Well, I can’t exactly say that the bats were quiet last night. They pounded out fourteen hits against Balteemore’s pitching staff, and hit starter Brad Bergesen pretty hard. Unfortunately, few of these hits were actually productive, as only four runs scored and the Twins left nine men on base. There were certainly plenty of scoring chances against Bergesen, including a bases-loaded, nobody out situation in the third, but the offense repeatedly failed to drive in any runs. This has been a consistent problem the entire season so far, with Twins hitters often flailing away at pitches outside the strike zone with RISP. The Twins are known for being an aggressive bunch, but pretty much everyone in the lineup is chasing pitches more than they normally would (Except, interestingly enough, for Nick Punto. Punto’s O-swing % has declined a bit, but so has his overall contact percentage). Justin Morneau has been chasing 37.7% of pitches outside the zone, when he normally doesn’t chase more than 30%. Even the almost-frustratingly patient Joe Mauer has gotten into the act, chasing 26.7% of pitches outside the strike zone, when he rarely swings at more than 18% of balls outside the zone. Worse yet, most of the hitters have also seen a decline in the overall contact percentage on balls both inside and outside the zone. Obviously, being a bit too aggressive at the plate, combined with an overall struggle to make contact, will give you the 20th-best run production in the league.
Of course, it would help if the pitching staff would give up less than five runs for a change. Even when the bats managed to give him the lead, starter Glen Perkins would give it right back. And then some. But after surrendering a two-run blast to Aubrey Huff in the third, Perk settled down and retired seven of the next nine batters he faced. Jose Mijares had his first bad outing of the season, in which he surrendered three straight
two-out hits and allowed the winning run to score. But, once again, had the Twins managed to drive in more than one run when they had the bases loaded in the third, there is a good chance that they could have won this one anyway.
I forgot how much fun it is to listen to the broadcasts when the booth is close enough to pick up drunk, screeching O’s fans (who knew that ten people could make so much noise?). Between Bert and Dick and the intoxicated fans, I was ready to shove a Q-Tip into my brain.
- Should Go-Go be sent down?
This has been the subject of heated debate among Twins fans, sort of like the Joba-as-a-starter debate, except with less media coverage. There are certainly some valid arguments on either side. Some have pointed out that Gomez needs regular at-bats to learn plate discipline and he just isn’t going to get it while Cuddy, Span, and Young are hitting somewhat capably. There are others who would argue that sending Go-Go down would be a disaster, since he’s one of the best defensive CFs in the league and the pitching staff will certainly suffer for it.
Go-Go was rushed through the majors with the both the Mets’ and the Twins’ organizations, and it’s possible that this may have stunted his development as a hitter. While there is this perception that the Twins were so eager to have something to show for the Santana trade that they rushed Gomez through before he was ready, it seems more likely that they just didn’t have any better options at the time. They had just lost Torii Hunter to free agency, Denard Span hadn’t been terribly impressive during ST or his initial call-up last spring, and Jason Pridie (acquired in the Garza trade) projects to be a fourth outfielder at best. And then when Michael Cuddyer went down with numerous unfortunate injuries last year, the Twins kind of had to stick with Go-Go whether they wanted to or not.
As it stands, Gomez really needs more regular playing time in order to develop more discipline at the plate, and he just isn’t going to get it with the big-league club. He isn’t happy with his diminished role and a player with his potential certainly deserves more than to be a fourth outfielder. This isn’t an easy decision to make, as sending Go-Go down will significantly cut down the range of the outfield defense (which is obviously not a good thing with all of the fly ball pitchers on the staff), but it’s better than simply allowing him to languish on the bench.
- I actually kind of feel bad for Carlos Silva
Well, sort of. It’s tough to feel much empathy for someone who makes so much money while being so terrible at his job. But it has to be a huge blow to a guy’s self-confidence to be demoted to the bullpen, especially after signing a huge, $48 million contract a couple of years ago. M’s fans have been understandably frustrated with Silva, whose bloated 8.48 ERA and repeated failure to pitch even kind of effectively certainly aren’t worth the money Seattle is paying him, and haven’t been shy about heaping abuse on him, either. But I’m not sure what they were expecting from the guy when they signed him in the first place. It isn’t as though he’s ever been particularly dominant; the only year he posted an ERA under 4.00 was in 2005 and his WHIP has been consistently abysmal. He’s a sinkerballer whose sinking fastball often fails to sink (Remember the 2004 ALDS? That was fun). Most Twins fans were hoping that some GM would be dumb enough to outbid the Twins for his services, and Bill Bavasi certainly didn’t disappoint.
To Silva’s credit, though, he realizes that his poor performance isn’t going to cut the mustard and has been doing everything the team has asked of him to try to improve. He’s lost weight, he’s worked on his pitches, but so far has little to show for it in the way of results. If anything, he’s getting hit even harder this year. Maybe a demotion to the ‘pen is precisely what poor Carlos needs to get back to being the mediocre fifth starter he used to be. If nothing else, maybe it will get some of the angry M’s fans off his back.
The Wild will probably make a decision regarding their new GM sometime soon (maybe in the next ten days). Certainly all of the known interviewees ar
e good candidates, and I could live with any of them (pleaseletitbefletcherpleaseletitbefletcherbutmcnabwouldprollybeoktoo). And thank God the John Ferguson rumors have been put to rest, or I would be back on the ledge with the scissors.
Speaking of which, give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld. So I can sigh eternally.
- Scott Baker manages to not give any home runs, Twins lose anyway
Scott Baker, who has had a lot of trouble keeping the ball in the park in his first two starts, had what was his most successful start of the season against the Rays last night (though he still surrendered four runs on six hits). Things got off to a rough start when he gave up two runs in the first (after he had retired the first two batters he faced). But then he settled down and retired ten straight batters before running into trouble again in the fifth. All in all, it wasn’t a terrible outing, as Baker struck out seven and walked only one, and his pitches had a lot more movement than in his previous starts, but in the end it just wasn’t good enough. Baker’s recent struggles, coupled with the fact that his mechanics were so awful, led to some speculation that he might be hiding an injury (he didn’t want to go on the DL in the first place). However, it seems as though his mechanics have been causing problems before his issues with shoulder stiffness (he gave up a league-leading nine homers during ST), and that perhaps these mechanical issues were what led to his shoulder issues in the first place.
Although the young pitching staff has had its share of struggles early on, it isn’t the starting pitching that concerns me. While all five of them might not exactly be Cy Young winners, they are a lot better than their overall records would indicate. However, the offense, or lack of it, is something to be concerned about. The Twins struggled to do much of anything against Jeff Niemann, who for his part, wasn’t all that impressive. They had runners on base with less than two outs in each of the first three innings, and yet each time failed to drive in a single run. Which wouldn’t be so bad, but this has really been a problem for the lineup (well, at least for the hitters not named Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel, anyway).
Even though Morneau and Kubel both struck out swinging against Niemann with RISP, it’s difficult to get too frustrated with them since both have been essentially carrying the offense. Actually, all of the left-handed hitters in the lineup (and switch-hitter Jose Morales) have been hitting pretty well. The righy bats, however, are a much different story. Outfielders Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Gomez are struggling, with Cuddy batting a miserable .208/.275/.306 and Go-Go an anemic .195/.250/.293. Delmon Young has been a bit more successful, batting .255/.296/.333, but his focus on trying to pull the ball more has led to a lot more double-plays. The crowded outfield situation might be part of the problem, since only Cuddyer has seen much regular playing time (though he hasn’t exactly benefited from it). All of this depth in the outfield was supposed to be one of the team’s major strengths this season, but except for Denard Span, none of them have been very productive at the plate, and two of them are mediocre defensively at best.
While Joe Crede has only twelve hits in 66 plate appearances, half of those have been for extra bases and three have been home runs. Crede was always more of a power hitter with the White Sox and never really hit for average, so it will be interesting to see if his career numbers hold up outside of U.S. Cellular field. Right now, the Twins are 9-11 and in fourth place in the AL Central. While it is still very early in the season, the Twins should be concerned about the lack of production from all of the right-handed hitters in the lineup. They may be blessed with four very good left-handed hitters (Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, and Span), but these four can’t carry the offense by themselves. For now, with such huge holes in the lineup and no major moves in the works, a fourth-place finish looks to be about right.
- You can’t spell V-E-Z-I-N-A without B-A-C-K-S-, dang it
On a non-baseball related note Niklas Backstrom, Boston’s Tim Thomas, and Columbus’ Steve Mason are all finalists for the Vezina trophy. While none are certainly terrible choices, they are a bit controversial since they do play for teams that implement a defense-oriented system (allegedly, more on that in a minute). Oh, I know there are some people who would disagree with me on this, but when you look into the numbers and examine the season in general, Backs is really the most deserving of the three.
While it’s true that Mason and Thomas have both had very good years, and that both have led their teams to the Stanley Cup playoffs, Backs is the only goaltender who has ranked consistently in the top five in GAA, save percentage, wins, and shutouts all season. And while he plays for a team that supposedly plays stifling defense, that certainly wasn’t the case this season. Niklas Backstrom faced 2,059 shots this year, second only to Calgary’s Miikka Kiprussoff (who saw 2,155), and yet he still put up a stellar 2.33 GAA and .923 save percentage. Considering all of the horrible defensive plays made in front of him on a regular basis, and the overall lack of offensive support (the Wild finished near the bottom of the league in goals scored), Backs had to perform a miracle almost every single night. And considering that his mediocre team wasn’t officially eliminated from playoff contention until after the second-to-last game of the season, it’s clear that Backs has been more valuable to his team than any other goaltender in the league.
And he did all that while playing with an injured left hip. But I guess if that isn’t convincing enough, maybe this is:
I am inclined to agree with Mike Pagliarulo (and Jen) on that one. Yes, I am also a football fan. And as regular readers of this blog are well aware, I absolutely loooooove hockey. But baseball is definitely the greatest game there is. Because unlike those other sports, there is no clock to kill any potential rally. In baseball, there’s always hope for a comeback. Which is precisely what the Twins did last night. Down two runs in the bottom of the ninth, with two out and nobody on, the Twins battled back and scored three runs off of
Brendan Morrow (oops, Miguel Batista. That’s the kind of sloppy journalism you are bound to produce when you are very sleepy or heavily intoxicated or both) for their first victory of the season.
This was hardly the best game the Twins have ever played. Nick Blackburn was shaky in his five innings, giving up four runs on eight hits while walking three and only striking out one. There were a couple of misplays in the outfield by Delmon Young and Denard Span that certainly didn’t help, either. The offense struggled to do much against Erik Bedard for most of the night. It looked as though the Twins were about to drop their second straight game against the Mariners. But the Twins managed to score three runs off of him in the fifth, to pull themselves within one. Well, until Luis Ayala gave up another run in the top of the ninth, anyway. The game looked like it was over when Seattle closer Brendan Morrow got two quick outs in the bottom of the ninth. The free-swinging Carlos Gomez was coming to the plate, and fans were already starting head for the exits. But he drew a walk (!) after one of the best ABs he’s ever had, and that seemed to really rattle Morrow, who struggled to find the plate after that. Seattle’s self-proclaimed closer then proceeded to walk the bases full, and was pulled in favor of Batista. Denard Span drove in a run on an infield hit (Span, who had an awful spring, was 3-for-5 with a pair of RBI singles). Alexi Casilla then smacked a two-run single to center field and that was the ballgame. Casilla, by the way, is getting really good at this whole walk-off-win thing.
Mike Redmond is still questionable after injuring his groin while running out a double in the series opener. This was right after he got hit in the neck with a broken bat. It just wouldn’t be a ballgame if Redmond didn’t get hit in the head with something. He was kept out of last night’s game as sort of a precautionary
measure and will be re-evaluated today. Apparently the injury isn’t that serious and Redmond has declared himself ‘ready to catch’ if necessary, but we shall see. Groin injuries can be one of those lingering things that affects a guy the entire season.
Apparently I’m not the only one who likes the throwback jerseys, either (and judging by that last pic, somebody else does, too). Although, I’m starting to wonder if it’s really such a good idea to emulate a team that lost 102 games.
I do like what I’ve seen from Joe Crede so far. Not so much at the plate (though he did hit a double in the big three-run fifth inning), but he has tremendous range at third. This isn’t something I’m used to seeing, as the last decent third baseman the Twins had was Corey Koskie. So forgive me for getting a little excited at the prospect that the infield defense might not suck this year.
The Twins really should win tonight’s game, though. Kevin Slowey (aka the new Brad Radke) is on the mound against Carlos Silva. Silva has apparently lost a lot of weight and did put together a decent ST campaign, but he’s still prone to having a total meltdown out on the mound if things aren’t going his way.
- No, no, you had it right the first time
I think I know what I’m going to call the
Pale Hose White Sux White Sox from now on: