on two extra-base hits (with the only home run coming off the bat of Justin Morneau in yesterday's game).

It's crystal clear that the Twins need to add another reasonably decent bat to the mix, because depending on Morneau, Torii Hunter and Joe Mauer to carry the load each game will continue to result in the type of ridiculously up-and-down results we've seen over the past couple weeks. There is little doubt that Terry Ryan will be working the phones hard over the next couple weeks in order to bring in a bat that can reduce the need to depend on Nick Punto and Jason Tyner as regular players.

Of course, bringing in one player won't turn around the team's fortunes single-handedly. Several players need to step it up at the plate in the second half. Contrary to popular belief, Michael Cuddyer's first half has been a bit of a disappointment in some respects. While he's getting on base at a good clip and is on pace for around 100 RBI, Cuddyer is the team's clean-up hitter and he's slugging just .433. After hitting 41 doubles and 24 home runs last year, Cuddyer is on pace for just 28 doubles and 18 homers this year. Cuddyer also hasn't been the lefty masher he was last year, with a .274/.349/.432 line against southpaws through the break this year after batting .297/.376/.518 against them last year. It's tough to be disappointed with Cuddy's overall game, as he's hitting for a decent average and his arm has been an asset in right field, but in the second half he really needs to get back to doing the things that made him so valuable offensively last season.

Another guy that really needs to pick things up in the second half is Jason Kubel. He seemed to have a breakout day on Friday when he went 4-for-7 with seven RBI and a pair of walks during the doubleheader, but he struggled yesterday, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. While things have gotten better lately, Kubel enters the All-Star break with a .250/.302/.404 line with strikeouts in about 20 percent of his at-bats, and that's obviously got to improve. The good news is that Kubel slugged .469 in June and he's slugging .520 so far in July. Even though the batting average and plate discipline haven't come around, it's great to see Kubel flashing a relatively consistent power stroke, especially in this lineup. A big second half for Kubel could provide an immense boost for this offense as the stretch run approaches.

If the Twins can bring in a bat to provide some production at third base or DH while guys like Cuddyer and Kubel kick their game up a notch (which they're both certainly capable of), I like the Twins' chances of being competitive for a playoff spot right up until the end of the season, especially if Johan Santana goes on another one of his patented second-half tears and Matt Garza continues to pitch the way he did on Friday night.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Burden of Proof

Really, I take no pleasure in saying this or even alluding to it, but the points made by Ubelmann, Aaron Gleeman, and myself yesterday were only proven in yesterday's game. After scoring 32 runs in two games Friday, the Twins were absolutely dominated by Mark Buehrle. The seemingly paradoxical nature of the Twins offense can be beyond grating one day, like yesterday, and wonderful to watch the next.

What was the source of offensive ineptitude yesterday? Well, just to begin with, Ron Gardenhire decided to go against the White Sox's best pitcher (and one who has gone 18-10 with a 3.76 ERA against the Twins coming into the game) without Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel in the lineup. Those are two bats that went a combined 9-for-18 with one home run, four walks, and 12 RBI in the two games. Yes, Joe Mauer is 1-for-12 in his career versus Buehrle and Jeff Cirillo (who DHed) came into the game 3-for-8 versus Buerhle and Lew Ford is 14-for-42 (.333) against Buehrle. Thus, its somewhat defensible to give Ford the start over Kubel (even though Kubel is hitting .300 against lefties and Ford is hitting only .241), but such a small sample size is not enough to justify Cirillo over Mauer.

If anything, it would be far more defensible to have Cirillo start over Nick Punto, who is 6-for-19 against Buehrle, even though Punto is a far better defender but obviously a lesser hitter. I'm sure the logic behind it is that Mauer started both games of the double-header essentially, but unless he's hurt, I'm not sure why you don't let Mauer start at DH. With a hitter as good as Mauer, there shouldn't be concern over 12 mediocre at-bats against a pretty good pitcher.

As a result, the Twins offense didn't do very much. Mike Redmond and Luis Castillo each collected two hits with Justin Morneau, Torii Hunter, and Lew Ford picking up the other hits. However, with three double plays (from Cirillo, Punto, and Redmond), those hits were quickly erased. The Twins didn't manage a run until there was only one out left.

Its unfortunate, because starter Boof Bonser had a pretty good game, going a rare seven innings, allowing only four hits, three runs, and two walks while striking out four. Bonser was really only hurt by the two-run home run he gave up to Paul Konerko on a terrible fastball up over the plate, just where Konerko likes it according to Fox's "Hot Zone." Notably, it was the first time since May 18th against Milwaukee that Bonser has gone seven innings in a start and his first quality start since May 29th against the White Sox.

Things won't get better today, when the Twins face off against Javier Vazquez. Although Vazquez was not very good last year, he has been improved in 2007, going 5-5 with a 3.70 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP (6th in the AL), and 100 Ks in 107 innings (9th in the AL). More importantly, Vazquez has had two starts already this year against the Twins and he's been dominant in those 13 innings, allowing only five hits and one run while striking out 12, which is good for a 0.66 ERA. The only good news is that the Twins managed five walks against him. Lets just hope the "good" Carlos Silva shows up.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Offensive Paradox

Baseball really must be a strange thing or else the last week has only been proof of Ubelmann's (of the SBG nation) contention that the Twins offense is a "pathological kind of offense" that easily goes from absolute anemia to crushing power at any time. If you recall, from the end of the Detroit series through the first two games of the New York series, the Twins scored a total of one run in 30 innings.

Yesterday, in a double-header marathon, the Twins scored a total of 32 runs in just 18 innings. The proof of such a contention isn't just in the obvious difference between the offense of a few games ago and yesterday's offense but proof that the Twins really essentially rely on the bats of Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, and Torii Hunter. Looking at yesterday's games, the trio went 16-for-28 with 18 RBI, 5 walks, eight extra-base hits, five home runs and 16 runs scored. In addition, Jason Kubel went 4-for-7 with two walks and seven RBI in first game, coming from a grand slam, two sacrifice flies, and one RBI walk. With those numbers, Kubel has improved his batting line to .255/.307/.413 and is currently on pace for 15 home runs and 77 RBI.

Overall, the Twins had an very impressive 14 extra-base hits and managed six home runs in the second game, included one from pinch-hitter Jeff Cirillo and another from Michael Cuddyer. More impressive is that the Twins walked a total of 15 times in the two games, continuing to work the Chicago pitchers even when the had large leads. Notably, those walks were evenly distributed, as no Twins batter in either game walked only one time. Other than Jason Tyner's 0-for-6 perfomance in both games, no one really struggled.

Lost in all of this was Matt Garza's very impressive pitching performance in game two. Garza went six scoreless innings, giving up five hits, walking three, and striking out six. What was really nice was seeing Garza use all his pitches and not only use them, but use them well and show the Chicago hitters what kind of nasty stuff he has other than his 96-mph fastball. Along with the heat, which Garza should good command of most of the game, Garza showed a very good curveball and a pretty nasty slider. Garza also apparently has a changeup, but I don't remember him throwing one. Even if he doesn't, with three good pitches, Garza really could end up being the dominant pitcher Twins fans thought was coming up after an amazing minor league season last year.

After seeing such a wonderful and entertaining bashing of the White Sox, which included Morneau's three home-run performance (the first since Tony Oliva in 1973), the hope--as usual after such performances--is that the Twins can continue this. Unfortunately, their opposing pitcher today is Mark Buerhle, who has had a very solid season including a no-hitter this year and the Twins have Boof Bonser on the mound, who has not been very good at all for over a month. Maybe the Twins won't score another 12 or 20 runs in historical fashion, but a complete four-game thrashing of the White Sox in Chitown would be the perfect way to enter the All Star break.

* On a final note, Mike Redmond's injury, which was very hard to watch, confirmed Gardy's three-year fear that caused him to keep such terrible backups Corky Miller, forcing Matt Garza to take a bat. The good news is that Redmond seems to be ok after getting sewn up and Garza went o-for-1 with a good sacrifice bunt.

* Lastly, Aaron Gleeman may be happy to know that the baseball gods decided to punish the worst hitter in baseball history.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Bombed in the Bronx

Things started out okay yesterday for Kevin Slowey. He got some early run support from the Twins' offense, and handled the Yankees in the bottom of the first. Then, after getting a pair of fly outs to start the second, Slowey was hit hard, with the following series of events taking place:

- R.Cano homered to right on a 0-1 count.
- A.Phillips doubled to right.
- On wild pitch by Slowey, A.Phillips to third.
- Cairo doubled to left, A.Phillips scored.
- Damon walked.
- Me.Cabrera homered to right on a 0-2 count, Cairo scored, Damon scored.
- Jeter infield single to first.
- H.Matsui struck out.

I like Slowey and I believe he'll have a pretty good major-league career, but right now he doesn't look like he should be up in the bigs. Since his call-up from Triple-A, Slowey's control has been about as good as advertised, but his inability to change speeds effectively has rendered him unable to keep opposing hitters off-balance and as a result many of his pitches have been getting hit a long way. After surrendering five more extra-base hits yesterday (including the two home runs), Slowey now sports a .699 opponents' slugging percentage go along with a .371 batting average against. He's shown a willingness to attack hitters, but he's giving up way too many hits and an obscene home run rate (about one dinger every 2.8 innings) which doesn't seem to be subsiding. He's given up a lot hits on 0-2 counts (including the three-run blast to Melky Cabrera yesterday) because he lacks a dominating pitch that he can put hitters away with. If Matt Garza performs well in the nightcap of today's double-header against the White Sox, I suspect we shall see Slowey returning to Rochester to work on a few things -- although judging by his performance with the Red Wings earlier this season, it doesn't seem like he has a whole lot left to accomplish down there.

Of course, Slowey was far from being the only culprit in yesterday's 7-6 loss. It was a game that the Twins had many opportunities to win. They jumped on Yankees starter Kei Igawa for five runs and got to the New York bullpen after five innings, but failed to capitalize, collecting zero runs and just one hit between the sixth and eighth innings against a relief corps that entered the game ranked ninth in the American League with a 3.97 ERA. Eventually, something had to give, and it did when Pat Neshek gave up a two-run homer to Hideki Matsui in the bottom of the eighth and the Twins' ninth-inning rally against Mariano Rivera fell short.

It was a very tough loss and it puts serious pressure on the Twins to get some wins in their weekend series in Chicago and avoid falling back near the .500 mark before the upcoming All-Star break.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Second Half Magic

For some reason, there is a group of people--we'll call them "crazy"--who believe that Johan Santana is not having a year worthy of another Cy Young and that there is "something wrong with him." Obviously, this is absurd, but clearly it has some power and enough people believe it, as it took Jim Leyland (and not the players' vote) to get Johan Santana on the All-Star roster. You heard that correctly. Somehow, all the opposing hitters that Santana has been mowing down for years now decided that he just wasn't himself this year and voted others, like Josh Beckett, ahead of him.

Sure Beckett is having a good year, but the only advantage he has (how surprising!) is that he has one more win with 11. Otherwise, Santana has a better WHIP (1.03 to 1.10), a better BAA (.215 to .234), more strikeouts (125 to 83), and the better ERA (2.75 to 3.38). In fact, with last night's win, Santana is now third in the AL in ERA, second in strikeouts (to Erik Bedard), tied for fourth in wins, is fourth in WHIP, and is fifth in innings pitched. Really, the only number that stands out as a negative for Santana is the 17 home runs he has allowed.

The point of this isn't too far fetched: Santana is poised for the best year of his career with his current numbers, as his pre-break numbers surpass last year's (2.95 ERA, 9-5 record) and are far above those of 2005 (3.98, 7-5) and 2004 (3.78, 7-6). Santana's competition is a lot stiffer this year, at least so far, as Dan Haren, C.C. Sabbathia, John Lackey, and Justin Verlander are all having worthy years and Baltimore's Jeremy Guthrie would be if not for the Orioles awful bullpen that accounts for his 4-2 record.

Thankfully for Santana, not only are his other numbers (ERA, WHIP, etc.) picking up, but his run support has been much better as of late. In the last four games Santana has started, the Twins have scored a total of 33 runs. In yesterday's game, the Twins managed to get offense out of the recently struggling Jason Kubel and the unlikely Luis Rodriguez as well as from Torii Hunter and Justin Morneau. Eight hits isn't terribly impressive, but getting five extra-base hits is a huge improvement for a Twins team that normally struggles to hit anything but singles most of the time.

With ample run support the rest of the way and his usual second-half magic, Santana should be set to compete for his third Cy Young award. The real question for the Twins is whether or not the team, which currently sits at a 43-40 record that leaves them 7 1/2 games behind the Indians in the AK Central and 5 1/2 games behind Detroit for the Wild Card, can make another second half push. With Kevin Slowey on the mound this afternoon taking on the so-far disastrous import Kei Igawa and the White Sox on the docket for this weekend, the Twins have the chance to put themselves in a good position by the All-Star break.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

One in Thirty

The Twins got shut out in the Bronx last night, losing 8-0. With last night's loss, the Twins have scored a total of one run in their last 30 innings, a testament to how pathetic their offense has been as of late. Considering that their only run in those innings was scored on an RBI groundout, the offense has been beyond anemic in that time. Yes, the Twins have run into the likes of Jeremy Bonderman, Roger Clemens, and Chien-Ming Wang, but both Clemens and Wang were coming off terrible starts (Wang had given up 10 runs in his previous 12 2/3 innings coming into last night's game) and Bonderman had a mediocre June (4.99 ERA, despite a 4-1 record) before the Twins welcomed him back to dominance on Sunday.

To put things in perspective, the Twins have managed 15 hits in 91 at-bats (a .165 average) in the last three games. In the two games against the Yankees, they have gone 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position. Last night, only Morneau had more than one hit, with Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, and Torii Hunter all going hitless.

* Nick Punto probably embodies the struggling offense more than anyone. After going 0-for-3 last night, Punto managed to drop his average to .205 and now has a total of one hit in his last 24 at-bats. After posting a .150/.253/.213 line in 80 June at-bats, it might be time for Terry Ryan to seriously consider picking up a third baseman and putting Punto back to his rightful position of utility infielder. What Punto did in the second half of last year was memorable, but the results did not stick and reality has reemerged quickly.

* You may be expecting a anti-Jason Tyner rant to follow, but to be fair, despite his hardly-surprising 0-for-3 night last night, Tyner was actually decent in June, going .333/.381/.385 with two steals, doing far better than Punto or for that matter Luis Castillo. Of course, this is by no means an endorsement of Tyner, but rather, it's hard to complain about Tyner DHing when Punto, Castillo, and others have been so awful at the plate as of late.

* It should be mentioned that, although I'm by no means an expert on the subject (Howard is though), it certainly feels like calls and the strike zone have been largely in the Yankee's favor over the past two games. That isn't a viable excuse at all for what has happened, but it is an explanation for Hunter's actions towards home plate umpire Ron Kulpa in the eighth inning last night.

* Carlos Silva had been on a regular alternating cycle of one good start and one bad start for a while, but he stopped that when he had his second straight not-so-good start last night. Silva allowed six runs, five earned, in 5 1/3 innings to go with nine hits, one walk, and two strikeouts. The positives are that Silva's ground ball to fly ball ratio was still very good at 10-4 and if not for Juan Rincon's continued sloppy pitching in combination with Hunter and Jason Bartlett's poor defensive plays, Silva's start may have looked a lot better, even though he would have been saddled with another loss. Including last night's debacle, the Twins have scored one run or less in five of Silva's starts.

* Finally, in more positive news, Morneau has accepted an invitation to participate in the All-Star Game Home Run Derby on Monday. Twins players haven't often participated in the event, which can be easily attributed to the long 30-home run player drought. Other than Torii Hunter's participation in 2002, only Gary Gaetti (1989) and Tom Brunansky (1985, at the Dome) have participated in the event. In those three competitions, our group of Twins sluggers combined for a meager seven home runs. Let us hope that Morneau can easily surpass that number. And no, Morneau will not catch Abreu-itis from his participation.

* Very lastly, happy Fourth of July to everyone. Stay safe and enjoy Johan Santana's start and presumably the Twins' avoidance of a sweep in New York.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Rocket Fuel

Roger Clemens may be in the discussion for greatest pitcher of all time, but at age 44 he's currently far from being one of the best pitchers in the league. At least he hadn't looked like it through the first four starts of his latest stint with the Yankees. Last night, however, Clemens was in fine form, holding the Twins to one run on two hits over eight innings en route to his 350th career victory as his Yankees defeated the Twins 5-1 in the opener of a four-game series at Yankee Stadium. After allowing a Michael Cuddyer single and a Justin Morneau walk to lead off the second inning, Clemens retired 20 of the last 21 batters he faced, racking up four strikeouts and 13 ground ball outs. Clemens looked good and had his splitter working in full effect, but that's no excuse for the inability of the Twins hitters to put together any rallies over eight innings after being shutout the night before.

Joe Mauer had two hits while Michael Cuddyer and Jason Bartlett had a single apiece, but the rest of the lineup went a combined 0-for-18. Meanwhile, starter Boof Bonser continued his trend of struggling once reaching the later innings of games. Bonser made it through the first five innings with only one run allowed, but in the sixth he gave up a solo home run to Bobby Abreu, followed by a double to Andy Phillips and a single to Robinson Cano. He left the game with two on and one out, and both of the runners he left on base ended up scoring. Bonser finished with nine hits and four earned runs allowed over 5 1/3 innings pitched. He struck out six but walked three. After a poor June, he has gotten his month of July off to a pretty discouraging start.

The only bright spot in the game was the season debut of Matt Garza, who came in to pitch the seventh and eighth innings on what was essentially mop-up duty. Garza allowed a pair of hits over his two innings, but kept the Yankees scoreless. He mixed his pitches and showed a nasty curveball to go along with his 97 MPH fastball. I'll be interested to see how Garza does when he starts against the White Sox on Friday.

Tonight's game matches up a pair of groundball pitchers in Chien-Ming Wang and Carlos Silva. Silva has not fared well in his career against the Yankees, posting a 7.31 ERA in 16 regular season innings and getting pummeled in the 2004 playoffs. My guess is that the Twins will need to put more than a couple runs on the board if they want to win this game and even the series.