Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bonser the Stopper

The last time Boof Bonser had pitched, he'd gone six innings against the Athletics and allowed just two runs. Yet, as has routinely been the case for Bonser this year, he'd gotten pathetic run support (in this case, the Twins were shut out) and lost.

Since that start last Wednesday, the Twins' rotation had spun out of control. In those four games between Bonser's outings, Twins' starters had posted a 15.53 ERA, and only one (Nick Blackburn on Friday) had lasted more than 4 1/3 innings in a start. Obviously, this had been very taxing on the bullpen and very humiliating for the team. Needless to say, last night's start was a big one for Bonser. The Twins needed him to be their stopper. And Boof came through.

In classic fashion, the Twins didn't provide him with much run support. Jason Kubel hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning which Mike Lamb followed with a sacrifice fly, but that was the extent of scoring for the Twins. That makes six starts for Bonser this season, and six games where the Twins have failed to score more than three runs.

That doesn't leave much room for error for Bonser, but fortunately he was up to the task last night. He held the White Sox offense scoreless through six frames before allowing a solo homer to Joe Crede with two outs in the seventh, and finished with the following line: 7 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K. A great outing.

For whatever reason, Bonser seems to get a lot of grief from Twins fans. I have heard numerous people tell me this year that he doesn't seem like a major-league pitcher, or that he should be the odd man out when Kevin Slowey returns from injury (this was before Francisco Liriano tanked), but I can't really understand why. Bonser has logged Quality Starts in five of his six outings this season, and now holds a 3.75 ERA to go along with a .250 BAA and 1.22 WHIP. Those aren't overwhelming numbers, but they certainly aren't bad. His 2-4 record quite clearly does not reflect the way he's pitched this year, and in fact I've got more confidence in him than probably any other pitcher in the rotation right now.

Monday, April 28, 2008


We are nearly a month into the 2008 season now. A few things have gone as I'd expected up to this point. Many things have not. Here are a few things that have taken me by surprise so far:

* I did not expect Carlos Gomez to have more extra-base hits than Delmon Young. Yet, through 25 games, Gomez has seven (five doubles, one triple, one home run) and is slugging .362, while Young has four (three doubles, one triple) and is slugging .309. Thus far, it doesn't seem like the Twins have gotten the power-hitting corner outfielder they thought they were by trading Matt Garza. In fact, it doesn't seem like they've gotten much of a hitter at all. Here's hoping Delmon can turn things around big-time in May.

* I did not expect Livan Hernandez's ERA to stand at a 3.55 ERA, which it did prior to yesterday's start. After surrendering seven earned runs in 2 2/3 innings in Texas yesterday, his ERA now stands at 5.05, which is much closer to what I was expecting.

* I did not expect Mike Lamb to be making me miss Nick Punto's offensive contributions. Punto through 25 games in '07: .220/.304/.317. Lamb through 25 games this year: .219/.244/.301.

Just about the only players on the entire roster that have actually lived up to my expectations so far are Joe Nathan, Brendan Harris and Justin Morneau (and, I guess, Matt Tolbert). The only players who have really surpassed my expectations are Nick Blackburn, who holds a 3.45 ERA through five starts, and Dennys Reyes, who has not allowed a run in eight innings of work.

Outside of those six players, there has been a whole lot of under-performance on this team. The bad news is that the result of all these disappointing performances is an 11-14 club that ranks near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories. The good news is that there's basically nowhere to go from here but up.

The Twins have the day off today, and then they play eight consecutive games against AL Central contenders. I want to say that I expect the Twins to play a lot better in these important upcoming series than they did for most of the weekend. But, as I've learned so far this season, it's often best to keep your expectations tempered.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


I don't have time to write much about last night's game, but I'd just like to express my happiness with Ron Gardenhire for leaving Joe Nathan to sit in the bullpen and wait for a save opportunity while a vastly inferior reliever went out and lost the game in the tenth inning. Not the first time it's happened, and surely not the last.

Nathan is the best pitcher on this team, and the highest paid player. Use him when you need to get outs and extend the game. Come on Gardy.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Adios, Francisco

Francisco Liriano had struggled with his command through his first two starts for the Twins this season, issuing 10 walks and throwing just 55 percent of his pitches for strikes.

Yesterday, he made his third big-league start of the season in Oakland against the notoriously patient Athletics, and the results were bound to be ugly if he didn't make significant strides with his control. Unfortunately, Liriano did not make those strides, and walked three of the first batters he faced on his way to allowing five runs before being pulled for Brian Bass with two outs in the first inning (Bass let in a sixth run which was also charged to Liriano).

Through three starts, Liriano now possesses an 11.82 ERA, a .366 BAA and a 2.71 WHIP. At this point it seems clear that he is nowhere near major-league ready, and there's little doubt that he'll be headed back to the minors before he makes another start for the Twins. Fortunately, the Twins have several off-days scheduled over the next few couple weeks and might be able to get by until Kevin Slowey returns without calling up another starter.

Let's keep perspective here: Liriano hadn't pitched competitively for a year and half prior to this spring, and he's basically relearning how to throw with a new ligament in his elbow. Nonetheless, it's really difficult not to be terribly discouraged as a fan by the way he pitched during his stint with the Twins. His pitches were unimpressive and he lacked any semblance of command or confidence on the mound. I guess that's what we should fairly expect from a guy coming off Tommy John surgery, but still it is sad to see Liriano such a mere shadow of his former self. It's early and there's plenty of reason to believe he can work and improve back in Rochester, but at this point I have a rather difficult time seeing Liriano as a major factor for the Twins at any point this season. He's just got too far to go.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Hacking: Nothing Wrong With It?

Back in early spring training, Ron Gardenhire was quoted in a Star Tribune story as making statements that were dismissive, if not downright encouraging, of the free-swinging tendencies displayed by new acquisitions Carlos Gomez and Delmon Young. About Gomez, Gardenhire said, "He was hacking; nothing wrong with that." About Young: "All the on-base percentage [stats] and all those things -- he's dangerous when he lets that thing fly and gets fastballs ... We're going to want him to swing this year more than taking a lot of pitches and watching them go by."

After reading the story, I had the following reaction:
In my mind, Jacque Jones and -- to a lesser extent -- Hunter never really reached their full potential as Twins, because they were free swingers who never developed any plate discipline. Apparently the Twins didn't learn a lesson, because Gardenhire doesn't seem to have any interest in preaching patience to Gomez or Young, both of whom have displayed poor on-base skills throughout their careers thus far. This is unfortunate. I'm not trying to say that a player can't be great without the ability to take walks -- Kirby Puckett and Tony Oliva come to mind as guys who did just that -- but boy, does it help... particularly for a guy like Gomez who projects to hit at the top of the order.
More than three weeks into the season now, it seems that Gomez and Young embraced their manager's acceptance of their aggressive natures at the plate. Gomez and Young have swung at 55 and 56 percent of all pitches, respectively, to lead all Twins offensive regulars. The results haven't been as positive as Gardenhire may have estimated back in March.

In 89 plate appearances this season, Gomez has struck out 24 times while drawing just two walks. In conjuction with his low batting average, this has worked out to a .247 on-base percentage, which is nothing short of horrendous and which renders the offensive advantage he gains with his excellent speed essentially moot. Young is a better contact hitter and has struck out just 13 times, but he has drawn only three walks in 83 plate appearances for a .277 OBP.

The hope is that swinging away freely would at least allow these sizable hitters to show some power, but that has not been the case. Neither player has hit a home run, and neither possesses a slugging percentage higher than .316.

Teaching plate discipline is an exceedingly difficult task, and in some cases it is simply impossible. Once batters reach the major leagues, their tendencies at the plate are already ingrained, and often it just isn't feasible for a hitting coach to completely transform the style of hitting that has made these players successful enough to reach the highest level of competition in the first place. Yet, I found it bothersome that Gardenhire was so eager to endorse -- rather than make a modest effort to assuage -- these players' free-swinging tendencies during the spring, and now we're finding out just why such a plate approach can be faulty. You can get by being a free swinger if you've got the raw ability of a Vladimir Guerrero or an Alfonso Soriano, but at this point Young has been unable to catch up with major-league fastballs and Gomez has been unable to recognize unhittable breaking pitches. Both of these flaws could eventually be ironed out through experience, but for the time being, it's difficult to imagine that these players will have any success in the near future while sticking with that overly aggressive approach.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


... And just like that, Craig Monroe is hitting .300/.364/.533.

Monroe entered last night's game with a 656 OPS and with strikeouts in more than one-third of his at-bats on the season. Last night, he carried the Twins offense, going 3-for-4 with a home run, a double and three RBI in a 6-5 victory over the Athletics. This is why we don't put too much stock into individual performances this early in the season. Monroe wasn't as bad as his .231/.310/.346 line prior to last night's game suggests, nor is he anywhere near as good as his hitting line after the game suggests. He's not going to post an 897 OPS overall this season; he could, however, post something close to that against left-handers, and if he's able to do so, he can be plenty valuable to this club. Oddly enough, he's been far more effective against righties than lefties thus far, but I suspect we'll see those trends reverse over time.

Monroe was clearly the biggest surprise in last night's game, but other highlights included:
-A decent outing from Livan Hernandez, who allowed four runs over six innings and kept the Twins in the game.
-Three excellent innings from the Twins bullpen, as Juan Rincon, Pat Neshek and Joe Nathan combined to allow just one hit over three innings while striking out five.
-Three hits from Mike Lamb, who is still hitting just .186/.222/.271 on the season.
-An absolutely brutal game from Carlos Gomez, who went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts and an error in center field.
-Delmon Young's fourth extra-base hit of the season, a double. He's now slugging .316.

Tonight's match pits Boof Bonser against Chad Gaudin. Being a total insomniac who often gets bored at night, I love these 9 p.m. start times.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Duensing's Dilemma

Brian Duensing is a pitching prospect that a lot of organizations would love to have. Drafted out of the University of Nebraska in the third round of the 2005 draft, he's risen very quickly through the Twins' system, dominating rookie ball in his first half-season as a pro, then quickly jumpinh from Low-A ball to Triple-A over the next two seasons while posting solid results at every stop. In total, Duensing holds a 3.17 ERA over two-and-a-half seasons in the Twins organization, with a 297-to-93 strikeout-to-walk ratio and just 32 home runs allowed in 377 2/3 innings. Plus, he's left-handed, which is always a plus. At 25 years old and with a strong season at Triple-A under his belt (he went 11-5 with a 3.24 ERA over 116 2/3 innings in Rochester last year), it would seem that the stage is set for Duensing to make an impact in the big leagues. Unfortunately, the organization's current situation may prevent that from happening any time soon.

The Twins aren't in need of starting pitching help right now -- in fact, when Kevin Slowey returns from the disabled list it appears that their rotation may be overcrowded. When the Twins eventually do need to draw from the minors for some help in the rotation, it's unclear whether Duensing will be near the head of the line for a promotion in spite of the fact that he's gotten off to a strong start at Rochester (2.74 ERA in 23 IP).

The Twins may be eager to get a look at fellow Triple-A farmhands Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey, both of whom were received in the Johan Santana trade. This is especially true for Mulvey, who is off to a fantastic start in Rochester this year with a 1.02 ERA and 20-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio through three starts. Another Triple-A left-hander who the Twins may want to take a look at soon is Glen Perkins, who has gotten off to a slow start with the Red Wings this year but is generally considered to have more upside than Duensing.

It's difficult to gauge where Duensing stands in the pecking order. I haven't often heard officials in the organization talk about him publicly much, but he was cut relatively early in spring training and isn't often mentioned as a potential call-up candidate. Even if he does get called up for a spot start at some point, it's difficult to imagine him sticking in the rotation for long unless he pitches lights-out, what with the influx of high-upside prospects rising through the organization.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Duensing though, because eventually the Twins are going to need to make room in their Triple-A rotation for guys like Oswaldo Sosa and Anthony Swarzak, who is pitching exceedingly well at Class-AA New Britain. If the young hurlers in the Twins' rotation continue to pitch the way they are now, there might not be room with the big-league club for another starter. Duensing almost seems like a spare part who would be a logical trade candidate, but 25-year-old college pitchers who don't miss a lot of bats tend to not have a ton of trade value.

He'll be a player to keep an eye on this season.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Reviewing the Indians Series

The Twins took two of three at the Metrodome this weekend, trading shutout victories with the Indians on Friday and Saturday night and then winning 2-1 on a walkoff RBI single by Justin Morneau in the bottom of the tenth yesterday. The Twins didn't do a whole lot offensively this weekend, scoring just five runs in the three games, but they pitched well and took the series to move back within a game of .500 at 9-10. Here are some notes:

* Over the weekend, the Twins placed Adam Everett on the disabled list due to a bum right shoulder and called up Brian Buscher to fill his spot on the roster. I'm happy with this move, not only because I am a personal fan of Buscher and the sponsor of his page, but also because he was hitting extremely well in Rochester and his presence provides the Twins with the quality bench bat they've been missing so far this season thanks to the struggles of Craig Monroe.

I'm not under the illusion that Buscher is going to start siphoning regular starts from Mike Lamb at third base -- nor do I think he should; the Twins are wise to remain patient with Lamb, who is bound to start hitting eventually. But Buscher has a solid bat and can serve a valuable role on this team. Making his 2008 debut with the Twins yesterday, Buscher went 1-for-4 with a well-struck double to center.

* Nick Blackburn earned his first major-league win on Saturday night, pitching 7 2/3 shutout innings in an eventual 3-0 victory for the Twins. It's difficult not to get excited about the rookie right-hander at this point. While his impressive strikeout rate early on is starting to look like a fluke (he's fanned one batter over 13 1/3 innings in his last two starts), he's continued to throw strikes and get ground balls. The low K-rate will make it difficult for him to sustain anything close to his current 2.49 ERA, but I'm pretty optimistic that he can be a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy for the Twins, which nobody likely would have thought at this time last year.

* The key to the success of Blackburn on Saturday night and Scott Baker yesterday (7 IP, 1 ER) was quite simple: throwing the ball in the zone. Of the 102 pitches Blackburn threw in his start, 69 were strikes and 33 were balls. Baker had a nearly identical ratio at 69-to-31 yesterday. Both pitchers threw more than twice as many strikes as balls, as the two combined for one walk in 14 2/3 innings. Meanwhile, Francisco Liriano had a nearly-even 47-to-41 strike-to-ball ratio on Friday night, when he surrendered four runs (three earned) over five innings in a losing effort.

After issuing five walks during his first start of the season in Kansas City, Liriano complained that the cold weather had a negative effect on his command. Then, while the team was in Detroit last week, pitching coach Rick Anderson indicated that he'd had a breakthrough in a bullpen session with Liriano:

Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said Francisco Liriano threw very well in the bullpen while the club was in Detroit and is looking forward to today's outing, which will be Liriano's second start since being called up from the minors.

Anderson said a slight mechanical adjustment helped Liriano throw his slider much better, and his other pitches immediately improved.

"He was a totally different guy because the location of all his other pitches was great,'' Anderson said.

In spite of the controlled weather conditions of the Metrodome and the apparent adjustments to Liriano's mechanics, the lefty did not look like a "totally different guy" Friday night than he did in his first start, issuing five more walks against the Indians while consistently missing with his fastball.

The Twins have looked better defensively than I'd expected so far, with Delmon Young adjusting well to left field and Carlos Gomez showing spectacular range in center. Still, there's no way to defend walks, so if Liriano can't show improved control by the time Kevin Slowey finishes his minor-league rehab stint, I suspect we'll see him head back down to Rochester.

* Rafael Perez, the Indians' resident left-handed bullpen specialist, has proven to be absolutely devastating when facing left-handed hitters over the course of his young career. Last season, he held lefties to a .149/.209/.241 hitting line, and entering yesterday's game he had not allowed a hit to a left-handed batter this season.

Meanwhile, Jason Kubel has looked completely lost against southpaws this season; he entered yesterday's contest having struck out eight times in 15 plate appearances against them. As such, I was a little nervous when Kubel stepped to the plate against Perez in the eighth inning of yesterday's game with Nick Punto on second representing the go-ahead run. For the first (and probably last) time ever, I actually found myself thinking that it might be wise to pinch-hit Monroe for Kubel. Much to my surprise, Kubel worked a walk (just his third of the season) to extend the inning, although Morneau ended it in the next at-bat by striking out.

Two innings later, Kubel once again came to the plate against Perez, this time with two outs and the winning run on first base in the form of Brendan Harris. My expectations were low, but Kubel once again surprised by driving a hard single to center field to move Harris into scoring position. In the next at-bat, Morneau singled to right field to score Harris and end the game.

This is precisely the reason many have been so adamant in urging Ron Gardenhire to stick with Kubel, even through the rough patches.

* There's no way around it: Delmon Young has been supremely disappointing up to this point. After going 0-for-10 over the weekend, Young is now batting .236/.267/.292 on the season, and he has half as many extra-base hits as the Twins' struggling young leadoff hitter. At no point this season has Young looked like a middle-of-the-lineup slugger. Fortunately, no one doubts his talent.

Friday, April 18, 2008

No Cuddy, Mo Problems

Injured right fielder Michael Cuddyer is unlikely to come off the disabled list on Sunday, his first day of eligibility, because he's still unable to properly throw a baseball or grip a bat after dislocating and lacerating his right index finger while sliding into third base on April 4. I'm far from the world's biggest Cuddyer supporter, but I'm certainly not happy to hear that he won't be returning to the Twins any time real soon. With him out of the lineup, Joe Mauer has slid down to the No. 3 slot. I think Mauer was a good fit in the two-hole, and having him and Justin Morneau back-to-back in the lineup makes it much easier for opposing managers to throw lefty relievers at them late in games without much repercussion.

Moreover, Cuddyer's replacement in right field has been wholly uninspiring. Denard Span has started nearly every game in right since being called up to replace Cuddyer on the roster, and his defense out there has ranged between sub par and atrocious. Last night he committed two costly errors in the Twins' 7-3 loss to the Rays, and beyond that, he has consistently taken poor routes and turned routine plays into heart-palpitating adventures. This probably shouldn't be held against Span, as he himself has admitted that he hasn't played right field since high school, but either way, his defense has not been good and his offensive production (.222/.300/.222) has been downright horrendous, particularly for a corner outfield spot.

If Ron Gardenhire truly does feel the need to continue penciling Span into the lineup, it makes absolutely no sense to keep sending him out to right field while leaving Delmon Young, who actually has a good arm as well as experience playing the position, out in left. If you have a weak-armed center fielder with essentially no corner-outfield experience and a natural right fielder with a cannon for an arm on your roster, who do you put in right and who do you put in left? The logic should be simple.

This isn't all meant as some major slight toward Span. To be honest, in spite of fact that I've always been pretty low on the 2002 first-round draft pick as a prospect, I haven't been totally unimpressed with him since his call-up this year. While his offensive numbers are paltry, he has at least shown a good approach at the plate, and has been pretty solid on the base-paths. But really, his major-league upside is as a fourth outfielder; feeding him starts in right field doesn't really make a whole lot of sense.

If Span is going to stay in the lineup, he should certainly swap positions with Young. If not, there are a few other intriguing options who could step in until Cuddyer returns. Despite a slow start, Jason Pridie is now batting .280/.362/.460 in Rochester; he would likely be a much stronger offensive contributor than Span while also playing a more serviceable right field. Another option would be to call up someone like John Knott or Randy Ruiz and stick them in the DH slot while moving Jason Kubel out into the field.

I don't really know what the best option is. All I'm getting at here is that, even with one of the team's key contributors out of the lineup, there are better ways to maximize this roster offensively and defensively than sticking a mediocre minor-league center fielder out in right field. Hopefully last night's game will help Gardenhire realize this fact.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Guest Post: Everett vs. Tolbert

Nick's Note: Good game last night, but I just don't have time write about it, so I'm going to present you with this guest post submitted by frequent reader and occasional contributor Corey Ettinger. I will note that I'm a little skeptical of the numbers he presents, because I think that a) Everett is not nearly the defender he was in Houston anymore, which may be because of age or because of a shoulder ailment; and b) I think Ettinger is probably underrating Tolbert by putting him on Brendan Harris' level defensively. Nevertheless, it's a well-written article, so I'll leave you to formulate your own opinions based on the evidence provided. Thanks Corey!


Matt Tolbert
is playing out of his mind right now, and if you're the Twins, this is clearly a good thing. His play is even causing a groundswell among the fan base to make him the starter at shortstop and I think this is something that needs to be addressed. In one camp, you have people who like the fact that Tolbert should be a better offensive player over the course of the season. The other camp believes that Adam Everett can save as many or more runs with his glove. Let's break it down:
NameLifetime AVGLifetime OBPLifetime SLGAVG HAVG BB AVG TB AVG 2BAVG 3B AVG HR Runs Created

So over the course of a season, Tolbert is good for an additional 19.35 runs. That's pretty significant. If you consider that the Twins averaged 4.43 runs per game last year, that's an additional 4.37 wins that Tolbert bring to the team. Of course, that also presumes that Tolbert can translate those minor-league numbers into major-league numbers. While it is far from impossible for him to do so, I think many would say the odds are against that given the traditional growth rates of players transition from the minor leagues to the major leagues.

Now is where things get a bit tricky and I'm prepared to admit that defensive statistics are not my forte, but using some pretty simple logic-based calculations, I think we can fairly easily translate Everett's effectiveness into a sort of reverse runs created. Let's say, runs prevented. Also, as a caveat to anyone who is interested in really understanding defensive metrics, PLEASE look into buying a copy of The Fielding Bible; its written by some of the greatest minds in sabermetrics and is a MUST for anyone who is interested in understanding precisely how defense impacts a game. Furthermore, even if you aren't going to buy the book, I strongly recommend reading the excerpts posted on their website.

The system they use is called +/-, and essentially, after charting every single ball put in play, they determine based on ball speed, location, vectoring, etc... how many more (or less) balls a player converts into an out than the average. Players who get to balls below the average receive negative ratings. Adam Everett led all shortstops in the major leagues from 2005-2007 with a +92 rating (Jason Bartlett was second with a +45.) While I'd love to use these stats, it's not possible since Matt Tolbert's numbers aren't available. So we need to find another way of doing this. Getting back to setting up our own system...

First, I'll be using The Hardball Times fielding stats. A basic fielding stats primer: ZR= Zone Rating BIZ= Balls in zone. Plays = # of balls in a players zone fielded (Plays/BIZ=UZR) OOZ= Outs made on balls out of a fielders zone. Since shortstops don't really have any effect on triple and homeruns, and only have a very small degree of effect doubles, I'm going to presume that every out that a fielder doesn't make, counts for a single. In order to ensure the closest approximations possible I'm going to use the data available from Everett's past 5 seasons. In Tolbert's case, I only have a sample size of nineteen innings. Clearly this presents a major statistical dilemma, but I can only work with the information available to me.

As a precursor, I'll be using an average total balls in zone for the shortstop position over a 162 game season of 420. That will effect a players AVG Plays as well as thier AVG OOZ plays. Obviously the last shortstop to play 162 games in a season was Miguel Tejada (and before him Cal Ripken Jr) but guys who do are rare. And neither Everett nor Tolbert will do so. But it gives us an important baseline to work from.

NameAVG BIZ AVG Plays (420*ZR)AVG OOZTotal
369.60 (.880)
447.50 (448)
326.76 (.778)
363.76 (364)

¹: Brendan Harris' 2007, a player I think Tolbert compares well to. I had to make an arbitrary decision since Tolbert has yet to record an out from outside of his zone. Harris created one out of zone out per 20.29 innings last year. Tolbert having played 19 innings and not yet made an OOZ play was the nearest comparison given Tolbert HAVING made an OOZ play.

This shows us that Everett creates 84 more outs over the course of a season than Tolbert. Given that there are 27 outs per game you COULD say that means Everett's glove wins 3.11 more games per year than Tolbert's.

But now we need to plug this into 2007 hitting data. Last year the average major-league hitter batted .268/.336/.422. Over a 550 at-bat season that comes to 147 hits, 185 times on base (H+BB). Therefore, the average batter would've had ~38 BB. A .422 SLG works out to 232 total bases. If Everett prevents 84 more outs per season, that means he prevents 84/9 (9.33) outs (# of additional out/batters = Individual batters share of additional outs created) per batter.

Plugged into the same basic RC formula we used above, this "standard" hitter who had been averaging a RC of 72.99 would now be averaging an RC of 66.75. Now, since Everett's defense is in play over 9 batter over the course of a season, that negative variation of 6.24 becomes multiplied by 9 to equate to 56.16.

Everett has a 56.16 Runs Prevented rating over Matt Tolbert. That would equate to 12.54 wins given the Twins average allowed runs of 4.48 per game.

Of course so much of this is speculative. We don't know if Tolbert can duplicate his minor league numbers and my study of the fielding stats is wildly simplistic. But I think the study is fairly accurate, and I'd be happy to discuss it with anyone who might be interested. The final results show that Tolbert's 4.37 additional wins due to his bat (over Everett's) do not make up for Everett's additional 6.24 wins from his glove over Tolbert's.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Jason Kubel: Free at Last?

I've got to give credit where it's due. I've been a vocal member of the "Free Jason Kubel" movement that has swept over the blogosphere. I was bothered at times by Ron Gardenhire's erratic usage of Jason Kubel last year, I was annoyed when Gardenhire told the Star Tribune this spring that Kubel would be in the lineup "every once in a while," and I was downright flabbergasted when the manager benched Kubel in favor of Craig Monroe against a right-hander on Opening Day solely because Monroe had outhit Kubel over a meaningless slate of spring training games.

Yet, as of late, Gardenhire finally has shown signs of embracing the talented young hitter. Kubel has been in the lineup in nearly every game since being held out of the season opener. He even batted third in one game, and started in right field last night. At the same time, Gardenhire has seemed diametrically opposed to playing Monroe, despite being given ample opportunity to do so with Michael Cuddyer hitting the disabled list. Monroe's start last night was just his second in the last 10 days, and he has routinely been benched in favor of Denard Span since Cuddyer's injury. Gardenhire has shown a frustrating tendency to stick with under-performing, overpaid veterans for far too long in the past (Rondell White anyone?), so it's refreshing to see Monroe being held out of the lineup with the .133/.278/.267 hitting line he carried into last night's game.

Meanwhile, after frequently downplaying Kubel's importance to the team when talking to reporters in the past, Gardy is now making much more encouraging statements to the press. Things like this:
"I've said all along, 'This guy [Kubel] is one of our best hitters,' " Gardenhire said. "It was just a matter of time. Last year, I thought the last month and a half we were starting to see signs of his legs underneath him better and him really being able to get after balls. In Spring Training, we saw him put a lot of good swings out there. I think you are seeing a guy that is coming along and his legs are really underneath him right now."
And this:
"We've got role players, we've got platoon situations, but we've got guys that you want to see get at-bats," Gardenhire said. "And I want to see Kubel. He was swinging good at the end [of last season]; we want to see him swing now."
Kubel has responded to the love from his manager, and entered last night's game tied with Justin Morneau for the team lead in home runs (three) and RBI (11), while hitting .286/.295/.524. After going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts last night, Kubel has fanned 12 times while drawing just one walk in 48 plate appearances, which is concerning, but he's still scalding the ball consistently when he makes contact. Hopefully, the K/BB ratio will start to even out in time.

The Twins finished up a two-game series against the Tigers last night that was just brutal to watch, with the bullpen blowing leads late in both games. Yet, if we search deep we can still find some positives in this Twins team, and Kubel's establishment as a true regular is something that should not go ignored. Considering Gardenhire's history, there is still a fear in the back of my mind that Kubel could find himself back in playing time limbo with a bad two-week stretch, but for the time being, I'm happy to remove the "Free Jason Kubel!" plea from the sidebar.

However, I'm leaving the "Needs more Kubel" graphic there, because well, it just makes me smile. And smiles are something you need when the big bad Tigers tag your bullpen for nine runs in 3 1/3 innings in a two-game sweep. Eep.

(P.S. - Yes, I realize the sidebar graphic in question is obscenely small right now. I'll get around to fixing it later.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mo-Town Meltdown

With two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning last night, all was well. The Twins were up 5-0, the Tigers were stumbling along as they have throughout much of the season thus far, and it appeared that the hometown nine were on their way to an easy victory to open their series in Detroit.

Then, Gary Sheffield reached first on an infield single to third base. It was no big deal -- a weak infield hit that did nothing to indicate that starter Nick Blackburn was not in control. But Sheffield's single was followed by another from Magglio Ordonez. Then another by Miguel Cabrera. Then a double by Carlos Guillen. Ron Gardenhire pulled Blackburn and inserted Matt Guerrier to stop the bleeding, but it was no use. Edgar Renteria drove an RBI single to right, but took too big a turn at first base on the throw home and ended up being tagged out. Nevertheless, when the inning was over, the Tigers had closed their deficit to one run.

Yet, the Twins struck back in the next inning, scoring four runs of their own to increase the lead back to five at 9-4. Again, the game seemed safe. Unfortunately, the Detroit bats had just begun their awakening ceremony, and they were nowhere near done yet. In the bottom of the seventh, Ivan Rodriguez drove a liner to deep right, and while trying to make a leaping catch, Denard Span had it pop out of his glove and over the wall for a solo homer. It was that kind of night for the Twins. Guerrier got three straight ground-outs to escape the inning, but the worst was yet to come.

In the eighth inning, Guerrier and Pat Neshek combined to surrender six runs on two singles, two doubles and two triples. To say that the Tigers hitters were locked in would be an understatement; it seemed that every pitch was being driven into one of the gaps, and it certainly didn't help that the Twins' inexperienced outfielders repeatedly gave Detroit hitters extra bases by taking bad routes and letting balls roll by them to the wall.

When all was said and one, the Tigers had an 11-9 lead. The Twins, demoralized, were set down by Todd Jones in the ninth, completing the toughest loss of the season so far.

The game marked the second time that Guerrier and Neshek have been absolutely pounded, which is more than a little concerning. In six innings this season, Neshek has allowed five earned runs; he didn't allow his fifth earned run until June 24 last season. I was optimistic that Neshek would bounce back from his rough second half last year after hearing that he'd made improved his health during the offseason and after seeing him dominate in the spring, but thus far he has just looked flat. The same goes for Guerrier, who holds a 9.53 ERA after being charged with four earned runs on eight hits last night over just 1 1/3 innings of work.

Being that Guerrier and Neshek were the team's most reliable relievers outside of Joe Nathan last year, this team could be in serious trouble if these issues aren't temporary. I'm still not at the point of panic with either pitcher, because last night they had the unfortunate task of facing a Tigers lineup that was just exploding. (I said in my post yesterday that I was "a little scared" about seeing the Twins face the battered Tigers, and this is exactly what I was talking about.) Here's hoping the two relievers can get on track, because this team simply not succeed if they cannot be relied on to get outs in close games.

I have one final beef, and it is with Adam Everett (a.k.a. Adam Neverhitt). During the disastrous eighth inning last night, Everett helped out the Tigers by committing an error on a routine ground ball, bouncing a ball in the dirt in front of Justin Morneau and helping to extend and inning which the Tigers had already led off with two straight doubles. Everett has a reputation as a defensive specialist who doesn't hit much, and he's certainly lived up to the latter part of that rep with a .185/.214/.222 hitting line thus far. Yet, the error last night (probably the most painful error I have seen a Twin make this year) was his third in this young season, and he's done little to dazzle me and make me believe his defensive proficiency can offset his utter worthlessness at the plate.

There's been talk that Everett has some shoulder problems, and if that's the case, it's difficult to really hold his fielding issues against him. Yet, if he's got a bad throwing shoulder, the impetus is on Ron Gardenhire to keep him out of the lineup. If he can't field up to the best of his ability, there is absolutely no reason he should be playing. There's plenty of blame to go around in a brutal loss like the one the Twins suffered last night, but putting competent and healthy players on the field in the first place would certainly help prevent big innings like last night's eighth.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Liriano's Return

Last week, after Francisco Liriano made an unimpressive start for Class-AAA Rochester, I guessed that "the underwhelming outing ... likely eliminates any chance that he will be starting for the Twins this weekend, and that's not necessarily a bad thing." Clearly I was wrong, as the Twins decided to call up Liriano to start yesterday in place of Kevin Slowey, who was placed on the disabled list. I was skeptical of the decision, but still watched eagerly as the man they call "Franchise" made his 2008 Twins debut.

As expected, Liriano's first major-league outing since September of 2006 was a rocky one. Over 4 2/3 innings, he allowed four earned runs on six hits and five walks. He was a far cry from his dominant form of 2006, with his fastball velocity sitting in the upper-80s and his hard slider nowhere to be found. He struggled mightily with his command, throwing just 51 of 90 pitches for strikes while frequently crossing up catcher Mike Redmond. The cold weather might have played some part in Liriano's struggles, but I think the reality here is that the left-hander still has a long road ahead of him.

I'm not terribly discouraged by Liriano's start; he did record four strikeouts and at times seemed to be in control of the Royals hitters. Yet, it seems clear that he is not quite prepared to be taking on major-league batters at this point, which was my suspicion even before he was called up.

Fortunately, Liriano's poor outing yesterday wasn't really a big deal, as it wasn't a game the Twins were going to win anyway. Brian Bannister was absolutely dazzling, holding the Twins' lineup to one unearned run on three hits while going all nine innings for the complete game victory. Bannister is now 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA and .143 BAA. As a result of the punchless effort, the Twins fell 5-1 and, for a second straight weekend, whiffed on a chance at sweeping Kansas City.

Tonight the Twins open a two-game set against the miserable Detroit Tigers, who are 2-10 after suffering an 11-0 blowout loss to the White Sox yesterday. Prior to the season, many pundits proclaimed that the Tigers could boast one of the great offenses in league history; to this point they have been disastrously disappointing. They have averaged 2.75 runs per game this season (the Twins have averaged 3.58), and they were shut out on both Saturday and Sunday while managing a total of eight hits.

While some might view it as a positive to be facing a team that is as down as the Tigers are, I'm a little scared. There are way too many talented hitters in this lineup for this team to continue at this rate for much longer, and it seems like they're due for some regression toward the mean. Let's just hope they've got a couple more feeble efforts left in them against Nick Blackburn tonight and Scott Baker tomorrow.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Rainy Recap Day

I don't know if there's anything that depresses me more than cold snowy days in the middle of April. Well, maybe Craig Monroe starting at DH over Jason Kubel against a right-hander. Maybe.

As a result of the massive string of winter storms that are sweeping over the Midwest and making us Minnesotans miserable, the Twins were rained out in Chicago last night. Furthermore, as I write this, forecasts a 50 percent chance of rain tonight in Kansas City, where the Twins are scheduled to open a three-game set against the Royals. Even if the game is played, it won't be televised since Fox Sports Net has elected to pick up the game of some local hockey team that I guess is of some importance.

Anyway, with the Twins out of action last night, we look to the MLB and minor-league scoreboards with some quick notes:

Boston 12, Detroit 6: The Tigers are now 1-8. Unreal.

Norfolk 3, Rochester 0 (AAA): Philip Humber allowed two runs over five innings. The Red Wings offense was quiet on this night, but it's worth noting that Brian Buscher, Matt Macri and Garrett Jones are all off to torrid starts this season.

Ft. Myers 2, Clearwater 0
(A): Making his second start for the Miracle, Deolis Guerra tossed five scoreless frames to lower his ERA to 0.90. Disturbingly, however, he issued five walks while striking out just two. Whit Robbins provided all the offense in this game with a two-run homer in the seventh.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Nostradamus Nick

I was feeling a good vibe yesterday. So, at 4:30 in the afternoon, I came on the blog and made the following comment: "Random prediction: the Twins are going to win in blowout fashion tonight." Well, the Twins ended up winning last night's game against the White Sox 12-5, proving my prediction accurate. And I felt like quite the prognosticator.

In fairness, my prediction wasn't based completely on a "good vibe." Basically, I didn't think much of the opposing starter, John Danks, and mostly I just felt like this offense was due for an explosion. It came in the form of a 12-run outburst, highlighted by Jason Kubel's six RBI (including a grand slam in the sixth inning.) Mike Lamb went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBI, Brendan Harris collected three hits and is now batting .348 on the season, and while Carlos Gomez had only one hit in five at-bats, he hit a two-run double with the bases loaded in the third and also drew a walk to lead off the game.

And my suspicions about Danks proved accurate on this night. He got just five outs while surrendering seven earned runs on seven hits and three walks. The Twins showed good patience in the game, forcing Danks and reliever Nick Masset to throw a combined 140 pitches over the first six innings, taking 61 of those pitches for balls.

Scott Baker had a decent outing, going five innings while giving up three runs on three solo homers. Being that he's a fly ball pitcher, the home runs are going to come against Baker, but fortunately he was able to minimize the damage last night by keeping runners off the bases. Brian Bass earned a save by pitching four strong innings, allowing just one earned run on three hits. My guess it that Bass' solid outing earned him a chance to get the start on Sunday in place of Kevin Slowey, who has been scratched, although an extra starter may not be needed due to weather cancellations.

In the past, the Twins offense has had a tendency to score a bunch of runs in one game and then enter a drought. Let's hope that doesn't happen here. Frankly, I'm fairly optimistic about this team right now. The pitching has been better than I'd expected, the offense is showing signs of awakening, and the AL Central competition has been far from dazzling up to this point (although the Tigers did finally win their first game last night). There's a very good chance tonight's game will be canceled, but if the Twins and White Sox do indeed play, let's hope the Minnesota offense can pick up where it left off last night.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Liriano Report: Not There Yet

After making a warm-weather tune-up start in Ft. Myers to start the season, Francisco Liriano moved up to Class-AAA Rochester to make his second start last night. A quote from Ron Gardenhire in yesterday's Star Tribune indicated that if all went well for Liriano in his outing with the Red Wings, he could potentially start for the Twins on Sunday, when injured Kevin Slowey's spot in the rotation comes up. "The one thing we know is Frankie is right on line for [Sunday] ... if we choose to go that way, if Slowey's not going to make it," Gardenhire said.

Well, to say "all went well" for Liriano last night would be a pretty big stretch. He labored through four innings against Norfolk, allowing three runs on five hits and three walks while recording three strikeouts. Liriano needed 88 pitches to get through four innings, just 53 of which were strikes.

My guess is that that the underwhelming outing from Liriano likely eliminates any chance that he will be starting for the Twins this weekend, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. His command continues to be an issue, which is excusable, but he'll need to start cutting down his pitch counts and throwing the ball in the zone before he starts facing major-league hitters in regular-season games.

Still, with Liriano out of the picture, the Twins will need to find someone to make a spot start on Sunday in the event that Slowey's bullpen session today does not yield positive results. That pitcher could be long reliever Brian Bass, which would be convenient because it would prevent the Twins from needing to make any roster moves. Yet, Bass has been hit hard in his two appearances this year, surrendering three home runs over 4 2/3 innings. Other possibilities would include calling up Brian Duensing, Kevin Mulvey (who pitched well in his Rochester debut on Monday) or Phil Humber (although Humber is out of options so the Twins probably won't call him up until they believe he'll be up for good). It should be interested to see how this situation shakes out if Slowey is unable to go on Sunday.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Seventh-Inning Screech

In his first big-league start last Wednesday, Nick Blackburn was in control. He pitched seven efficient innings, keeping runners off the bases and making just one important mistake (a wild pitch that scored the Angels' only run of the game). Making his second career start yesterday, Blackburn was not nearly as effective. He needed 90 pitches to get through five innings, allowing seven hits and two walks. Nevertheless, Blackburn worked out of trouble again and again, and when he handed the game over to the bullpen in the sixth inning, the Twins were ahead 3-2.

Unfortunately, it would not last. Matt Guerrier tossed a scoreless sixth, but then in the seventh inning disaster struck. Guerrier and Pat Neshek combined to allow five runs in the inning, capped off by a Joe Crede grand slam on a meaty fastball from Neshek. The big inning gave the White Sox a 7-3 lead, and they went on to win the game 7-4.

It was a pretty tough inning to watch, but it will happen from time to time. Guerrier and Neshek might be the team's most reliable relievers outside of Joe Nathan, but they aren't perfect. From time to time these guys will have rough games -- it's just unfortunate that both both happened to struggle in this one and lose Blackburn a shot at his first major-league win.

I'm a little less forgiving when it comes to the offense. The Twins have exceeded four runs only once in eight games so far. Yesterday, only one player had multiple hits. (On a positive note, that player was Mike Lamb, who doubled twice and drove in two runs, showing signs of breaking out of his early-season slump.) Adam Everett has a 301 OPS. As Aaron Gleeman notes, Delmon Young is showing a frustrating inability to pull inside pitches, which is preventing him from driving the ball with any kind of authority and raising serious questions about whether he'll even surpass last year's power totals. Denard Span is getting starts in right field for some peculiar reason.

All in all, things aren't going well on the offensive side of the ball. The Twins scored four runs in yesterday's game, which isn't horrible, but they wasted some scoring opportunities early on and the bats went to sleep in the middle innings, failing to give the pitchers any kind of breathing room in a tight game. I've been pleasantly surprised by the starting rotation so far, but it's time for these hitters to come around. The performance of the lineup thus far has been totally unacceptable.

Monday, April 07, 2008

A Weekend of (Mostly) Positives

The Twins' series against the Royals ended on a bad note yesterday, with the Twins' offense sputtering in a 3-1 loss. Yet, as a whole, the weekend provided fans with many encouraging signs, as the Twins took two of three from a Kansas City team that had come out of the gates very hot with a three-game sweep in Detroit. Here's a list of five things that I found satisfying in the KC series:

1) Morneau's awakening.
After a poor spring, Justin Morneau got his 2008 campaign off to a terrible start by going hitless during the Twins' four-game series against the Angels. Finally he busted out of his slump against the Royals this weekend, going 5-for-12 with two homers, a double and six RBI. Morneau's continued success will be important with Michael Cuddyer's finger injury Friday night landing him on the DL.

2) Bonser in control.
Last season, Boof Bonser consistently struggled once he got past the fourth or fifth inning, and often had a difficult time throwing the ball in the strike zone. After giving up a pair of runs in the second inning yesterday, he settled in to pitch through the seventh, allowing only one more run. He also has not issued a walk through two starts.

3) Starters going deep.
In addition to Bonser's solid seven-inning outing yesterday, Scott Baker and Livan Hernandez both delivered respectable outings, with Baker allowing three runs over 6 2/3 innings on Friday night and Hernandez tossing seven innings of four-run ball the following night. All three starters were efficient with their pitch counts.

4) Gardy's use of Tolbert.
When Brendan Harris came down with the flu last week, it seemed a perfect opportunity for Ron Gardenhire to work Nick Punto into the lineup. Surprisingly, Punto was not in the starting lineup once this weekend, and instead Matt Tolbert found himself penciled in for all three games. Tolbert responded by batting .500 (5-for-10) in the series while playing solid defense. His presence on the Opening Day roster was a little puzzling, but Tolbert -- at least so far -- seems to be proving that his outstanding 2007 campaign in Rochester was no fluke.

5) Bullpen flawless.
Thanks to the strong work from the starters, the Twins' relievers didn't have a heavy workload in this series. Yet, they took care of business, allowing no runs over 6 1/3 innings. So far, the Twins 'pen has looked excellent outside of that 9-1 loss to the Angels.

Here are a few other notes from the weekend:

* Johan Santana may have been having flashbacks in Atlanta yesterday. The former Twin pitched seven innings of one-run ball... and took the loss. The Mets eventually fell to the Braves 3-1.

* Speaking of Santana, the top pitching prospect the Twins received back for him made his debut in the Twins organization this weekend, and it was a good one. Deolis Guerra started for the Ft. Myers Miracle on Saturday night and pitched five innings, allowing just one run on two hits while striking out six and walking one.

* Denard Span, called up to fill Cuddyer's spot on the roster, made his major-league debut yesterday, getting the start in right field. Span went 0-for-2 but did draw a walk. Considering his lack of arm strength, it would have been much more logical for Span to start in left field with Delmon Young (a natural right fielder) sliding to right. But Gardenhire likes to do as little tweaking as possible to his lineup, as we've learned from seeing Mike Redmond hit No. 3 on many occasions when spelling Joe Mauer.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Mauer vs. Bale

I'm not going to have much time to write on Friday nights this year, at least not early on, so Saturday posts (when I'm able to put one up) will generally be rather and short and will focus on one aspect of the game in particular. For last night's game, I chose to follow Joe Mauer's performance against left-handed starter John Bale. It was Mauer's first start of the season against a southpaw, and his performance against lefties this year is something I'll be following with particular interest. Why?

Mauer vs. LHP, 2006: .331/.401/.425, 11-2B, 2 HR, 23 K, 22 BB

Mauer vs. LHP, 2007: .283/.355/.319, 5-2B, 0 HR, 25 K, 15 BB

If you've found yourself wondering why Mauer's '07 campaign was such a regression from his '06 campaign, there's a big reason right there.

Anyway, here's a pitch-by-pitch breakdown of each of Mauer's at-bats vs. the lefty Bale in last night's game:

First AB - 1st inning
Pitch 1: Takes fastball high (ball, 1-0)
Pitch 2: Takes fastball just inside (ball, 2-0)
Pitch 3: Takes fastball down the middle at the knees (strike, 2-1)
Pitch 4: Takes fastball outside corner (strike, 2-2)
Pitch 5: Hits breaking ball at the belt back up the middle for seeing-eye single.

Summary: Excellent at-bat. Mauer took four straight fastballs, then went with a breaking pitch and tapped it right back up the middle to drive in Carlos Gomez as the Twins' first run.

Second AB - 3rd inning
Pitch 1: Takes fastball inside (ball, 1-0)
Pitch 2: Takes change-up at the knees (strike, 1-1)
Pitch 3: Takes fastball high (ball, 2-1)
Pitch 4: Takes curveball outside (ball, 3-1)
Pitch 5: Takes fastball at the belt (strike, 3-2)
Pitch 6: Hits fastball back up the middle for infield hit.

Summary: Another good at-bat, and Mauer again goes back up the middle, this time a chopper off the glove of Bale.

Third AB - 4th inning
Pitch 1: Takes fastball down the pipe (strike. 0-1)
Pitch 2: Fouls fastball back into net (strike, 0-2)
Pitch 3: Takes pitch-out (ball, 1-1)
Pitch 4: Takes slider down and in (ball, 2-2)
Pitch 5: Taps curveball to second for 4-3 put-out.

Summary: Once again, Mauer takes some pitches. Grounds out to second in classic fashion, but that's OK.

TOTAL SUMMARY: Mauer also had an at-bat against left-handed reliever Jimmy Gobble in which he struck out, but I didn't get a chance to document that one. Nevertheless, an impressive game for Mauer. He worked deep into every count and picked up a pair of hits, and during his at-bats against Bale he never swung and missed at a pitch.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Contest Winners and Such

First, let me wholeheartedly thank everybody who sent in a submission for the logo contest I announced last week. I was pleasantly surprised by how many clever, colorful and creative graphics I received, and it was actually extremely difficult to choose one. In the end, I chose the graphic you see above, which was submitted by Brad Miller. It is designed to emulate a Louisville Slugger bat, and I think he did a really great job with it. Great work Brad! I got some other really great submissions, so I'm thinking that when I get around to revamping the site again down the line, I might use one of those (with the author's permission, of course).

Here are the others who won a copy of MLB 08: The Show:
Tom Ecker, Andy Meissner, Adam Palmerton, Alex Halsted

I've put in some time with a PlayStation 2 copy of the game, and I've got to say I've enjoyed it. I don't have time to play video games much anymore, and in fact this is the first baseball game I've put in significant time with since the 2006 version of The Show, but it has a realistic engine and I think most baseball fans will enjoy playing it.

Anyway, in addition to the new logo, I've added a a few things to the sidebar. Near the top you'll see a mini-logo for the blog, designed by Mr. Meissner, and down a little ways you'll see a new "Go-Go vs. Jo-Jo" tracker. This is a little feature I've added just for fun to track the progress of Johan Santana and Carlos Gomez with their new teams. Obviously, it will be a while before we can really assess how well either the Twins or Mets came out on that deal, but for the time being I think it will be kind of fun to compare how the centerpiece on either side of the blockbuster trade is faring with his new club.

Hopefully all the new visuals don't overstimulate anyone who has grown accustomed to the drab, boring, lifeless aesthetic quality that this blog has sported throughout the first three years of its existence. If any of the new additions cause problems for anyone's browser, please shoot me an e-mail and let me know.

With all that out of the way, I'll make a few comments about yesterday's game, with an emphasis on "few." The game wasn't televised, so I was only able to follow part of it online, but from the looks of it, it was another frustrating loss filled with missed opportunities. Kevin Slowey had to leave the game in the fourth inning with right biceps strain, and it's not clear at this point how serious the injury is. If he has to miss significant time, it is possible that Francisco Liriano will be called up to replace him in the rotation; however, it's worth noting that Liriano surrendered four earned runs on six hits over 5 1/3 innings in a tune-up start with Ft. Myers last night.

The Twins did get their first home run of the season yesterday, rendering my friend's prediction false. The homer came off the bat of Jason Kubel, who I imagine will again be benched tonight when the Twins face Royals lefty John Bale. I think I'm starting to feel a fever...

Thursday, April 03, 2008

4-6-3, Easy as 1-2-3

Last night, as I sat in the Metrodome taking in my first live ballgame of the season, I received a text message from a friend that said, "Twins are going to be the first team in history to go through an entire season without a home run." At the time, I chuckled at his hyperbole. Then, as the game progressed, I watched the Twins' offense sputter along, continually failing to work the count and seemingly ruining every potential rally by hitting into a 4-6-3 twin killing. And I thought to myself that maybe my buddy wasn't so far off the mark. I'm sure this team will hit some home runs eventually, but boy, have they looked bad up to this point.

There are two things that explain the Twins' night from an offensive standpoint pretty well. Here they are:

Angels' starter Joe Saunders: 8 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K, 80 pitches

And then the Angels' fielding section of the box score:

E: E Aybar (1), J Mathis (1)
Kendrick to Aybar to Kotchman
Kendrick to Aybar to Kotchman
Kendrick to Aybar to Kotchman
Kendrick to Aybar to Kotchman

As I sat watching the game I felt like I was getting déjà vu. FOUR 4-6-3 double plays. When the offense only manages four hits to begin with, that stings.

Through three games, the Twins' revamped offense has managed a total of four runs. Not encouraging. On the bright side, Nick Blackburn's first major-league start last night was a huge success. Over seven innings, he allowed just six base-runners (5 H, 1 BB), and he did not allow a run-scoring hit, as the Angels' only run of the game came across on a wild pitch. Blackburn was also extremely efficient, needing just 86 pitches to get through the seven frames. While that might pale in comparison to Saunders' 10-pitch-per-inning average, Blackburn deserves a ton of credit for throwing strikes and getting the job done. If he keeps this up, he'll make things very interesting for the Twins once Francisco Liriano is ready to go.

On a final note, here's an amusing little tidbit that you might have missed if you were watching the game at home:

Matt Tolbert, who was playing in his first big-league game, drew a walk to lead off the ninth inning. Apparently he was very excited to have gotten himself on as the potential tying run, because after taking ball four he whipped the bat toward the Twins' dugout, and Carlos Gomez, who was standing in the on-deck circle, literally had to leap out of the way to avoid being creamed.

Hey, on nights like this one, you've just got to find something to laugh about...

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Well, There Goes the Perfect Season...

Here's how I started my analysis of Monday's season opener in yesterday's post:
Boy, tough to find anything not to like about last night's game. The Twins won 3-2, got a number of strong performances, and played good fundamental baseball. They left a ton of runs on the bases by going just 3-for-15 in scoring opportunities, but fortunately three was enough on this night thanks to some great pitching.
After watching the Twins suffer their first loss last night, my positive feelings about Monday's game feel like distant memories. In many ways, the Twins' 9-1 drubbing at the hands of the Angels last night was a polar opposite of Monday night's victory.

On Monday, Livan Hernandez was efficient and effective, delivering seven innings of two-run ball to pick up the victory. Last night, Boof Bonser -- while not terribly inefficient -- was far from effective, surrendering eight hits over six innings, including three doubles and a home run.

On Monday, the Twins played strong defense to support their starting pitcher. Last night, their fielding was shoddy, as they committed two errors and repeatedly failed to execute defensively.

On Monday, the bullpen was lights out, as Pat Neshek and Joe Nathan slammed the door in the eighth and ninth to protect a one-run Twins' lead. Last night, four Twins relievers combined to allow five runs (four earned), seven hits and three walks in three innings, effectively turning a loss into a blowout.

On Monday, the Twins made up for some poor situational hitting (3-for-15 in scoring opportunities) by running the bases well and scraping runs across with some big hits. Last night, they managed only one run on seven hits and one walk, wasting rare base-runners by grounding into two double plays.

In short, Monday night's game was a blast to watch and last night's was excruciating. The pitching struggles for the Twins weren't overly surprising, as I've come into th season expecting plenty of uneven performances from this young staff. I am, however, very disappointed with the offense's ineptitude. Justin Morneau has failed to collect a hit in his first two games, which in and of itself isn't particularly alarming but raises some concern when viewed in combination with his terrible spring and brutal August/September last season. The Twins managed only one extra-base hit in the game and pounded the ball into the ground consistently.

One bad game can certainly be excused, but last night's offensive performance was painfully reminiscent to last year.

Tonight the Twins face a new challenge, with Joe Saunders representing the first left-handed starter they have faced this year. Southpaws posed an especially large problem for the Twins' hitters last year, but the hope is that the addition of hitters like Delmon Young, Craig Monroe and Brendan Harris can help with that issue.

Meanwhile, Nick Blackburn will make his first start of the season for the Twins. I'm actually pretty excited to watch him this year. My expectations are relatively low because he's awfully old for a rookie and his overall minor-league numbers aren't particularly impressive; yet, it's tough to ignore the fact that he was outstanding in Rochester last season and had a very good spring for the Twins this year. And you've got to figure there's something behind Baseball America's decision to recently rank him as the organization's No. 1 prospect, despite his age and lack of a high profile. Heck, I've even seem him mentioned in some circles as a sleeper Rookie of the Year candidate.

Of course, since the Twins are facing the lefty Saunders tonight, it is highly likely that Monroe will be starting at DH over Jason Kubel, who was the only Twin with a hit during the first four innings of last night's game. Having Monroe in the lineup against a southpaw certainly isn't the worst thing in the world, but if he plays it will be mean he's been in the starting lineup twice as often as Kubel so far, which is unacceptable to me even three games into the season. And so, I'll finish my post with a little graphic I designed yesterday (which I've also added to the sidebar). It will probably become a rallying cry for me and perhaps others among the growing mass of fans frustrated with Ron Gardenhire's misuse of Kubel...

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Thoughts From the Opener

Boy, tough to find anything not to like about last night's game. The Twins won 3-2, got a number of strong performances, and played good fundamental baseball. They left a ton of runs on the bases by going just 3-for-15 in scoring opportunities, but fortunately three was enough on this night thanks to some great pitching.

It's always a struggle to organize one's thoughts after taking in the first meaningful baseball game in several months, so here are a smattering of random thoughts about last night's game:

* The story of the game, of course, was Carlos Gomez. The new center fielder led the game off with hard-hit double down the third base line, and finished 2-for-3 with a walk and two stolen bases. Aside from showing his tremendous speed on the base-paths, he also flashed it in the outfield where he nearly overran a couple fly balls that initially looked like they might drop in for hits.

I had a feeling that Gomez's Opening Day performance would either be really good or really awful, and promised myself not to make much of it either way. Certainly, Gomez will have plenty more nights like last night where he just dominates a game with his athleticism, but there is little doubt that he will also have nights where he frustrates us with the questionable decision-making and lacking fundamentals that come along with being a 22-year-old in his first full major-league season.

Still, Gomez's performance illustrated exactly why I have always felt he was the best candidate to come north as the starting center fielder. While the flaws in his game will no doubt show themselves over the coming months, Gomez is physically mature and an extremely exciting weapon to have in the lineup. I look forward to seeing what he brings tonight.

* Of course, the other big performer last night was starting pitcher Livan Hernandez. Like many, I was skeptical when Ron Gardenhire announced that Hernandez would be the team's Opening Day starter, but the veteran delivered seven innings of two-run ball against a fairly potent Angels lineup. Hernandez was far from dominant, rarely topping 85 miles per hour on the radar gun and recording just one strikeout, but he allowed just seven hits and no walks.

Keeping in mind that Ramon Ortiz had a 2.57 ERA at the end of April last year, I will say that Hernandez's outing was impressive and encouraging. He pitched to contact and kept the ball low in the zone all night long, which is exactly what he'll have to do in order to succeed considering his lack of quality pitches. I'm sure there will be nights where he fails to keep the ball down and gets ugly results, but if he can continue to do the things he did last night with some regularity, he may end up being a more useful player than many of us imagined.

* Staying on the topic of Hernandez, have you ever seen a pitcher look as bored and lethargic as he does on the mound? It looked to me like the guy was rushing through the game so he could get to the clubhouse and take a nap. Pretty humorous, I thought.

* Some other new Twins had themselves some solid Minnesota debuts. Brendan Harris went 2-for-4 (although one of his hits a was a double that was a gift from the roof). Mike Lamb went 1-for-3 with an RBI and a walk. Delmon Young went 2-for-4 with a stolen base, and lived up to his reputation by swinging at just about every pitch he saw.

* In his first game with the Angels, Torii Hunter went 0-for-4 and struck out against Joe Nathan in the ninth inning. Being that I'm not one of Hunter's biggest fans these days, I was pretty satisfied with that outcome.

* Unfortunately, not all was well in last night's game. In his infinite wisdom, Gardenhire elected to start Craig Monroe in the DH spot over Jason Kubel. I know many are probably sick of hearing me stick up for Kubel, but this is the kind of unspeakably illogical management from Gardy that makes my blood boil. If there's one thing we've learned about Monroe over the course of his career (and especially the past three years), it's that he CAN NOT HIT RIGHT-HANDED PITCHING. He is a .249/.296/.425 career hitter against righties, including .194/.247/.308 last year. There is simply no reason that a healthy Kubel should ever be benched in favor of Monroe against a right-handed pitcher. Doing it against a guy like Jered Weaver, who is particularly tough on right-handed hitters, is especially ill-advised; and doing it on Opening Night doesn't exactly send a positive message that Gardenhire views Kubel as his regular DH.

Predictably, Monroe went 0-for-3. The guy can serve a useful purpose on this team, and I don't really have a problem with him in general, but I'm quickly going to start to hate him if Gardy continues to misuse him. Kubel better be in the lineup tonight against Jon Garland or I'm going to blow a gasket. [/end rant]