- Nick Punto (!) drives in winning run against Tigers
Ok, first a bit of a rant. Today’s game was
nationally regionally broadcast on Fox. Probably only 0.001% of the country actually saw it, since most of the rest of America got the Dodgers/Whoever game. Fine. Whatever. I don’t care if the entire nation gets to see the Twins game, or what channel it’s on, as long as I get to see it on my tv (and I did). What really drove me nuts, however, is when Fox cut from the Twins game to the Dodgers game just as Miguel Cabrera was stepping into the batter’s box because they felt it was so goddam important to show us Manny Ramirez’s first home run since coming back from his suspension. News flash Fox: I am a Twins fan, I don’t give a sh!t about Manny Ramirez. I haven’t given a sh!t about Manny since he left the Indians, and now that he’s no longer in the American League, I care even less. I want to watch Francisco Liriano pitch! I haven’t been able to say that very often this year! And I’m sure the Tigers fans watching the game really wanted to see Miguel Cabrera hit, not Manny. Worse yet, Cabrera was on base when the mouth-breathers at Fox finally switched back to the Twins-Tiggers game, and we were left wondering how in the hell that happened. Yes, the broadcasters later replayed Cabrera’s single to right, and yes, nothing really important happened in the game while they cut away, but that isn’t the point. I am tired of the mainstream media acting like the only things that matter in baseball happen to the three largest markets in baseball. I realize that a Twins-Tigers game probably isn’t that exciting to 99% of the country, but it is pretty f*cking important to Twins and Tigers fans. It’s more important to us than whatever the hell Man-Ram or A-Rod or whatever other superstar-we’re-supposed-to-care-about-because-he-plays-in-a-large-market is doing. Besides, ESPN will show the same Manny highlights every five minutes, so it’s not like we would never get to see it or anything. Let us watch the battle for the AL Central in peace!
Whew, I feel much better now. Frankie was great in this game, although a late-inning near-meltdown prevented him from getting the win. He shut out teh Kittehs through six innings, striking out seven and only walking one. Unfortunately, F-bomb ran into trouble in the seventh when he surrendered a three-run homer to Twin-killer Magglio Ordonez, allowing the Tiggers to briefly take the lead. He did settle down after that though, and managed to finsh the inning without any further damage. This is obviously a huge step forward for a guy who would completely melt down whenever he got himself in trouble, and while Frankie might not be the same pitcher he was before TJ surgery, he should be better than his 5.49 ERA.
Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer both homered in this game, giving the Twins an early 2-0 lead. The 2006 MVP had a very good afternoon at the plate, going 4-for-4 and driving in the tying run, besides hitting his 20th homer of the year. But even the Mountie was overshadowed by Nick Punto (of all people), who provided the game-winning hit: a bloop single that drove in Matt Tolbert and put the Twins ahead 4-3 in the eighth. You know, Punto’s been hitting .286/.545/.286 so far this month, so I’m going to stop making fun of him for now. He still isn’t exactly earning his $4 million this season, but at least he isn’t as much of a liability in the bottom of the order.
- Twins drop first game of series in sixteen innings
Today’s win was particularly sweet because Friday night’s game was no fun for Twins fans. Kevin Slowey was awful, and as it turns out, is injured. Slowey has looked like he might be hurt in his past few starts so this
news isn’t surprising, though the cause of the injury is somewhat
suspect (a line drive from a year ago, really?). The Slow Man has been uncharacteristically wild, walking five batters in his past three starts and, most tellingly, hitting two (he had four hit batsmen all season last year). Anthony Swarzak has been recalled from Rochester in the meantime. Swarzak is hardly an ace, but he’s pitched well enough to be a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter and should at least serve as a competent fill-in while Slowey is on the DL.
By the way, this is what it looks like whenever Slowey issues a walk.
The Twins managed to tie the game in the sixth (and later in the fourteenth), but it was all in vain. Teh Kittehs scored three runs off of R. A. Dickey in the sixteenth inning, and it would be enough to hold off the Twins. For the Twinkies, this game was lost in the eleventh, when the game was still tied at 7 apiece and Michael Cuddyer came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. The Tigers intentionally walked Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau to pitch to Cuddy, a move that would prove to be brilliant on Jim Leyland’s part. Cuddy struck out on three pitches, chasing a pitch well outside the zone for strike three. I actually gave up on the Twinks after that, something I pretty much never do. I hate to do it, it makes me feel like a bad fan. This is baseball, after all, and there’s always a chance for a miracle. But when Cuddy essentially screwed up their best chance to win the game, it was pretty obvious that the Twins just didn’t want to win it. They simply managed to
torment their fans delay the inevitable for five more innings.
As of tonight, Baseball Prospectus has the Twins finishing the season
with 83.9 wins and the Tigers with 84.3. In other words, the division
is there for the taking so FOR CHRISSAKES JUST GO AHEAD AND TAKE IT
My hard drive is now fixed and seems to be working just fine. I’m really glad this happened now and not during the semester, since it would be very, very difficult to get any work done without my laptop. I’m also really glad I decided to back up all of my important files, otherwise I would have lost everything and would basically be screwed. In the meantime, a lot of important stuff happened while I was gone:
The Twins win the series!
I mean the weekend series against the Cardinals. You know, I too find the fact that St. Louis is so unapologetically a baseball town to be quite endearing. I do like football, and I am a Vikings fan, but even I have never understood why the Vikes are so beloved in this town. Unlike the Twins, the Vikings have never won anything important and, if anything, actually have a reputation for choking in big games. They haven’t brought us anything more than shame and embarrassment, and yet people love them more than any other sports franchise in this state. Go figure.
Sadly, the Pioneer Press laid off 11 people, including Twins’ beat reporter Phil Miller. The Press’ Twins’ coverage was pretty minimal at best, now I guess it’ll be non-existent. Which is just one more reason why I have always preferred the Star Tribune.
Justin Morneau homered in three straight games, one of which was this lovely shot that landed in the fountain at Kauffman Stadium. He came out of yesterday’s game against the Royals with a groin injury, but it doesn’t sound too serious and he should be back in the lineup tomorrow night against the Tigers. As of right now, there is no need for a “F*ck! There goes our season!” post.
The Twins actually got pretty banged up during the series finale in Kansas City. Mike Redmond had to come out after he got hit in the arm with a foul tip, and apparently he has a bruised forearm and might be out of commission for a bit. Nick Punto also had to leave the game with back stiffness, after Jose Guillen tried to take him out on a questionable play. Um, Guillen does realize that taking out Punto actually kind of helps the Twins, right?
The Sean Henn experiment is over, let the Brian Duensing experiment begin.
The Wolves sort of did the NBA equivalent of taking a bunch of wide receivers in the draft. Actually, I think that the Wolfies did the right thing, for once. It makes sense for a team as devoid of talent as the Wolves to take the best available talent in the draft, since it will take more than one draft to fill all of the holes on the roster. The Wolves will probably have to address most of their needs through trade, and now they actually have the assets to do so. Of course, if the Wolves are still only winning 25 games five years from now, I will be writing an entirely different post.
Michael Jackson, well, it’s no secret that he had a lot of problems. But if there is a more perfect pop album than Thriller, I have yet to hear it. And it spawned the greatest music video of all time.
Oh, yeah, I guess Minnesota finally has a new senator. Meh. I guess now is as good a time as any to post this video:
- Getting over the .500 mark is just too damn hard
Once again, a starter pitched well enough to get the win, and once again, it was all in vain. Of course, this time Nick Blackburn screwed himself out of the “W” when he surrendered three runs in the bottom of the eighth (with a little help from Michael Cuddyer), allowing Oakland to tie the game. Sean Henn and Matt Guerrier then conspired to give up the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. Had they managed to close out this game, The Twins would have reached the .500 mark for the first time in nearly a month. Instead, the Twinks have fallen to 30-32 and are currently trailing the division-leading Tigers by four games. Oh, and their league-worst road record is now 9-20. Not good.
The bats weren’t exactly hot this afternoon, but the Twins did jump out to an early lead thanks to a three-run homer by Joe Crede. Gosh, that signing is looking better and better every day. Even though Crede’s batting average is a paltry .233, he’s clubbed seven homers in just 81 at-bats and now has ten already on the year. He has been a tad on the injury-prone side (to say the least), but at least his back hasn’t been much of an issue so far (*knocks on wood*). Of course, the organization is probably just trying to protect its investment, so they’ll likely keep him out of the lineup if he isn’t exactly 100%.
Joe Mauer went 1-for-4 and his batting average has now dropped to .410, and is in danger of not being the first player since Ted Williams to hit over .400 in a season. STUPID CHEAP TWINS WHY DIDNT U TAKE MARK PRIOR INSTEAD!!!1!!1!
Not surprisingly, Alexi Casilla was sent back down after Nick Punto was activated from the DL earlier this afternoon. Casilla made a few unfortunate misplays that nearly cost the Twins in Tuesday night’s game, but for the most part he hasn’t been that bad since being recalled from Rochester. He’s been hitting .308/.357/.385, which is a vast improvement over the .167/.202/.231 he was batting before his first demotion. However, Matt Tolbert is more versatile, and Nick Punto obviously isn’t going anywhere with that $8.5 million albatross of a contract he signed in the offseason, so Casilla was sort of the odd man out of the infield. Still, I would rather the Twins send Brian Buscher down instead, since he’s a liability both offensively and defensively and is seldom used anyway (he’s played in all of 32 games this season).
- Twins survive ninth-inning nightmare to beat Oakland 10-5
This game was much, much closer than the final score would indicate. The Twins had a 10-0 lead going into the ninth. Scott Baker had pitched brilliantly, holding the A’s two just two hits in eight innings, and since he’d thrown only 96 pitches, was going for a complete game. And that’s when things got a lot more interesting than they really needed to be. Baker was obviously gassed, and loaded up the bases without recording an out (although he didn’t get any help from Alexi Casilla, more on that in a minute). Jesse Crain was brought in to relieve Scotty, but ran into trouble of his own. After Alexi Casilla again failed to field a routine ground ball that allowed a pair of runs to score, Crain had trouble finding the strike zone. He walked Jack Cust with the bases loaded, and was yanked in favor of Jose Mijares. Mijares struck out Jason Giambi, but then suffered some control issues of his own. He walked the next two batters and forced in a pair of runs. With the score now 10-5, and the bases loaded with only one out, Joe Nathan was brought in to complete what had suddenly become a save situation. He struck out Jack Hannahan and Rajai Davis to end the threat and pick up his 12th save of the year.
I’ll admit that I was nervous before Nathan came in. If there’s any team that can screw up a 10-0 lead in the ninth inning, it is the Twins. They’ve had such awful luck on the road this season and it really wouldn’t have surprised me if they ended up losing 11-10. Besides, it’s not like this kind of thing has never happened before.
The horrorshow that unfolded in the ninth overshadowed what had been a rare quality road win. Not only did Baker pitch a gem, but the bats sprang to life and gave him some much-needed run support. Delmon Young, who’s really been having a rough season both on and off the field, went 2-for-4 with a double (his first extra-base hit since April 22) and three RBI. Justin Morneau made me look silly for suggesting he might be in a slump, going 4-for-5 with a solo home run. Jason Kubel hit a three-run homer. Brendan Harris, who saw his career-high 12 game hitting streak come to an end on Monday night, went 3-for-4 with a walk and a run scored. Even Carlos Gomez, who was put in the leadoff spot when Denard Span was forced to leave the game, came up with a big two-run double (though he also struck out twice). It’s a good thing too, because the Twins needed every single one of those runs to hold off the A’s and get the win.
- Bert Blyleven is an a**
OK, here comes a mini-rant. I’m not really a fan of the Twins’ broadcast team, but I don’t usually complain about them here because it’s a waste of time. The Twins aren’t going to fire Bert and Dick simply because I don’t like them, and rehashing ad nauseum all the dumb things they say is enough to give me a headache. And since most of my readers don’t have to listen to Dick and Bert, they’d probably have no idea what I’m talking about, anyway. But when Blyleven called out Scott Baker during the broadcast for failing to pitch a complete game, I felt I needed to make an exception. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but he made it sound like the ninth-inning collapse was all Scotty’s fault, and it wasn’t (Alexi Casilla had a lot to do with it, but I’ll get to that). Baker was on his game all night: he struck out eight batters, didn’t walk anyone, and allowed only one extra-base hit. He retired fourteen straight batters coming into the ninth inning, and considering how much Baker has struggled this season, his performance had already exceeded expectations. The complete game would simply have been icing on the cake. But Bert ripped into Scotty when he loaded the bases without recording an out (again, not really his fault), accusing him of lacking the mettle to pitch a complete game. Ridiculous. If Baker truly wasn’t interested in trying to finish the game, then what the hell was he doing out there in the first place? It was obvious that he was exhausted, and one would think that if Baker didn’t care about finishing the game himself, he would’ve simply told Gardy that he was done for the night. Scotty didn’t deserve the public tongue-lashing Bert doled out from the safety of the broadcast booth, not after pitching eight innings of two-hit ball. And it will never happen, but Bert owes Scotty an on-air apology. Maybe I should change the title of this blog to “Fire Bert Blyleven”.
Worse yet, there was little rage directed at the true goat of the game: Alexi Casilla. The second baseman booted a couple of routine ground balls, one of which might have been a double-play. If Alexi even made one of those plays, Baker likely would’ve escaped the ninth having pitched a three-hit, maybe one-run complete game. But because of Casilla’s incompetence, Baker had to settle for eight innings and three unearned earned runs. And the Twins had to use their closer to save what should have been a complete blowout (of course, Jesse Crain and Jose Mijares could’ve pitched better, too). Ugh, I never thought I’d be so happy to hear that Nick Punto is coming back soon. I will take a sub-.200 middle-infielder who can make routine plays over a sub-.200 middle-infielder who can’t any day.
First of all, what a strange ending to the series against Boston yesterday. Four ejections in the same inning, with the catchers and managers on both sides getting the boot (Which forced the Twins to play without a DH for the rest of the afternoon. Fun). Seriously, the consensus on both sides is that the umpiring in that game was pretty bad. Which is a shame, since all of the controversy overshadowed what was actually a really good ballgame. Josh Beckett and Anthony Swarzak were locked in a tight pitcher’s duel through the first seven innings, with Beckett eventually outdueling his rookie opponent. Obviously, it’s a bit disappointing that the Twins only managed to split the series against the Sox at the Dome, but it just doesn’t seem like quite as much of a letdown as the previous 1-6 roadtrip. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the Twins had won four games in a row coming into the series, but it doesn’t seem as hard to watch your team lose when they play some good baseball in the process. And the Twins played well for the most part, it just wasn’t enough to win the series against the Sox. It isn’t like the series at Fenway, where the Twins never really bothered to show up in the first place. Or against the Yankees, where they let three games slip away in the later innings (and were then pummeled in the finale). Losses of that sort are enough to prompt a fan suicide watch.
The Twins’ offense has gotten really hot during the month of May, and with 55 home runs coming into tonight’s game against the Rays, has been unusually potent as well (they hit 111 the entire 2008 season). Well, at least the first half of the order has been on fire anyway: Denard Span is batting .303/.412/.404 in the leadoff spot, Joe Mauer is apparently made of magic (seriously, .407/.496/.824 with 11 HR and an OPS of 1.320 in 113 plate appearances), Justin Morneau is leading the AL in OPS and slugging percentage and is in the top five in nearly every other offensive category, and Jason Kubel is having a career year (though he’s still struggling to hit lefties, with an OPS of .429). Joe Crede will probably be good for about 20 homers this year, besides reminding us what it’s like to have an actual third baseman playing third. And even Michael Cuddyer is finally showing the type of power the Twins expected when they signed him to a multiyear deal before the start of last season, batting .330/.417/.670 with 7 homers and an OPS of 1.087 through the end of this month. Whether or not he’ll continue to be so productive remains to be seen (his career numbers suggest otherwise), but if nothing else it could make him a valuable trade piece in the offseason should the Twins fail to make the playoffs for a third straight year.
Unfortunately, not everyone is hitting so well. The bottom of the order, particularly the middle infield, stinks. Earlier this week, Aaron Gleeman compared the offensive production of Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, Brendan Harris, and Matt Tolbert combined to that of national league pitchers, and the infielders just barely came out on top. Of course, it didn’t have to be this way. Before he was injured, Jason Bartlett was batting .373/.418/.596 and providing some good defense for the Rays, which just makes that trade seem so much worse. And Orlando Hudson, who the Twins could’ve signed for half the price of Nick Punto, is hitting .340/.413/.485 with an OPS of .898 for the Dodgers. The failure to upgrade the middle infield, like the failure to address the issues with the bullpen, is coming back to haunt the Twins.
And now Punto is on the 15-day DL
because he sucks with an ouchie groin. Alexi Casilla has been called up from Rochester and Brendan Harris will be the starting SS for the time being. Hopefully the middle infield will now be a little more productive at the plate than NL pitchers.
The Boston media has apparently been fawning over Joe Mauer already, even though he won’t be a free agent until after the 2010 season. It doesn’t bother me if an organization wants to pursue high-profile free agents to address one of its most glaring needs, even if some of those free agents happen to be Twins. Obviously it makes a lot of sense to go after the best talent on the market, especially if you have the resources available to do so. The problem is that Mauer isn’t available yet, and it’s a bit presumptuous to simply assume he will be. While the Twins are notoriously frugal as an organization, they have expressed a desire to keep their native son in a Twins uniform through the prime of his career. SO KEEP YOUR FILTHY HANDS OFF OUR CATCHER YOU F***ING VULTURES. But please help yourselves to one of our
useless gritty, scrappy middle infielders who do the little things right and battle their tails off. No really, I insist.
Hmm, maybe I should add “This Week in F–k You” as a regular feature during the offseason. Of course, most of those posts would probably be directed at Bill Smith, anyway.
The Twins did OK against Seattle starter (and former shoe salesman)
Al Bundy Chris Jakubauskas, hitting only four home runs, three of which came in the fifth inning. Which is the first time they’ve hit three homers in an inning since these guys did it against the White Sox in 2002. Brendan Harris got the mashing started with a three-run shot that just barely cleared the baggy in left-center field, putting the Twins up 5-0 in the second. Then Joe Mauer decided the fifth inning would be a good time to hit his second homer of the season, almost a week to the day that he hit his first. Of course, Justin Morneau wasn’t going be upstaged by a catcher and followed with a solo shot of his own, his seventh dinger of the year. Brian Buscher, who was filling in for Joe Crede and would probably like to see more playing time, then followed with a two-run shot that gave the Twins an eleven-run lead. Which was nice and everything, but the Twins still left plenty of runners stranded on base. Especially in seventh, when they had runners at second and third with only one out, but failed to bring them in. It’s as though they just got lazy, thinking an eleven-run lead was good enough. And, in this case, it was, but clearly the Twins need more practice when it comes to not leaving runners stranded on the base paths.
Scott Baker finally figured out that it’s a lot easier to keep opponents off the scoreboard if you scatter hits instead of bunching them together. And if you keep the ball in the ballpark, that helps a lot, too. Twinkie Town had a great piece on Baker’s struggles after he imploded against Kansas City in his previous start. Baker always had trouble with losing focus once he allowed a runner to reach base, but seemed to put that behind him last season when he went 11-4 with a 3.45 ERA. This season, however, he’s looked a lot more like the old Scott Baker (or Mr. Scott, if you will), the one who would lose focus when he put runners on and would subsequently get hit hard. Pretty much all of the homers he’s given up this year have come with runners on, and most came right after he surrendered a hit. But Dr. Baker was pretty effective through seven innings last night, making adjustments when he needed to, and just generally not getting freaked out if a Mariner happened to reach base. Since he’s been making steady improvement since his return from the DL, it seems likely that we will see more of Dr. Baker than Mr. Scott this year.
Normally I would complain about using the best pitchers in the ‘pen to close blowout games, but neither Jesse Crain nor Joe Nathan had worked much lately, so I’m not going to rake Gardy over the coals. Much. The M’s aren’t dumb, they sure made Twitchy Boy work in the ninth (by the way, he has something, um, interesting written on his glove), hoping to wear him out in case he has an actual save opportunity sometime this weekend. However, the Twins will be facing King Felix tonight, and a resurgent Erik Bedard on Sunday, so I don’t think that will be much of a problem.
Nick Punto was finally benched for last night’s game, since he has as many hits (15) as strikeouts in 79 ABs, and a team that is struggling to score runs as much as the Twins can’t afford to have such a huge black hole in the lineup. While Brendan Harris isn’t as good defensively at short, he’s hitting .321/.350/.464 with two home runs and deserves to have more regular playing time, at least for the time being. Harris tends to be a streaky hitter, so I wouldn’t expect him to put up such good numbers the rest of the year, but while he’s hot and Punto is ice cold, it would make sense to keep penciling him in at short.
- Jason Kubel homers twice in Twins’ 7-1 victory over Cleveland
Jason Kubel apparently wants to remain in the cleanup spot once Mauer returns to the lineup (which might be as early as Tuesday), blasting a pair of home runs in today’s game against the Indians. Kubel’s been on a tear recently, batting .316/.350/.789 in his past five games, with an OPS of 1.139 and, of course, a pair of home runs. And then there was this performance against the Angels. Kubel has certainly been batting like a cleanup-hitter, but leaving him in that spot means that the Twins would have four left-handed hitters in a row. Which actually might not be much of a problem. The M&M boys certainly hit lefties pretty well (though not as well as righties), and lead off hitter Denard Span has had a lot of success against left-handed pitching, too. Still, I can’t imagine Ron Gardenhire going with such a lefty-centric lineup for any extended period of time, so most likely Mauer will bat third and everyone else will move down in the lineup.
- Oh, yeah, Kevin Slowey pitched ok, too
Actually, he was masterful. Painting the corners. Changing speeds. Throwing his breaking pitches whenever he felt like it (even on a 3-2 count), and just doing all of the little things necessary to keep hitters off balance. Slowey shut out the Indians for eight innings, giving up just eight hits and striking out seven. The lone Cleveland run came in the ninth, when Slowey was lifted after giving up three straight hits to load the bases. Luis Ayala came in and surrendered an RBI single to Kelly Shoppach before getting Tony Graffanino to ground into a game-ending double play.
It appears as though the pitching staff has finally figured out the secret to winning games: keeping the ball in the ballpark. Oh, and not walking anybody, either. That always helps. Nick Blackburn pitched a gem of his own against Cleveland on Friday, allowing one run on six hits in seven innings, without walking anybody or giving up a home run. Although, Blackburn kind of owns the Indians, so I guess his performance wasn’t all that surprising. Still, after watching the starters give up what seems like a gazillion home runs the past few weeks (and the most walks in the league so far this season), it was fun to watch a couple of well-pitched ballgames for a change.