Friday, August 29, 2008
Thursday, August 28, 2008
The Twins struggled to separate themselves early in the game, and with the score tied at three in the seventh inning, Raul Ibanez ripped a homer to right field that could have been a dagger in the hearts of this inexperienced squad. Ibanez has been a nightmare for the Twins this year, and it would have been totally fitting for his blast to bury the Twins, completing a series sweep and pushing the Twins into a five-game losing streak.
Yet, the Twins battled back, scoring three times in the top of the eighth inning to take back the lead. And when the Mariners came back with a run of their own in the bottom half of the inning and sent the tying run home on a two-out Miguel Cairo single, Denard Span delivered a perfect throw from center field to gun down Tug Hulett at the plate and end the inning, preserving a one-run lead.
Span's throw continued a trend of terrific outfield defense, and his two-run double in the fourth delivered a trend of key hits that have helped the Twins succeed in the manner they have. Evan Longoria's success in Tampa Bay will prevent him from being a serious Rookie of the Year contender, but the impact that Span has had on the Twins this year cannot be understated, and yesterday's game provided another shining example of this.
Many had left Span for dead after his five underwhelming seasons in the minors, but he is playing like a man on the mission. He seems determined to prove his critics wrong, and for that he deserves all sorts of credit. Meanwhile, the Twins as a whole are set on proving all the national doubters wrong by remaining right at the top of this AL Central race. After battling back to defeat the Mariners while the White Sox were drubbed by the Orioles yesterday, the Twins are now back within a game of first place.
The Twins' series in Seattle was not an impressive one, that much is for sure. Without a doubt, they need to play a lot better in Oakland. But considering how many times they've shown the ability to bounce back from adversity all season long, I don't think it's a stretch to believe they can.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
The Twins need to score some runs here today. Let's win one, boys.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Beyond some recent tough losses, recently there has been even more of a sense of annoyance. Annoyance at having to continuously face the onslaught of major media stories about Fransisco Rodriguez's "historical run" at Bobby Thigpen's save record.
It's true that the relative unimportance of this record has already been tackled by many major writers, but it's hard to ignore when the only real story over the weekend seemed to have been Rodriguez's 49th and 50th saves. The most common point to make, and perhaps the most important thing, is that Rodriguez's talent has nothing to do with the production of save opportunities that has allowed him to make a run at the record. A combination of luck, an often mediocre offense, and a great pitching staff outside of K-Rod helped produce the 55 save opportunities that have allowed Rodriguez to make this run.
This brings up several points to consider. One is that the save itself and the save opportunity is usually converted and the statistic itself isn't all that meaningful. The majority of three-run and even two-run leads are saved. Therefore, as a raw number, the amount of saves is not as important as save percentage. Granted, 50/55 save opportunities amounts to around a 91% save percentage, which is very good. However, our own Joe Nathan (92.1%), Joakim Soria (92.3%) and Mariano Rivera (97%) have significantly higher save percentages. What is the difference? Nathan has had 38 save opportunities and Rivera only 33. In fact, Rodriguez has had 16 more save opportunities than anyone else in the majors.
That certainly seems to suggest that Rodriguez's pursuit is not any more impressive than what Brad Lidge has done this year, converting all 31 save opportunities has had for the Phillies. In fact, that arguably not only makes Lidge the better closer, but also the more valuable one. Same goes for Soria, Nathan, and Rivera. All three AL closers listed have WHIPs below 1, with Rivera's 0.72 blowing the competition away. What is Rodriguez's? An ugly 1.27, which is also reflected by his mediocre 62/29 K/BB ratio, or 2.14. Nathan's is an impressive 4.69, but Rivera's in an outerwordly 11.17 or 67/6.
Which once again begs another question. Why aren't fans also discussing what might be Nathan's best relief year, with sub-1.00 ERA currently (and now a 1.13 ERA partially thanks to Nick Punto's infallible defense). And why aren't fans discussing how Rivera, at 38, is also possibly having his best year, with opponents "hitting" .175/.205/.257 this year to go with a 1.53 ERA. Each are having incredible years, but have gone relatively unnoticed because while they convert saves better than Rodriguez, they just don't have that counting stat the media seems so obsessed with. Eventually, fans might lose their affinity for the overrated save, but for now, it is making a lot more news then it should, leaving better stories in the dust.
* Twins fans may have noticed the return of a familiar face to the bullpen via the trade. Eddie Guardado was acquired from the Texas Rangers for minor-league closer Mark Hamburger. (As a fun fact, Hamburger was not drafted, but rather signed through a Twins tryout camp, after displaying a mid-90s fastball.) Guardado is nothing near the All-Star closer the Twins had back in 2002 and 2003, as he only has 28 strikeouts (versus 17 walks) in 49 1/3 innings, which is not too impressive and suggests he's been somewhat lucky, but he also has only given up 38 hits. More importantly, while he is killing lefties (.167/.521 OPS), righties are not knocking him around too badly either (.252/.721).
Guardado was able to quickly help the Twins last night, working a quick, scoreless eighth inning. It will continue to occur to many Twins fans that the front office could have made claims on superior bullpen help, like Chad Bradford, but trading for Guardado while giving up very little is at least a solid move for the club. Guardado doesn't strike me as the solution to the eighth inning, but he may be a better option than anyone else at this point and any improvement is good with just over a month to go in the season.
* I won't comment too much on last night's game, as I was unable to finish it due to the sleep deprivation caused by law school interview season. However, watching the Twins offense flounder against Miguel Bastita was frankly embarrassing. They should have been able to produce more run support for Fransisco Liriano against one of baseball's worst starting pitchers. And seeing that Jesse Crain gave up a walk-off home run only increases my own worries about the bullpen. Clearly, there is only one reliable member and its not Crain.
While I am at it, though, I should point out that after a solid start last night, Liriano's ERA dropped to 3.83, giving the Twins a rotation of starters all with ERAs under four. (Baker; 3.74, Perkins; 3.90, Blackburn; 3.78, Slowey 3.74.) In terms of ERA, no one in the group particularly stands out, but having five young starters capable of putting up solid to outstanding numbers can only bode well for the future of the franchise.
Its too bad, then, that the media is largely missing this story as well, as shown by this response to a chat with Jayson Stark to a question by a Twins fan about why the Twins five-man rotation isn't considered amongst the best:
" Jayson Stark: I hear you, Chris. But I go back to my point about the Phillies. These guys have been unbelievable strike-throwing machines. But pretty much this whole rotation consists of guys who the Twins hope will keep them in the game. And that's not normally a formula for October success. Having Joe Nathan on your team IS a formula for October success, but we're not debating bullpens or whole staffs this week. "
I'll grant that I'm glad Stark recognizes the great Nathan, and generally I like Stark as a writer, especially considering that he actually mentioned VORP in the introduction to his chat, but I'm not sure that I'd consider the rotation a group of starters that you hope will win you a game. Maybe that is the case with guys like Blackburn and Perkins, but Baker, Liriano, and Slowey have legitimately dominated teams this year and should continue to do so. Hopefully this is another story the larger baseball media recognizes soon enough.
Monday, August 25, 2008
The Twins weren't able to do that, as the bullpen once again blew a late lead in yesterday's game and eliminated the chance for a series victory against the Angels. Nevertheless, the Twins played relatively well throughout the four-game set and certainly did not look overmatched against a team they could possibly match up against in the playoffs, should things reach that point. In that, we should take some measure of comfort.
It's not so much annoying that the Twins lost two games in this series, but rather the way they lost those games. On Saturday night, shoddy defense was the culprit. Nick Blackburn pitched a decent game, but was really let down by some serious defensive miscues from Brian Buscher and Carlos Gomez, among others. Yesterday Nick Punto started at third base and turned in a sterling defensive performance, but even that wasn't enough to save the Twins bullpen from blowing a late lead and erasing a strong performance from Kevin Slowey. It's nice to see that when the Twins are losing, it's not necessarily because they're being completely outplayed. Yet it's unfortunate to see them unable to put away games that they quite easily could be winning.
Facing a first-place team in a hostile environment, the Twins took two of four games. It could have been a lot worse. But certainly, with the way things played out, it could have been a lot better.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Because the Twins team that won last night didn't look like the miserable offense that lost to a team that was 5-23 since the All-Star break Monday night. Instead, the Twins team last night not only pounded the A's pathetic pitching for 13 runs, but starter Kevin Slowey also seemed to similarly entered a wormhole, because after getting only three strikeouts in his previous two starts, including just one in his last start, Slowey struck out 12 Oakland hitters in seven innings, and didn't walk a batter. Most might assume that the strikeouts were strikeouts looking, as recent evidence given by Ubelmann at SBG would suggest, but ten of twelve were strikeouts swinging. Needless to say, it was an interesting and dominating performance for the young pitcher, lowering his ERA to an impressive 3.78.
Really, of course, what I should be saying is that the Twins on Monday were in an alternate universe, because the offense has been above average this season and frankly should not have stumbled against what is currently one of the worst teams in the majors. On the other hand, it can be argued that some players weren't quite themselves last night, either, with Carlos Gomez hitting his first home run in over two months (since June 6th) and Brian Buscher going 3-for-5 with five RBI and a two-run home run.
Hopefully, the Twins can stay in that part of the baseball universe today and continue to redeem themselves after Monday night's embarrassing loss.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Monday, August 18, 2008
After Glen Perkins gave up three home runs in the sixth inning, which in and of itself was a disappointment, Boof Bonser came in the game for the seventh, only to promptly serve up three hits and two runs, including a Raul Ibanez RBI double. (Ibanez, by the way, has destroyed Twins pitching this year, at a 13-for-19 clip, with two doubles, two home runs, and 12 RBI.) Bonser was replaced by Matt Guerrier in the eight, who continued his trek to completely unreliable, getting only one out while giving up one hit, two runs, and two walks. Guerrier's ERA now stands at an ugly 4.94, having given up a shocking 12 earned runs in just 5 1/3 August innings and 15 earned runs in 11 post-All Star break innings.
If any one particular member of the bullpen stands out in terms of the current obvious issues, it's Guerrier. But the bullpen's failings didn't stop with Guerrier last night, as Dennys Reyes came in and allowed an inherited runner to score with some help from Brendan Harris' mediocre arm. Of course, once Joe Nathan came in with the bases loaded, the fire was finally put out with a strikeout of Adrian Beltre. Nathan completed a scoreless ninth for his 33rd save, but his dominance is practically a given at this point. Unfortunately, it seems that he is also the only known quantity right now.
Needless to say, the bullpen allowing a 10-4 lead to quickly shrink to 10-8 speaks volumes about the principle issue for the Twins right now. We have often pointed this out on this blog, but it is a persisting issue that cannot be ignored when the problem is slapping the team in the face. Thankfully, the offense was out in full force against a terrible Mariners pitching staff.
The duo of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau powered the lineup over the weekend sweep, going a combined 9-for-22 with two home runs, six walks, eight runs scored, and eight RBI. Now, while Mauer and Morneau's offensive dominance is expected by most Twins fans, we may have lost the biggest offensive star of the weekend in the wake: Jason Kubel. Kubel went 8-for-10 with six RBI, one home run, two doubles, and five runs scored, raising his line to .278/.339/.486.
With high expectations over the years, sometimes Kubel's offensive production has been minimized, but enough cannot be said about a .486 SLG from a Twins hitter not named Mauer or Morneau with the majority of his at-bats coming at the DH position. An .825 OPS is not only impressive for a Twin, but is even more impressive given how offense is down throughout the major leagues.
Granted, the Twins should beat up on what might be the worst team in the majors, but beating up on the Mariners also meant that the Twins managed to tie with the White Sox for first place and stay there. The offensive output was certainly positive, but fans should keep in mind that the persisting bullpen issues haven't even gone away in wins and may remain the major obstacle to the Twins post-season chances.
Friday, August 15, 2008
"Maybe Chief [Silva] has to come and grab somebody in his neck and pin them to the wall," Silva told reporters. "I'm very close to doing that, so write that down.
"Maybe half of the team wants to do the best they can. I can talk about the starting rotation; we want to do our best every time we cross that line, you know?" he said. "But maybe half of the team doesn't have that mentality. They only think to finish strong and to put up the numbers. That's great, but that affects us. As a team, that doesn't work out.
"Instead of moving a runner, they want to get a base hit just because of the numbers. Instead of to get a ground ball, maybe I want to strike him out because of my numbers, you know what I mean? That's what we're doing right now.
"I don't care if we are 40 games behind, we should play better than this."
Thursday, August 14, 2008
However, in just a week, that has changed very quick. Yesterday, after his heroics Tuesday night off of all-time closer Mariano Rivera, Young came up again with a huge blast, smashing a Darrell Rasner offering to right field just over the baggie for a three-run homer that would give the Twins a lead they never relinquished. In his last six games, Young is hitting 9-for-25 with three homers, eight RBI, a double, and a much more powerful swing than we have been used to over the course of the year. Is it possible that Young is finally showing the power he's supposedly had since he was drafted or is this all a week-long facade that will quickly fade and be forgotten?
Let's keep in mind that even with his recent power surge, he still only has seven homers and is hitting .290/.336/.407 overall. However, in 88 at-bats since the All-Star break, he also has a OPS over .800, and has already hit more home runs than he had (3) in 339 pre-break at bats. Of course, its also worth pointing out that more thorough researchers than myself, like Aaron Gleeman, have rightfully observed that Young show a steady decline in power in the minors before he even reached the minors. The counter-point is that Young was always young for whatever level he was at, reaching the majors at just 20.
Therefore, its probably way too early to conclude much of anything from such a small sample size and it could very easily be facade. At the same time, a small sample size like this can at least suggest slow, steady improvements from a very young player. Young may not become a 40 home run masher and his progress may ultimately be stalled by lack of plate discipline, but small improvements in patience and power nonetheless can be seen in Young's second half so far and, if Twins fans show enough patience, a good and even possibly great hitter may emerge in the coming years.
The Yankees series, then they might say, is just a taste of things to come.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Young's homer was unexpected to say the least. The Twins seemed downtrodden late in the game. The Yankees batters had been wearing down the pitching staff with long at-bats all night, and had opened up a three-run lead for their near-perfect closer, who was called upon in the eighth inning. Somehow, Young managed to take a Rivera pitch over the baggy in right field, tying the game and handing the incredible Rivera his first blown save of the season.
But that was seemingly all the magic the Twins had up their sleeves. They were unable to capitalize on Young's huge homer, as the offense could must only one single over the next three innings while the Yankees scored three times against Matt Guerrier in the 12th to claim victory.
Certainly, Guerrier's ugly outing continues to cast doubt on his ability to get important outs for this club. The team needed him to step up in Neshek's absence, but recently he's developed into the least effective arm on the roster. Since the All-Star break, Guerrier has posted a 10.64 ERA while allowing 20 hits -- including four homers -- over 11 innings. During that span, he has watched his ERA shoot up from 3.35 to 4.67, while his opponents' batting average has escalated from .241 to .302. It's hard to blame Guerrier for his downfall, as the situation has very likely come about from his extremely frequent use this season, but it's still unfortunate to see one of the team's few reliable bullpen arms turn into a pumpkin. Guerrier's pitches quite clearly had nothing on them last night. Bill Smith is looking more and more foolish for not finding a way to acquire Chad Bradford or LaTroy Hawkins...
But I digress. Guerrier can hardly be handed the majority of blame for this loss. The Yankees offense can't be suppressed for too long, and they were bound to get to someone as long as the Twins' offense kept extending the game by failing to mount a rally.
In spite of the result, this was still an impressive game for the Twins, who showed resiliency battling back in what seemed like a lost cause against the Evil Empire. This could have been a depressing, lackluster nine-inning loss, but instead it turned into a thrilling extra-inning affair in which the Twins simply ran out of bullets. Let's dwell on that positive, and hope the Twins can find a little more ammo to support Kevin Slowey this afternoon.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Perkins didn't display outstanding control (70 strikes to 37 balls, three walks), but he only allowed four hits in eight innings while striking out four and picking up his ninth win, giving him a 9-3 record. Nothing in his numbers screams dominance, as he's allowed 129 hits in 110 2/3 innings with only 56 strikeouts against 29 walks. It feels like his success isn't terribly sustainable, given that he's a fly ball pitcher (0.90 groundball-to-flyball ratio) who doesn't rack up strikeouts, but to his credit last night's terrific start ended a short slump and brought his ERA back down to 4.07.
Span was probably the brightest offensive star, showing great hustle on the basepaths and scoring two of the Twins runs to help secure a victory. In the sixth inning, Span doubled, moved over on a Punto sacrifice, and scored on a Joe Mauer sacrifice fly. More impressive, though, was scoring from second on a infield hit by Justin Morneau in the eighth inning, adding a run that all but sealed the victory. Otherwise, the Twins didn't do too much against Sidney Ponson, but at least they finally scored a victory against the former Twins hurler.
In the end, though its disappointing that the Twins are a much more solid, fundamentally sound team at home while being a frustrating enigma on the road, at least they seem to be getting the job done against all comers -- including potent squads like the Yankees -- in their home stadium.
That home cooking will be put to the test tonight with Mike Mussina, a career Twins-killer, on the hill against Nick Blackburn.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Yet, to me, no acquisition has been a greater disappointment than Adam Everett.
I was not a fan of the Everett signing to begin with. The Twins were one of the worst offensive clubs in the league last year, and they entered the offseason with a need to add players who could help them score more runs. As such, I found little logic in signing one of the worst-hitting regular players of the past several years to fill a position of need. Many made the argument that Everett's reputedly spectacular fielding ability at one of the most important defensive positions on the field was enough to offset his offensive shortcomings and make him a decently valuable player. There's certainly some truth to that, and I made sure to acknowledge Everett's track record as an outstanding defender, but added that "I'm not really sure the Twins are a team that can afford the luxury of a superb defensive shortstop who can't hit worth a lick."
Here we are on August 10, and Everett has fallen far short of even my meager expectations. His hitting has been atrocious, as expected; even after poking a pair of RBI singles in yesterday's game, he is batting .209/.275/.319, which is quite awful even for him. But what has truly been frustrating is his defense. Everett has not been a spectacular defensive presence at shortstop. Frankly, he hasn't even been adequate. His arm is absolutely horrendous. While he has often shown the solid range and slick glove that he was known for in Houston, Everett's total lack of arm strength has prevented him from making more than a handful of impressive plays at shortstop this season, and has frequently caused him to fail to convert on routine plays.
This disappointment was on display over the weekend in Kansas City, in series where Everett started all three games. On Friday night, he committed an error while fielding a ground ball. In Saturday night's game, a wide throw from Everett pulled Justin Morneau off first base, allowing a runner who should have been out to reach. Yesterday, in the most egregious example of the weekend, Everett essentially cost the Twins a sweep-clinching victory when he allowed the tying run to score from third with two outs in the eighth inning because he threw high to first base after fielding a routine grounder that should have gotten the Twins to the ninth inning with a lead.
In fairness, Everett's poor defense has not necessarily been his fault. From the very beginning of the year he has been affected by shoulder problems, and he's spent much of the year on the disabled list as a result of these issues. Yet, as his performance during the past few days has shown, these issues continue to deter his performance and are still preventing him from getting the job done at shortstop. And since he cannot hit nor field adequately, Everett really has no use to this club. The Twins were on the verge of designating him for assignment a couple weeks ago before Alexi Casilla's injury, and that was the right decision. There are other players who can more effectively fill Everett's role.
Say what you will about Hernandez and Monroe, they did serve a purpose for this team. Hernandez ate a lot of innings and gave the team several Quality Starts, while Monroe delivered some huge home runs. When it became clear that the players had worn out their usefulness (well, maybe a little while after that became clear), the team parted ways with both and replaced them with more deserving replacements. The time is now to do the same with Everett.
Friday, August 08, 2008
Thursday, August 07, 2008
Span saw the ball approaching, turned around and raced to the wall. Once he got there, he turned back around, found the ball and leaped up with perfect timing, grabbing the liner about a foot above the yellow line that runs across the top of the outfield wall. Span had robbed Beltre of a go-ahead two-run homer, and the Twins' narrow lead was safe. They'd add a few more runs in the eighth inning en route to a comfortable 7-3 victory, but Span's spectacular catch still looms as a series salvager.
Of course, Span was also the reason the Twins had a lead to protect in the first place thanks to his bases-loaded triple in the second inning. In total, he went 3-for-5 on the day with a stolen base and five RBI in what has to be considered the highlight of his major-league career thus far. While credit should be given to Brendan Harris, who doubled twice and scored twice, and to Nick Blackburn, who battled and turned in a Quality Start despite not having his stuff working very well, it seems quite clear that Span was the driving force in this victory. For the season, he's now hitting .315/.399/.469, and he's hardly slowed down the torrid pace he returned to the big leagues with. He's been a godsend in the leadoff spot, getting on base nearly 40 percent of the time in front of the team's best hitters, and his range in right field has been hugely beneficial -- never more so than yesterday.
It's easy to blow the importance of Monday and Tuesday's games out of proportion, especially because of the brutal fashion in which they were lost, but losing two of three in a road series is hardly devastating. Escaping from Seattle with a win was critical for the Twins, and the rookie Span deserves a whole heap of credit for making it happen.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
While only one error was made, the Twins still made several mistakes in the field, including bad plays from Delmon Young and Brian Buscher. Just as some bad defense added to the issues in Monday night's loss, they certainly did not help last night either, but it isn't really news to Twins fans paying attention that the defense of this team is often porous.
As for the starting pitching, just like Glen Perkins on Monday (13 base-runners, 6 1/3 innings), Scott Baker put way too many Seattle hitters on base, allowing a total of 11 base-runners and paying for it, ultimately giving up four runs before leaving with a 4-3 deficit, only to watch Craig Breslow quickly give up a two-run single to Raul Ibanez (with both runs being charged to Baker). Later, when the Twins offense finally rallied for a 7-6 lead, beating around Seattle's bullpen, Matt Guerrier and Joe Nathan blew the lead to give Seattle the win, with Nathan giving up the game-winning, two-run double to Jose Lopez and Guerrier getting charged with the runs, bringing his ERA to a not-so-stellar 4.25.
With that, Baker's ERA has now risen to 3.86 and has gone up each of the last three starts after reaching a season low of 3.26, as he's given up 13 runs in his last 16 1/3 innings, with an uncharacteristic eight walks. The best you can say is that he's struck out 17 over that time as well, still displaying good stuff, but his recent run is troublesome.
While it's been easy to blame the recent atrocious work of much of the bullpen, especially on the road, it's worth noting, through these observations, that the Twins starting pitching has certainly struggled so far in the Seattle series and that may not bode well for a team that is going to spend a significant amount of this month on the road. The positive remains that the Twins offense hasn't totally stalled at the same time, as they scored six runs on Monday night and saw some positives last night as well, most particularly with Jason Kubel smashing his 15th and 16th home runs. Let's just hope Nick Blackburn breaks the pattern of poor starting pitching this afternoon.
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
The Mariners are, at this point, more than just a bad team. They are a depressing team that has no sense of direction and that may become the first team ever to lose 100 games with a payroll north of $100 million. Of course, the Mariners aren't alone in paying for futility, as teams like the Houston Astros have paid plenty for losing and embarrassing teams.
As a team, the Mariners' hitting is pretty embarrassing, with a team .695 OPS and .259 average. One might think that with hitters like Ichiro Suzuki and Adrian Beltre this would be untrue, but those players are not having overwhelming years at all, with Suzuki's OPS at .743 and Beltre's at .756. The team's best hitter, in fact, has been Ibanez, with a .281/.347/.464 line, and he was almost traded at the deadline. The pitching, outside of Felix Hernandez and young flamethrower Brandon Morrow, has also been quite mediocre, with "standouts" like Carlos Silva and last night's starter, Miguel Batista.
What is the point? This is certainly a team that fans should expect the Twins to knock around, especially if the offense has truly improved, as some numbers suggest, and the young pitching is as good as they appear to be. While it should be expected, it still would certainly be nice to see the Twins take care of business the way they could have last night.
Perkins was having a good start, until he ran into a lot of trouble in seventh inning, resulting in the slam given up to Ibanez. In total, Perkins tossed 6 1/3 innings, giving up an ugly 12 hits and five runs with only two strikeouts and a walk. Perkins always appeared to be walking a fine line and it appears that some of his luck may have run out.
As for the offense, hits were well-distributed, with Justin Morneau picking up a two-run double as well as picking up two walks on the night, Joe Mauer picking up two hits and a run, and even Nick Punto smacking his second home run of the year along with two walks. In fact, if one thing stands out, its the patience, as the Twins picked up eight walks on the night, with even the less-patient portion of the lineup getting in on the walk-fest, with Delmon Young, Mike Lamb, and Brian Buscher taking free passes against the unfortunate Mariners staff.
With that, I now wake up roundly disappointed. The Twins offense did their job against mediocre pitching, but the Twins pitching did not. I'm afraid that, the way things look right now, it will be hard to look back on this game without thinking that Ron Gardenhire once again made the mistake of trusting Bass with a lead. However, while Bass can be blamed for giving up the lead, the Twins porous defense and pitching did nothing to stop the bleeding. A few singles, a Denard Span throwing error, and a Brendon Harris throwing error, and suddenly the Mariners had a five-run lead. Humiliating, embarrassing, and disappointing are all words that can describe last night's lost, but its just as good to say that the Twins failed to do their jobs in not doing what they should and need to be able to do: beat terrible teams.
Monday, August 04, 2008
Things have been coming together quite nicely for this team. Conventional wisdom stated that this young and inexperienced group of players would improve over the course of the season, and so far that has proven to be the case. Just look at the team's month-by-month OPS totals:
Meanwhile, the pitching has held steady and, if yesterday's game is any indication, the addition of Francisco Liriano to the rotation could pay large dividends down the stretch. If he can continue to pitch well and the other young starters can stay the course, the Twins' rotation is essentially without weakness. That's important, and probably more important than a modest upgrade at third base, which is why I'm glad to hear that Bill Smith shied away from the Mariners' reported request of Blackburn/Slowey/Perkins plus prospects for Adrian Beltre.
With the current rotation, the Twins can be confident that each night they'll be sending out a hurler capable of delivering a strong outing and giving the team a chance to win. The offense, as noted above, has been improving each month and should be able to hold up over the rest of the season. As teams increasingly start to pitch around Justin Morneau, the impetus will be on guys like Jason Kubel, Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer (if he ever returns). One key player to watch will be Brian Buscher. Many people seem unsold on him -- thus the cries of outrage that the Twins didn't acquire an established third baseman at the deadline -- but at some point people need to start giving the man his dues. While his track record prior to 2007 is certainly spotty, he's done nothing but tear up minor-league pitching since coming over the organization last year and he's now hitting .314/.341/.432 over 115 at-bats with the Twins this season. And while some are convinced that he can't be a regular player, I'm not sure where this sentiment came from. His poor numbers in 23 plate appearances against lefties this year hardly provide compelling evidence, especially considering that he's always held his own against southpaws in the minors, including an 843 OPS against them in Rochester this season.
Shortstop and second base will be the team's chief areas of concern as long as Alexi Casilla is out of the lineup. Nick Punto is holding his own and Brendan Harris has hit well recently, so it will be interesting to see whether both those trends hold through the end of the season. If they do, the Twins should be in good shape on the offensive side of the ball. Combine a bullpen that can get the job done on most nights, and the Twins certainly should be capable of sticking with the White Sox all the way to the bitter end.
Most realistic fans didn't view this season as one where the Twins would be likely to contend. Yet, here on August 4, this group of young players (younger now with two of the veteran offseason acquisitions sent packing) finds itself in first place and in control of its own destiny. With the powerful White Sox breathing down their backs and a whole lot of road games coming up in the next 30 days, these young men will really have their fortitude put to the test.
Saturday, August 02, 2008
Overall Record: 60-48 (2nd Place in AL Central)
The offense averaged 5.52 runs per game with a season-high 802 OPS, and the pitching staff held its own with a 4.56 ERA (which was dragged down by the bullpen's 5.21).
THREE UP, THREE DOWN
A look at three players whose performances were outstanding over the past month, and three who fell bellow expectations.
1. Justin Morneau: .360/.473/.708, 6 HR, 23 RBI, 23 R, 0/0 SB
Absolutely monstrous. Morneau set season highs in essentially every category, drew 19 walks while striking out only eight times, and had 19 of his 32 hits go for extra bases. This was probably the second best month of Morneau's career, behind June 2006. If he is in the MVP discussion at the end of the year, which seems highly likely right now, the series he just completed against the White Sox will be a major point in his favor.
2. Joe Mauer: .307/.424/.467, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 16 R, 0/0 SB
His July wasn't quite as good as his June, but Mauer continued to get on base at an excellent pace and set a season high by driving in 16 runs. When Morneau and Mauer are at the top of this list, you know it was probably a pretty good month for the Twins.
3. Denard Span: .321/.424/.488, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 20 R, 2/5 SB
Span has stepped into the leadoff spot and provided the Twins with exactly what they needed -- a patient bat who gets on base steadily. As a result, he scored 20 runs and set up numerous opportunities for Mauer and Morneau to do their damage.
1. Livan Hernandez: 29.1 IP, 2-3, 6.44 ERA, 15 K / 9 BB, 1.74 WHIP
Hernandez finds himself listed here for a second consecutive month, and now finds himself designated for assignment.
2. Kevin Slowey: 24 IP, 2-1, 5.62 ERA, 15 K / 7 BB, 1.33 WHIP
A bad stretch in the middle of the month places Slowey here, but he certainly got back on track in his last start, tossing a complete-game shutout against the White Sox.
A truly terrible month for Gomez. He didn't hit, he didn't take walks, he hit for no power, and even his speed was nowhere to be found, with zero stolen bases on the month. Hopefully he can string together some decent numbers over the final months while hitting from the ninth spot in the lineup.
PROSPECT OF THE MONTH
Danny Valencia - New Britain Rock Cats
Friday, August 01, 2008
Considering that they came into the game 29th in the majors (above the lowly Giants, who have only 61) with just 73 homers (though that number shot up to 28th after this game), getting two huge blasts like that not only feels like an aberration, but is awfully surprising. Of course, it is not surprising in that Morneau and Kubel hit them, considering they are the only two legitimate home-run threats in the lineup, only that the Twins won the way that they did. This should only give fans appreciation for the importance of not only Morneau's bat in the lineup, but Kubel's power, which can be key to offense's success when considering the void in the lineup of any other power source.
Of course, just discussing the power surge and the general offensive display last night would miss some other important storylines:
* Once again, despite some struggles, Scott Baker showed why he is likely the ace of the this staff last night and more than likely has the best stuff of any starting pitcher on the team. Baker went six innings, gave up five hits, four runs, and three walks, but he also struck out eight batters, showing good life on his fastball and an excellent slider that was getting many Chicago hitters to swing and miss. After last night's start, Baker has an excellent and very impressive 7.85 K/9 rate to go along with a outstanding 89/21 K/BB ratio.
* The Twins, not surprisingly, did not make any moves of the deadline. This may upset some fans, and rightfully so, as they did not pursue any of their targets, be it Brian Roberts or Adrian Beltre, with any lasting speed. However, the Twins appear on the verge of finally making one big and key internal move: La Velle E. Neal III reports that the Twins will likely eat the rest of Livan Hernandez's contract and designate him for assignment very soon so that they can make room in the rotation for Francisco Liriano.
Now to some, this might feel as good as a trade, but the fact remains that the Twins should have made this move earlier to say give them a chance for a sweep against their divisional foe this week and be in command of first place, instead of back a half game. Nonetheless, its a very important move to make and is just as exciting as a good trade. There is no way yet to know how effective Liriano is going to be once the move is actually made, but there is no doubt that he will not put up stats that would put him on pace to give up the most hits in a season in three decades.
* On a final note, the White Sox did make a big move of their own yesterday by competing in the headlines with the Manny Ramirez trade when they dealt two marginal players for Ken Griffey, Jr. Some fans may be worried that getting such a prestigious name as Griffey means that the White Sox will now run off with the division, but that is simply not the case. Griffey sports a .245/.355/.432 line this year with the advantage of playing in the Great American Ballpark. Yes, a .787 OPS is nothing terrible, but it's nothing to get excited about either. Griffey, with his diminishing skill-set, has gained patience recently, but with it, he's lost a lot in average and power. Keep in mind that Nick Swisher is batting .230/.348/.404 and he also has 15 home runs this year.
Yes, Griffey could get hot and do a lot for the White Sox, but he's also 38 years old and might be asked to play center field when he is already a sub-par fielder in right. If he was being brought over to DH, maybe it would be different, but the White Sox already have a good DH in Jim Thome. This deal might sound like a lot to think about, but the White Sox probably didn't improve that much and now they just have a lot of invitees to an ongoing game of musical chairs, especially if they think they are going sit a guy with a $60 million contract in Paul Konerko.