Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Defenseless

I had already completed and posted yesterday's entry by the time Monday night's game came to its stunning and absurd conclusion, so nothing about that game was featured on this page yesterday. Yet, since that 14-13 loss is likely to go down as one of -- if not the -- most memorable of the season, and since last night's game was rather unremarkable, I figured I'd take the opportunity to vent a bit about the epic meltdown for today.

Clearly, there were numerous reasons the Twins managed to cough up their 10-run lead and lose a game they seemingly had wrapped up in the second inning, and they stretch well beyond the terrible call at home plate that led to the contest's final out. Nick Blackburn and the ragtag bunch of Triple-A relievers the Twins sent out to the mound all pitched terribly, which is particularly inexcusable considering the fact that they were facing a terrible offense in an extremely pitcher-friendly park. And while it's tough to blame the offense much in a game where they put 13 runs across, Twins hitters did fail to come through in some key late scoring opportunities.

But the weakness that stood out most to me in this abomination of a ballgame was the Twins defense. They sent out an incredibly weak fielding unit that did not feature arguably the team's three best defenders (Carlos Gomez, Joe Mauer and Joe Crede) and did feature a bunch of liabilities including Brendan Harris at third, Alexi Casilla at second, Delmon Young in left and Mike Redmond at catcher. They paid for it. The number of bloop hits, infield singles, missed catches and skipped throws to first base in this game was mind-blowing.

Justin Morneau had one of the finest offensive games of his career, but was a calamity on the field on Monday night. He missed an easy catch in foul territory and uncharacteristically failed to scoop up several short-hopped throws. Harris let more than one playable grounder skip past him at third. And Nick Punto had a hugely disappointing game at shortstop.

I know I just ranted about Punto last week so I hate to get on his case again, but I've grown increasingly disenchanted with his defensive ability at shortstop. I still think he's a heck of a defensive second baseman, but after having watched him man shortstop regularly over the past few weeks I've come to conclude that he simply doesn't have the arm to play the position. His range is good, particularly to his left, and he flashed that on a dazzling diving play he made behind second base in the game. But the number of popgun throws he made in that ballgame was maddening. His throws routinely bounced in front of Morneau at first, even on plays where Punto had time to set his feet. It was no isolated incident -- this is something I've picked up on several times this season. Say what you will about Harris' sub par range and poor defensive reputation, but the guy at least has the arm to make strong throws from the hole and to beat runners on weakly hit balls. I'm not seeing that from Punto, and as a result he has become a bit of a liability when playing at short.

There are a lot of factors that played into the Twins' collapse on Monday night, but many of those were fluke-ish in nature. Blackburn's method of cosntantly pitching to contact caught up with him in a big hurry. Bobby Keppel picked the wrong time to give up just his second home run in 70 innings this season. Jose Mijares, similarly, picked the wrong time to get solved by left-handed hitters for the first time this season. And the home plate umpire -- a Triple-A fill-in -- managed to put himself in the exact wrong position to view the final play at home plate. For the most part, these things just can't be helped; so goes the game of baseball.

But, the Ron Gardenhire set his team and his pitching staff up for trouble by sending out a roundly underwhelming defensive alignment. Prior to the season, I figured that one of the Twins' greatest strengths would be an improved defense led by the likes of Gomez, Crede, Mauer, Punto and Denard Span. But when all those guys are either not playing or being used at positions for which they are ill-suited, the Twins are in position for trouble. That's just what happened on Monday night.

6 comments:

USAFChief said...

A couple thoughts:

1. I agree 100% on Punto's arm, and I've felt that way for most of the season. It's somewhat surprising, as Punto has always had a strong arm in the past.

2. IMO, Gardenhire laid the foundation for Monday's loss with his decision to let Liriano start the 7th inning in Texas the night before. Liriano was obviously running on fumes by the 6th, and predictably put two runners on with no out in the 7th, which led to the tying run scoring, which led to the 12 inning loss, which blew out the bullpen, which compounded itself with Blackburn's short outing Monday.

Two losses instead of probably 2 wins, if Gardy just puts in Keppel to start the 7th Sunday night. He ended up needing 3 outs from his pen in the 7th anyway, only now it's with 2 runners on instead of starting the inning clean.

I know we complain when pitch count is used to take a starter out of the game, but it's no worse than pitch count being used to leave a (burnt out) starter IN the game. In fact, it's worse.

Jewscott said...

Putting the game on the defense seems a little bit heavy handed to me. There wasn't a ball that dropped on Tuesday night that wouldn't have dropped if Gomez were in the field, unless Gomez suddenly attended the Tris Speaker school of centerfielder positioning. Span may have tracked down Cabrera's double if he were playing right, but that's so last year and you aren't in the game with Cuddyer or Kubel on the bench and a Young/Gomez/Span outfield in the field).

When you have pitchers like Blackburn who rely contact, there's going to be nights like this where the ball falls in between the infielders and the outfielders frequently (And most of the A's singles were what Bert Blyleven would've called duckfarts). The wind blowing out helped both teams offensively as well, and turned a lot of balls into doubles and homeruns that wouldn't have been

We could second guess things all day long. I didn't get the decision to pinch run Gomez for Kubel when Cuddyer was the more important runner. The decision to pinch hit Mauer for Casilla after Redmond grounded into a double play and ended any threat in the 8th. I thought Mijares should have been run out earlier than he was. Cuddyer was safe, but when the ball beats the runner to the base he's going to get called out a majority of the time.

In the end, there's 162 games in a baseball season and it's hard to get too upset over one loss, even if it's as heartbreaking as Monday's was. This was one of those games that's going to get called out if the Twins lose the division, but the Tigers still have the tougher schedule coming down the stretch so let's hope it doesn't come to that.

Re: Punto v. Harris. I tend to think it's choose your poison. It doesn't do very much good to have a shortstop who can make the throw if he can't get to the ball. It doesn't do you much good to have a shortstop who can get to the ball and not make the throw either, though I tend to lean to the latter if Punto can hit just enough.

Anonymous said...

Crede was injured and Mauer caught 12 innings in Texas the night before.

Is Gardenhire in your doghouse?

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