Normally I would be upset when the Twins lose five games in a row, especially when they blow about a million chances to win. But not this time. No, I think getting swept in Yankee Stadium, and now getting blown out by the White Sox, is actually a good thing. Yes I do. Because now the front office has been forced to confront the fact that this team just isn’t going to contend the way it is currently constructed. And um, I was going to post a rant about the failure of the front office to upgrade both the bullpen and the middle infield during the off-season, and how they like to wait until it’s too late to try to make any improvements, but they’ve just made a
big move that changes everything ok, that’s a bit hyperbolic, but it is a change that makes me rewrite what I was going to write in the first place.
While the Twins might not actually have the worst bullpen in the league, this group of relievers is still pretty bad. In particular, the relief corpse has been terrible at allowing inherited runners to score. And apparently the FO has gotten sick of it too, because lefty Craig Breslow has been claimed off waivers by Oakland to clear space on the roster for Anthony Swarzak (more on Swarzak in a minute). While it’s no secret that Breslow has been struggling this year, the move is still a bit surprising. I thought the Twins would give him more time to turn things around, especially considering how well he pitched last year, but Breslow evidently became expendable once Sean Henn was called up right after Perkins was placed on the 15-day DL. Henn was once a promising prospect for the Yankees who’s never managed to stick in the major leagues, and he probably won’t serve as anything more than a LOOGY at this point. Still, the Twins haven’t even had an effective LOOGY since losing Dennys Reyes to free agency. At any rate, pitchers like Breslow are always available on the waiver wire, so it isn’t a huge loss even if Henn doesn’t exactly work out either (and after giving up a couple of runs to the Pale Hosers last night, this is entirely possible).
Swapping Henn for Breslow doesn’t exactly solve the problem, though, as the Twins are essentially trading one soft-tossing lefty with control issues for another. But more help might be on the way, perhaps in the form of Anthony Swarzak. Swarzak has been called up from Rochester to replace Glen Perkins in the rotation, and he’s been one of the most intriguing pitching prospects in the organization (there’s are a couple of good articles about Swarzak here and here). Through his first seven starts for the Red Wings this season, he’s posted a 2.25 ERA with a 32/11 K/BB ratio and 1.159 WHIP. If he impresses during his stint with the major league club, it’s possible he might be kept in the bullpen once Perkins returns from the DL.
By the way, Perkins’ elbow has apparently been bothering him for sometime and is likely the cause of his struggles after his first three starts. He had been hiding the injury in hopes that he could simply pitch through the pain. Obviously this is never a good idea (just ask Francisco Liriano). At the very least his stubbornness and pride has cost the team wins, and he’s lucky to have avoided the worst-case scenario so far. Gosh, with three of his teammates (Liriano, Bonser, Neshek) having faced surgery and serious questions about ever pitching again, you would think Perk would be smarter than that.
- Twins drop first game of series against O’s, 4-1
Ron Gardenhire was visibly angry when the game was finally called off after the fifth inning, and rightfully so. There were no less than four rain delays totaling nearly four hours, and the radar had predicted no larger than a 15-minute window in which to play. Why this game wasn’t called after the first rain delay in the third is a mystery. I’m not blaming the weather for the Twins’ poor performance, the rain had nothing to do with the pitching staff surrendering a couple of home runs and the offense making Brian Bass look like Mariano Rivera, but it was obvious that the weather wasn’t going to clear up long enough to play nine innings and the game should have been called much earlier.
At least Craig Breslow didn’t walk anybody! He did surrender a solo homer to Luke Scott on the first pitch, but then allowed only one other hit during his two innings of relief. This is a vast improvement for a guy who had walked nine batters in a little over six innings, but he’s going to have to do better than that if he wants to keep his job in the ‘pen. Sean Henn and Mike Gosling are viewed as possible replacements, but since both have walked an awful lot of batters so far this year, neither one is likely to get the call anytime soon.
I actually expect the Twins to get swept tonight. Glen Perkins is on the mound, and while he’s been one of the most reliable starters in the rotation, he’s also been pitching a lot like the old Glen Perkins more recently. However, I don’t expect him to get much run support either. The Twins will be facing a pitcher they have never seen before, and thus the offense will struggle to do much of anything against him. It really doesn’t matter how effectively or terribly Brad Bergesen pitches tonight, the Twins’ aggressive bats will continually let him off the hook. And if Perkins allows as much as one run, it will probably be enough to secure a Baltimore win.
If you haven’t already, please check out the latest installment of Timeout at the Plate on Tom Walsh’s blog. If you like lots of whining (or schadenfreude, if you happen to be a Chicago sports fan), then you’re in for a treat!
The Bears get Jay Cutler and the Vikings get Brett Farve, that sounds about right. Drew Magary has perfectly summarized how I feel about that.
Between Manny on drugs and the Brett Favre saga, I will have absolutely no reason to watch ESPN for the next couple of months. Of course, as a Twins fan (and hockey fan), it’s not like I had much reason to watch tWWL in the first place.
Nice try, Dave, but I don’t think Bill Smith is that dumb. At least I hope not.
Also, I added a new Red Wings blog to my blogroll. Besides the official website and Jim Mandelaro’s blog, there isn’t much out there in terms of Wings coverage and this one is pretty good. It’s also got video from some of the games.
- If I pretend the seventh inning didn’t happen, the Twins win this one, right?
Scott Baker was cruising along, pitching a no-hitter through six innings. The offense, with the help of some Kansas City errors, managed to scratch out four runs against tough right-hander Gil Meche. It looked as though the Twins were about to win their third straight series, and put the ugliness of last night’s game behind them (more on that in a minute). But then all hell broke loose in the seventh. Scott Baker gave up a single to lead off batter Willie Bloomquist. Then another single, then a three-run homer to Jose Guillen. Baker failed to record a single out in the inning, and when it was all over, Kansas City had a 5-4 lead that it wouldn’t relinquish. R.A. Dickey would allow two more runs, and the Royals’ bullpen would hang on to beat the Twinkies 7-5.
Yes, five runs on five hits in one inning is pretty bad, but Baker has shown steady improvement in his past couple of starts and his very good 16/5 K/BB suggests that he’s on the right track. Before he completely fell apart in the seventh, Baker dominated the Royals throughout the entire game, giving up only one walk. I’m not sure if he just lost focus after surrendering the single to Bloomquist, or if he was starting to get tired (Baker has never been terribly efficient and had already thrown about ninety pitches going into the seventh), but this is still a vast improvement for a guy who was surrendering home runs at the rate of once per inning, all of which came with runners on. His ERA has now dropped to 9.15, which is pretty good considering that it was as high as 12.46 after his implosion against the Red Sox in Boston.
I have mentioned before that the Royals will be a good team this year, but this whole series had less to do with the Royals’ talent and everything to do with the Twins’ ineptitude. If it were not for some poor pitching performances in this game, and some crucial defensive mistakes in Saturday night’s game, the Twins would have swept Kansas City and moved into first place. If nothing else, they would have taken two out of three and remained only a half game back. But now they’re 12-13, and are two games behind the first place Royals. Which is precisely where they were before this homestand began.
- Defensive miscues and a horrendous bullpen cost Twins in Saturday’s 10-7 loss
Saturday night’s game against the Royals was about the ugliest I have ever seen. Officially there were four errors between the two teams, but unofficially, well, I lost count of all of the misplays in the field. Brian Bannister, who did struggle a bit, didn’t really get much help from the defense behind him. Only three of the six runs he surrendered were actually earned. Glen Perkins, on the other hand, was terrible on his own, giving up five earned runs on ten hits. For the third start in a row, Perk reverted into his old bad habits and started throwing a steady stream of fastballs whenever he got into trouble. And the Royals made him pay, chasing him out after six mediocre innings. The Perkins that got off to such a good start earlier in the season, the one that went at least eight innings in three starts and gave up only four runs, changed speeds effectively and generally did a good job keeping hitters off balance. I wonder whatever happened to that Perk and if we’ll ever see him again this season.
After last night, Ron Gardenhire has finally decided he’s seen enough of Alexi Casilla’s poor play and has benched the second baseman, at least for one game. Casilla made two crucial errors in the second game of the series, both of which likely cost the Twins the game. In the seventh, with the Twins clinging to a one-run lead, he failed to cover second on a steal attempt by Willie Bloomquist, who later scored on a single by Billy Butler to tie the game. The Royals untied the game in the very next inning, when Casilla misplayed a routine ground ball that would have ended the inning but instead allowed Alberto Callaspo to score from third. Alexi tends to be an emotional guy, and sometimes he lets his struggles at the plate affect his concentration in the field. Casilla was one of the big question marks coming into the season, as he’s struggled at both AAA and the major league levels before putting together a successful 2008 campaign with the big club. Still, Gardy doesn’t think that Casilla’s hot start with the Twins last year was a fluke, and is holding out hope that a day off is all the young second baseman will need to get back on track.
I don’t really know what to say about Craig Breslow. He’s now walked nine batters in 6.2 innings, and walked the bases full in the eleventh before he was pulled in favor of R.A. Dickey. Breslow was very effective last season, but seems to have lost his release point and Ron Gardenhire has now officially put the lefty on notice. The organization has been losing patience with Breslow, whose days are likely numbered since Jose Mijares has been lights out since his call-up and Anthony Slama has been pretty impressive with AA New Britain. It’s kind of a shame, too, because I started to really like the guy. Still, I guess this is probably why he’s bounced around between four different organizations in his five major-league seasons. But hey, at least he still has that medical school thing to fall back on.
- Bruce Boudreau is probably glad that he decided to bench Jose Theodore
Not bad for a rookie:
- Red Sox end Twinkies’ perfect Grapefruit League record
Today’s game against the Sox was actually a very close pitcher’s duel, well until Matt Guerrier came in to pitch the sixth that is. He promptly walked the first two batters he faced, and Julio Lugo reached on an error. Reigning MVP Dustin “The Jockey” Pedroia then drove in the first run on a sac fly. YOOOOUUUUK!!! hit the game-winning solo homer off of Craig Breslow in the seventh, but Breslow quickly regained his composure and didn’t allow another hit.
Besides those two notable exceptions, the Twins’ pitching was pretty impressive today. Kevin Slowey looked as though he’d been pitching all winter and was perfect in his two innings of work. He recorded only one strikeout, but it was a big one against David Ortiz. Glen Perkins pitched a shutout in his three innings of relief, allowing three hits but no walks and striking out two. Philip Humber was much better in his second relief appearance, only allowing one hit and no walks.
The Twins couldn’t muster much offense against the Sox, with Carlos Gomez recording the only hit through six innings (it was an infield hit, naturally). Justin Morneau was limited to a single, and Joe Crede still doesn’t look comfortable at the plate. I’m not too concerned about the lack of production from some of the Twins’ heavy hitters just yet, as it’s still very early in the spring. The closer it gets to Opening Day, however, the more anxious I will become.
“I just hope we can win a game”, indeed. The Wild aren’t technically out of the playoff picture just yet, but they might as well be. They lost another must-win game against Edmonton last night, and neither the goaltending nor the defense were particularly sharp. The
Mild Wild are currently in the midst of a six-game, ten-day road trip against Western Conference foes that will determine if they will even make the playoffs this year. Up next are some very difficult games against Vancouver (have I mentioned how much I hate the Canucks? Because I do) and San Jose. Good thing my Mom has decided against instituting a swear jar, although sports and my slow-as-molasses-in-Janurary internet connection are really the only things that make me use bad words. And that’s probably often enough to buy a new car.
Pitchers and catchers officially report to Spring Training on Monday, and some players have already showed up at Ft. Myers so I’d like to finish my analysis of the Twins roster this season. Here is a look at the relief corps:
- Luis Ayala, RHP: Obviously the Twins got tired of watching other teams sign quality relief pitchers at bargain prices and decided to get in on the action. Unfortunately, they seem to have forgotten about the “quality” part and simply went for “cheap” when they inked Ayala to a one-year $1.3 million deal last week. Ayala was once a dominant relief pitcher until he had Tommy John surgery in 2005, since then he’s posted an ERA+ of 77 and a 4.47 FIP. I do actually think that Ayala is a better pitcher than his record indicates, but I don’t think he’s the set-up man the Twins are looking for. Actually, this signing throws the futures of Boof Bonser and Philip Humber with the team into question, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
- Boof Bonser, RHP: The signing of Ayala leaves little room on the roster for Bonser, who is similar to Ayala in that they are both righties who have struggled mightily in their past couple of seasons. I have already written a detailed piece on Bonser here, and unless the Twins are planning on carrying 13 pitchers or trading him, they might just end up losing him for nothing. Which would be a shame, since I think Boof could be a dominant relief pitcher if he could just accept his role in the bullpen.
- Craig Breslow, LHP: Breslow was claimed off waivers from the Indians early last season, and he’s been a steal so far. He put up a stellar 249 ERA+ and 2.96 FIP last season, and has taken over Dennys Reyes’ former role as the situational lefty. He doesn’t throw hard, but he managed to limit lefties to a .183/.230/.232 line last season. Although he has pitched well in some big spots, he doesn’t have enough success against righties to earn the set-up role (though he could probably platoon with Jesse Crain).
Other interesting things about Breslow: he graduated from Yale with a degree in biochemistry and molecular biophysics in 2002. He has his own foundation, the Strike 3 Foundation, dedicated to childhood cancer research (his sister Leslie is a 15 year survivor of thyroid cancer). He’s also nicknamed the “smartest man in baseball” by the local beat writers.
- Jesse Crain, RHP: Crain struggled a bit last season, posting a 113 ERA+ and 3.98 FIP in 66 relief appearances. Considering that he was coming off of shoulder surgery in the offseason, he actually pitched fairly well. I do think Crain will be better this year, and will probably share eighth-inning duties with either Craig Breslow or Jose Mijares.
He kind of looks like an evil elf, too.
- Matt Guerrier, RHP: I have already written about Guerrier here. I think that if Matty G can return to his previous role in the sixth and seventh innings, he will be fine. Fatigue seemed to be a major factor in his decline last season, and the signing of Ayala will at least take some of the pressure off of him.
- Philip Humber, RHP: Humber came over as part of the Johan Santana trade, and so far has been underwhelming. He was once a very promising pitching prospect until he had Tommy John surgery in 2005 and hasn’t been the same pitcher since. Humber pitched 136 innings in AAA Rochester last season, and posted a 4.56 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. Needless to say, he didn’t exactly nail his September audition when he gave up 6 earned runs on 11 hits in five appearances with the Twins. The signing of Ayala also puts Humber’s future with the club in jeapordy, since he is out of options the Twins will either have to trade him or simply release him.
- Bobby Korecky, RHP: Korecky has been the closer for the Rochester Red Wings, and hasn’t been too bad in his few appearances with the Twins. Last season he posted an ERA+ of 88 and FIP of 5.28 in 17.7 innings pitched, which is pretty average. However, with the signing of Ayala, there probably won’t be room for Korecky on the roster. He’ll most likely start the season in AAA, and will only be called up in case of injury or should Ayala turn out to be a bust.
- Jose Mijares, LHP: Mijares is the only other left-handed pitcher in the Twins bullpen. He is a very intriguing prospect and posted a sparkling 465 ERA+ and 2.16 FIP in ten appearances with the Twins last season. However, his minor league record certainly doesn’t indicate that he will continue to be as brilliant. More troubling, Mijares seems to lack maturity which could be a problem if he has to pitch himself out of a jam (he didn’t have such a problem during his few relief appearances with the Twins). According to this report, he was kicked off of his Venezuelan winter league team after a disagreement with the manager. It would be a shame for someone who shows so much promise, as Mijares does, to waste his talent simply because he can’t get his temper under control (hmm, shades of Matt Garza?). He is hardly a lock to make the team out of Spring Training and I would expect him to start the season in AAA.
- Joe Nathan, RHP: There isn’t much to say about Joe Nathan, other than that he is one of the best closers in baseball. And I’m not the only one who thinks so, either. Despite having six blown saves last season (three of which were because of defensive miscues) Nathan was his usual, nasty self, posting a 305 ERA+ and a 2.79 FIP. There was a period of a couple of weeks, mostly during that horrendous 14-day road trip during August, in which he really struggled. Nathan was having trouble with his command, and just generally looked lost up there on the mound. Luckily he rediscovered his dominant form and pitched brilliantly down the stretch.
- Pat Neshek, RHP: Neshek has been the Twins’ primary set-up man for the past three seasons, and has been a very a dominant one at that. Unfortunately, he’s going to miss the entire 2009 season with Tommy-John surgery and it’s still unclear who is going to replace him in the meantime (or if he’ll even be back). At least now he’ll have more time to write on his blog, be a vegan, and trade baseball cards.
Like the outfield, the bullpen is hardly set. Although most of the relievers are guaranteed spots, it will be interesting to see what the Twins decide to do with Humber and Bonser. Both are out of options, and I would really hate to lose either one without getting anything in return. The Twins once had the best bullpen in the league, but the ‘pen has struggled mightily as of late. While I would be extremely surprised if this particular group is as dominant as the one in ’06, they should be better than last year’s relief corps(e).
Last in the series: the catchers