Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tough Pill to Swallow

That series against the Yankees was a tough one. Not just because the Twins went into New York and lost, as usual, but more so because I can't even really complain about it.

As a fan, I find it difficult to be enraged by the events that transpired during this series. The Twins were beaten in all four games against the Yankees, but you'd be hard-pressed to claim that they were completely outplayed or out-managed throughout the series. On Friday night, the Twins handed a ninth-inning lead to their usually reliable closer, only to see Joe Nathan lose the game. On Saturday and Sunday, the Twins battled into extra innings before ultimately succumbing to the Yankee power bats. Last night, the Twins fought back from a big early deficit but came up just short.

The fact of the matter is that the Twins battled hard all weekend and simply came up a little short four times. This wasn't a big-money East Coast team dominating the poor, cash-strapped midwest club; no, the Twins played neck-and-neck with the Yankees throughout the series. That the Twins came out on the wrong end of four excellent baseball games is bound to dim the excitement of fans up here in Minnesota, but these Twins do deserve credit for going into Yankee Stadium and playing some good, competitive baseball. They got great starting pitching, made some astounding defensive plays and hit the ball well, but unfortunately some bullpen lapses and a dreadful inability to capitalize on scoring opportunities sends them away from The Big Apple without a win. Them's the breaks.

I'm just satisfied that the Twins at least provided the fans with a bunch of very entertaining and closely fought losses over the past four days. Although these games may ultimately be more heartbreaking than blowout losses where the outcome is essentially decided early on (a type of game the Twins were on the wrong side of far too often over the first several weeks of the season), these games are far more compelling and entertaining.

A few notes on the bullpen and that bum the Twins keep trotting out at catcher...

* The Twins appear to be on the verge of making a move to upgrade their pitiful bullpen. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that either Anthony Slama or Rob Delaney -- the Twins' duo of outstanding right-handed relievers currently with Class-AA New Britain -- will be making the jump to the majors any time soon. Slama has made 17 appearances for the Rock Cats, posting a 1.69 ERA and 33-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio while allowing just 13 hits in 21 1/3 innings of work. He's rattled off five straight scoreless outings. Delaney, in his 20 appearances, has posted a 2.22 ERA and 31-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio while allowing 25 hits in 28 1/3 innings. He has also gone five straight outings without allowing a run. The two have combined to allow just two home runs in 49 2/3 innings, which sounds appealing after watching Twins relievers cough up walk-off homers in back-to-back games over the weekend.

In spite of the gaudy stats posted by these two relievers, the Twins (specifically Terry Ryan) don't seem to believe that they are "quite ready." It's tough to blame a scout for questioning whether either reliever is ready for a clean transition to the major leagues given that both are still in Double-A; of course, both should have started this season in Triple-A to begin with. The organization's astoundingly conservative handling of these prospects (neither of whom are particularly young) dating back to last year is really starting to haunt.

* Instead of Slama and Delaney, the Twins are apparently eyeing Sean Henn and Bobby Keppel, a pair of veteran relievers currently pitching for Class-AAA Rochester, as options for the big-league bullpen. While I think it's sad if the Twins actually view Keppel -- who the previously linked Star Tribune article refers to as a "hard-throwing righthander" in spite of the sub-90s fastball velocity he's shown during his time in the majors and his horrible minor-league strikeout rates -- as a guy who can legitimately help this bullpen, Henn is a bit more intriguing. While Keppel's 2.61 ERA in 13 appearances isn't buoyed by any remotely impressive peripheral numbers (he's walked more batters than he's struck out and he's allowed about a hit per inning), Henn has posted a 1.13 ERA and 32-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio while allowing only 17 hits in 24 innings.

Fans might be a little skeptical of Henn's ability to actually contribute given that he's already 28 and has posted a 7.56 ERA, 2.04 WHIP and 47/52 K/BB ratio in 66 2/3 innings of major-league work over the course of his career. It's worth noting, though, that when the Twins brought in Dennys Reyes, he was a 28-year-old with a 4.80 ERA, 1.63 WHIP and 474/305 K/BB ratio over 519 2/3 major-league innings. Henn's big-league stats are obviously worse than Reyes' were, but it's over a much smaller sample size, and the two had similar minor-league track records. That the Twins were able to squeeze three productive years out of Reyes should at least motivate people to give the team the benefit of the doubt when it comes to Henn.

Unfortunately, even if things go well, Henn doesn't appear capable of becoming anything more than a solid lefty specialist, in the same mold as Reyes. This bullpen needs more of a boost than he's likely to provide.

[UPDATE: Just after posting this I learned that the Twins have called up Henn to take the roster spot of Glen Perkins, who is headed to the disabled list with elbow inflammation.]

* The Twins have wasted little time in moving Joe Mauer back into regular duty. Since returning from the disabled list on May 1, Mauer has started all but two of the Twins' 17 games and appeared in all but one of them. That may not be ideal, given that he's working back from a troublesome injury, but his impact has been so significant that it's awfully hard for Ron Gardenhire to keep his name out of the lineup. Since returning, Mauer has gone 25-for-60 (.417) with six homers, three doubles, 17 RBI and a 7-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That's a pretty amazing hot streak, particularly from a guy who's shown so little power in the past. That the Twins have averaged 5.6 runs since Mauer's return after averaging just 4.4 runs during the month of April is hardly surprising.

7 comments:

neckrolls said...

Thanks for keeping some perspective about this series. I don't feel nearly as bad as I usually do when the Twins leave NY. It's good to see them playing such close games against what's supposed to be a 95 or so win team. That level of play should hold up well against their divisional opponents.

Anonymous said...

Nick,

I don't know if you have revisited the following point recently, but: you wrote in spring training how the Twins wasted a golden opportunity in not signing Orlando Hudson. You were dead on the mark with that one. We have holes in our lineup at 2B, SS, and LF (when Young plays), and Hudson hitting ahead of Mauer would have made quite a difference. I don't see Hudson swinging at that 2-0 pitch ala Tolbert the other day, which for my money encapsulated the whole series.

But since we don't have Hudson, I would much rather see Harris starting at 2B. He is a steady hitter whose bat may well offset his defensive shortcomings. Tolbert and Casilla are wasted at-bats, almost automatic outs, and it is tiring to watch them flail away.

Nick N. said...

I have revisited the Hudson point a couple times (too many times, if you ask some). I questioned the wisdom in expecting both Casilla and Punto to be starting caliber players this year; indeed, neither of them have been so far.

Yes, it's sure looking like signing Hudson would have helped this club immensely, and the same goes for Juan Cruz. But, hey, at least the Twins still have their draft pick.

Anonymous said...

What have you seen when watching Slama/Delaney this year that makes you disagree with the organization?

Nick N. said...

I've not watched either of them pitch, but based on their numbers I have a hard time believing they're playing at the appropriate level. How exactly does it benefit them to continually dominate younger hitters who are pretty clearly overmatched against them?

If the two didn't play a position of such dire need I'd be a bit less annoyed by the conservative approach, but the Twins need to get a better idea of whether these guys will be able to help their big-league pen in the near future and continuing to let them stagnate at levels that they've evidently mastered is tough to accept.

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