Thursday, April 29, 2010

Predictably Punchless

In past years, Twins fans have grown used to seeing a lineup trotted out on "getaway days" (usually Thursday or Sunday afternoon games) that featured several marginal backup players and inspired little confidence. On days like this, one could take a quick glance at the starting lineup and guess that a loss was in store.

This season, the Twins offense has featured enough depth that the team has been able to put forth a relatively imposing lineup even with a few regulars on the bench. That wasn't the case today, as soreness kept Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and J.J. Hardy all out of the lineup. As a result, the starting nine for the Twins' series finale in Detroit featured Drew Butera at catcher, Luke Hughes at third and Brendan Harris at short, with Delmon Young and Jason Kubel manning the corner outfield spots. Even the big left-handed boppers that remained in the middle of the lineup -- Jason Kubel and Jim Thome -- had tough match-ups with a lefty on the mound. From both an offensive and defensive standpoint, it was the worst group that Ron Gardenhire has trotted out all year, making it tough to see how the Twins would be able to come away with a win.

As expected, the Twins came out with little firepower in a 3-0 loss. Despite drawing a favorable pitching match-up with the erratic Dontrelle Willis on the mound, the Twins couldn't come close to mounting a rally, managing just four singles in the game and accumulating only one at-bat with a runner in scoring position. The characteristically patient Twins' lineup drew just one walk against Willis while fanning six times. In the few occasions where they managed to get runners aboard, they killed themselves with double plays. It was a brutal offensive effort that wasted a strong performance from Carl Pavano, who hurled an eight-inning complete game and allowed only two earned runs but took the hard-luck loss.

After losing two of three to the Tigers, the Twins have finally lost a series, making them the last team in the majors to do so. That's certainly nothing to be ashamed of, nor is being shut out for the first time on April 29 (last year, the Twins' first shutout game in their fourth game).

Butera, who went 0-for-2 and set up the Tigers' first run with an errant throw on Austin Jackson's first-inning stolen base attempt, has indeed looked brutal at the plate, but those who raised a huff about his presence on the Opening Day roster have been made to look silly as he's started only three of the Twins' first 22 games while drawing a total of just nine plate appearances. One could make a valid argument that Butera might be the worst hitter in all the majors, but -- as any rational thinker could have expected -- he's had minimal impact on the team's fortunes thus far. With Wilson Ramos looking overmatched against Triple-A pitching so far, it's certainly looking like the Twins made the right choice in bringing Butera north as Mauer's back-up. That being said, Jose Morales' return from injury couldn't come soon enough.

10 comments:

neckrolls said...

The impact that Butera has had is that he's compelled the Twins to start Mauer behind the plate 2-3 more times in the first 22 games than they would have if they had a backup they had confidence in. If Mauer's overuse here results in a decline in his performance later this year or early in the life of his lengthy contract, this roster decision won't look so great. One month of this probably isn't going to kill him, but it would be smart to get him games off more regularly from here on out. If the Twins need someone other than Butera to make them comfortable doing that, then they need to make that move.

Anonymous said...

Nick,

This team is over-rated, over-hyped, and looked over-matched against a pitcher who is on the last legs of his major league career. Blame this loss on Gardy for sitting, Mauer, Morneau, and Hardy all on the same day. This team can't afford to give games away and we did so today. The bottom line is this offense sucks and could not come up with a clutch hit to save their lives and it might not get better like everyone believes it will.

Anonymous said...

I still contend that Jack is a satirical genious.

Josh said...

This offense sucks? It's scoring at a higher rate than last season (when it was one of the better ones in the league) despite the lack of hitting with RISP (and utterly anemic hitting with the bases loaded). The latter 2 will both come back up; what we're seeing right now is a hiccup, a statistical anomaly. This offense only sucks when you take the best hitters out of it.

The team overall is still in really good shape. Liriano looks to be back, the hitters are showing a lot more patience at the plate, the bullpen looks to be solid (if not always well-used) and the rotation is around where is was last season (which is to say, decent with a few questions).

Steven Ellingson said...

Anon,

if that is true, wow. Ranks up there with some of the best of the Onion.

Anonymous said...

Josh,

Everything written about the Twins has been positive by most bloggers but me. It is not satirical genious, because I'm quite frankly not that smart. It is a fact. The team has failed to live up to all the early hype. Offense stinks with RISP and really stinks with the bases loaded. People may believe it will even out in the end but sometimes over a 6 month season that might not happen. Two pitchers in the 5-man rotation are terrible right now and to be honest, I could careless if Baker wins 15 games after we are 10 games out of first place. We need wins now when it matters. The bullpen has been good but needs to release Crain-Wreck and that will not happen for another one month minimum because the bras do not wantb to admit they are wrong about him.

Gardy just threw away a great pitching performance yesterday because he filled out the lineup card with minor league players who should not be in the majors. I gurantee you one thing Pavano can't be happy about what happened yesterday. Gardy burned him.

Travis said...

Jack,

While I share some of your opinions, I don't think we can write this offense off this early in the season. The sample size is just too small. We can talk more at the all-star break when everyone has 200-300 plate appearances. Also, Mauer fouled a ball of his foot earlier this week and had to have his big toe lanced to relieve the pressure (The reason he wasn't playing). JJ has been battling some turf toe and I believe this is causing a bit of his frustrations at the plate (The reason he wasn't playing). Morneau of course has the back issue that I'm glad they're being extremely careful with (The reason he wasn't playing). This offense, even without those three, should've been able to put up a few runs, but it just wasn't in the cards.

I know every game counts (I've been around the last few years), but you're going to have games where you just look flat. It's unavoidable when you play 162. Give them a break. We are still 8-5 on the road which if I remember last year correctly, is definitely a step in the right direction.

Now to take 2 of 3 from the Indians and head home where the players can enjoy the comforts of Target Field and get healed back up.

Nick N. said...

The team has failed to live up to all the early hype.

They're 14-8, in first place, and they just lost a series for the first time all year. They've been fine.

Anonymous said...

Jack,

The team is on pace to win 103 games. They are 14-8. You must have had some pretty high expectations if they are not living up to them for you.

He sat those players because of injury, not a hunch. I don't see how you can fault Gardy for his players not being healthy enough to play.

Pretty sure you are just stirring the pot but you never know on the internet.

This is baseball. The season is long. Usually the Twins suck out of the gate. To be one of the best teams in baseball so far record-wise is something we should be happy about.

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