Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Wild Finish, First Win

These Twins are no strangers to comeback victories -- they had a few memorable ones last year. Yet, last night's 6-5 victory over the Mariners came about in perhaps the most unlikely of ways.

The Twins had struggled offensively for much of the night in large part because they consistently put together poor at-bats. Against starter Erik Bedard, Twins hitters struck out eight times over five innings while drawing zero walks and chasing several pitches out of the zone. Yet, in the ninth, the Twins took advantage of a potent but erratic young arm, spoiling Brandon Morrow's first save opportunity of the year by drawing three straight two-out walks and then bringing them all around to erase a 5-3 deficit and notching their first win of the season.

The real highlight of that thrilling ninth inning was the work put in by the Twins' bench bats. As I discussed with John Bonnes on the GameNight podcast following the game, this bench is one of the best the Twins have boasted in recent memory, and it was on full display last night. Jason Kubel, who was the odd man out of the outfield shuffle last night, followed Carlos Gomez's two-out walk by drawing a four-pitch walk of his own while hitting in place of Jose Morales. Nick Punto was next in the lineup, and so Ron Gardenhire went to Brian Buscher, who put together a great at-bat of his own and ended up walking to load the bases. That sent the action back to the top of the Twins' lineup, where Denard Span and Alexi Casilla delivered consecutive hits to give the Twins an exciting first victory.

There are plenty of interesting storylines to come out of this game -- from Nick Blackburn's disappointing start to the bullpen's resilient performance to Span's great night at the plate -- but in the end the quality pinch-hit at-bats late in the game are the lasting memory. A bench made up of Buscher, Brendan Harris, Mike Redmond (once Joe Mauer returns) and whichever outfielder isn't starting has the potential to be one of the best this franchise has seen in years, and perhaps one of the better units in the league.

The Twins have struggled against the first two starters they've faced this season, but in both cases they've had a pretty good excuse. If they both stay healthy, Bedard and Felix Hernandez can potentially be one of the very best 1-2 punches in baseball this year. If the Twins lineup continues to struggle against Carlos Silva tonight, though, perhaps some criticism will be deserved. For now, though, I'll just bask in a wild but supremely satisfying finish to the second game of this young season.

5 comments:

Andrew Kneeland said...

At this point, I'm for Gomez and Span starting in the outfield every night and having Young/Cuddyer and occasionally Kubel switch off for that third position.

We can't bench Span when he's this hot, and Gomez's range is also too valuable to bench. Like you said last night, Gomez will probably be benched tonight, but I don't think he should be. What do you think about hanging up the "equal time" idea and getting Span/Gomez in consistently?

D'Luigi said...

The ninth inning will be remembered and rightfully so, but our first 2 starters certainly haven't dazzled anyone. Seattle isn't that potent of a lineup and our starters have still struggled somewhat. So far that is my biggest concern to start the season. Hopefully Slowey will give us a quality start tonight as everyone seems so impressed by his spring.

Nick N. said...

What do you think about hanging up the "equal time" idea and getting Span/Gomez in consistently?

I'm certainly a fan of that idea because I think Span and Gomez have both looked solid at the plate and moreso because I really value what they're able to do defensively when together in the outfield.

With that said, I don't see it happening. Gardenhire seems fiercely committed to Cuddyer being the lineup regularly, so it appears we'll be looking at a rotation of Span/Gomez/Young/Kubel with Cuddyer being pretty much a fixture at RF at DH. If Cuddyer can get on base at a solid rate and show some power, that's not such a bad thing, but neither of those is a given.

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