This is going to be one craptacular season for Twins fans, but I’m
done whining (for now). I prefer to focus on the good things that
happened this week:
- Giants’ Jonathan Sanchez throws no-hitter
Moments like this are what makes it so much fun to be a baseball
fan. When Sanchez struck out Everth Cabrera looking to complete the
no-hitter, his teammates reacted as though they’d just won the World
Series. Randy Johnson, who’s thrown a few of those in his career and
whose spot Sanchez replaced in the rotation, came up and hugged the
kid. And his dad was moved to tears by his son’s performance.
And if Juan Uribe hadn’t screwed it all up, Sanchez would have thrown a perfect game. At least Aaron Rowand made a great running catch to preserve the no-no.
Of course, now I’m going to completely rain on his parade by pointing out that he no-hit the weakest offense
in all of baseball. Granted, the Padres play in an extreme pitcher’s
park and their numbers will always reflect that, but even when you
account for ballpark factors, this offense is pretty bad (this game was
in San Francisco, anyway). That said, Sanchez’s performance was still
masterful: 11 strikeouts, no walks, only the sixth no-hitter in
history with at least 10 Ks and no walks.
On a semi-related note, Chris Jaffe of the Hardball Times posted a list of the worst (and best)
lineups to ever be no-hit. The Angels team that Eric Milton no-hit was
number five on the list, which isn’t surprising since Milton is the one
of the most unlikely pitchers to ever spin a no-no. The Twins team
that David Wells threw a perfect game against wasn’t terrible enough to make the list, but they were probably about as good as this year’s Padres team.
- Man Muscles is going to participate in the Home Run Derby
Oh, come on, you know he’s going to win it. There isn’t anything he can’t do.
I do think it would be hilarious if Albert Pujols hit 60 bombs in the
first round, only to lose to Mauer because he wore himself out.
- Joe Crede has already earned his $7 million contract
It seems strange to write that, since he’s got a weak .226 batting
average, but it’s true. When researching how awful the worst hitters
in the lineup are (and I was going to consider Crede one of them), I
came across some interesting numbers:
Joe Crede: .226/.293/.428/.721 OPS 11.4 UZR 1.8 WAR
even though he doesn’t hit for a high average, his bat has some pop
and his defense makes him one of the elite third basemen in the
league. Furthermore, by providing some power and bailing out the
pitching staff on a consistent basis, his overall worth is already estimated at $8.2 million. Now, you might not agree with the way Fangraphs calculates dollar values
for players (they think Roy Halladay will be worth $35 million this
year), but as long as he remains healthy there is little doubt that
Crede will be worth every penny the Twins are paying him. Just ask the
- The Royals trade for Yuniesky Betancourt
I am not trying to pick on Kansas City (I’ve already done that). I’m just glad he’s off the market now so the Twins won’t be tempted to trade for him (as others have suggested). Joe Posnanski and Rany Jazayerli,
probably the only fans the Royals have left (and Rany is threatening to
hang it up) have already summarized this deal in two very excellent
Seriously, a lot of Royals fans are fed up with the
front office and disappointed in their team, and I don’t really blame
them. I remember when the Twins were horribly, mind-numbingly bad in
the mid-90s, and how hard it was to cheer for a team that didn’t really
give its fans much to cheer for. It was like this for nearly a decade,
and we all wondered if it was ever going to end, if we were ever going
to even have a decent team again. That’s right, we were dreaming of the kind of mediocrity
this team gives us now. It kind of got me to thinking about false hope
vs. no hope, and which of the two I prefer. And I guess that false
hope is better than none at all. Yes, it can be frustrating to watch
your team hang around in the playoff picture all season long, only to fall short at the very last minute. Or to have your hopes of winning a championship dashed in the first round of the playoffs every…single…time. But jeezus, at least this way you have something to look forward to.
Seligula is more than happy to relocate a small-market team that
consistently loses 90 games to a more lucrative market. Believe me, I know.
- Francisco Liriano has his worst outing of the year and still gets the win
Even though he only surrendered three runs, this really was Frankie’s worst performance of the season. It took him a career-high 117 pitches to make it through five innings, and he faced no less than five batters in almost every single inning. He gave up seven hits and walked more batters than he struck out (six Ks vs. five BBs). That he only gave up three runs speaks volumes about the Brewers’ offense, and not so much about his ability to pitch out of a jam. Unlike his previous start against the Pirates, in which he was only a couple of meatballs away from pitching a gem, Frankie was only a couple of bad pitches away from a complete meltdown. It’s been so frustrating to watch him this season because he shows so much talent, and just when it starts to look like he’s starting to turn the corner, he has a performance as awful as this. The Twins have been patient with Frankie thus far, but obviously they can’t continue to do so and hope to catch the Tigers and win the division title. Moving him to the bullpen probably isn’t going to help either Frankie or the Twins much, since he struggles to pitch from the stretch and would likely fail in high-leverage situations. If he fails to show any progress in his next couple of starts, perhaps the Twins should consider sending him to Rochester. Working with pitching coach Bobby Cuellar seemed to do wonders for him last year, and he could be sent down with the promise that he would be called back up no matter what happens. Whether he would be called up as a starter or reliever would depend upon how well he does with the Red Wings.
This game was so difficult to watch I had to keep reminding myself that the Twins were actually winning. As awful as Frankie was, Milwaukee starter Jeff Suppan was even worse, giving up seven runs (four earned) on nine hits while walking three. The Twins jumped out to an early lead in the first, when Michael Cuddyer struck out but reached first on a wild pitch, loading up the bases for Joe Crede. Crede then lashed a double over the head of Mike Cameron, plating three runs. Carlos Gomez (who had a pretty good night, going 3-for-5 with a pair of runs and RBI) later singled and then hustled to second when Cameron took his sweet time getting the ball back to the infield. He then scored on a single by Brendan Harris, putting the Twins up 4-2. A fielding error by J.J. Hardy opened up a three-run third inning, giving the Twins a 7-3 lead they would never relinquish. Good thing the Brew Crew decided to play more like a beer-league softball team, allowing the Twins to reach the .500 mark for the umpteenth time this season and keep pace with the Tigers.
Joe Mauer is SI‘s cover model this week, for only the second time in his career. The issue dealt with his pursuit of .400, so naturally he’s gone 0-for-8 in his past two games and dropped his average to a mere .395. The SI curse probably has little to do with it though, since hitting .400 is really hard to do in the first place and Mauer was starting to show signs of slowing down even before the issue hit the stands. Still, you’d better start sleeping with one eye open, Tom Verducci.
- Twins hit four homers and lose anyway
ZOMG, this is the most unclutchiest lineup ever!!!11!! I mean, for the most part, clutch hitting has a lot more to do with luck than skill. In general, even the greatest hitters will fail more often than not with runners in scoring position, that’s just how the game works. It sucks, it’s frustrating, but that’s just the way it is. Which is why I find this article in the Star Tribune so irritating. To suggest that the problem is that the Twins are relying too much on the long ball and not speed or sacrifice hits (i.e., Twins baseball) is ridiculous. The power hitters in the lineup have been remarkably productive, with Joe Mauer batting .421/.490/.738, Justin Morneau .324/.398/.524 (which is pretty good, considering that he’s been in a slump recently), Jason Kubel .315/.377/.546, and even Michael Cuddyer is starting to pick things up, hitting .281/.360/.518 with 10 homers. Joe Crede has been kind of an exception since he has a paltry .228 BA and .303 OPB, but he also has a .451 slugging percentage and is on pace to hit 20+ homers this year, so he isn’t really part of the problem, either. The real problem has been the lack of production from the bottom of the order, and it has been all season. The Twins certainly aren’t lacking speed in the lineup, with Carlos Gomez, Matt Tolbert, and even Nick Punto all threats to steal, but the three have struggled to get on base consistently. Delmon Young hasn’t been living up to his potential, either, batting .258/.286/.302 while looking horribly uncomfortable at the plate. The good news is that Gomez, Punto, and Young have all taken huge steps forward this month (Yes, even Gomez. He’s drawing more walks and isn’t swinging at so many pitches outside the strike zone, he just hasn’t had much to show for it in the way of results). The bad news however, is that all three are still barely replacement-level position players.
After tonight’s loss to Houston, the Twins have fallen back to the .500 mark and are three games behind the Tigers. This time, the offense wasn’t the problem, since they hit four homers and scored five runs. No, this time it was the pitching staff, specifically the bullpen that fell down. The Twins had a 3-2 lead in the seventh, until Sean Henn came in to relieve Scott Baker. Henn surrendered three runs in the seventh (one was charged to Baker), including a two-run homer to pinch-hitter Jason Michaels, and was yanked in favor of Luis Ayala after recording only one out. I had written before that the pitching isn’t as bad as fans tend to think, and that’s true. But it hasn’t been that great, either. The starting rotation has started to settle down and pitch effectively, but the bullpen is still an issue. While Matt Guerrier and Joe Nathan have been as reliable as ever, and R.A. Dickey is settling into the long relief role, the rest of the ‘pen is simply a disaster waiting to happen. Ayala has been much more effective recently, but he pitches to contact and can’t really be used in close games with runners on base. Jose Mijares hasn’t been too bad, posting a 2.57 ERA in twenty-four appearances, but he’s also been suffering from control issues (his 1.70 K/BB ratio isn’t good) and is bound to get hit hard eventually. The Twins clearly need bullpen help, but so does pretty much everybody else in the league, which will obviously complicate matters at the trade deadline. Still, I guess we should be glad that our bullpen isn’t as bad as the Indians’. Yikes.
- Speaking of homers
Mauer hit his 14th of the season, setting a new career record, and it isn’t even officially summer yet. It was an opposite-field blast (of course) that had given the Twins a 3-1 lead at the time. Someday, opposing pitchers will figure out that it isn’t a good idea to throw him fastballs on the outside corner. Hopefully he’ll hit 20 homers before they do. Obviously, Mauer isn’t going to put up such Pujolsian numbers all season long, since the physical demands of being a catcher will catch up to him eventually. As of right now, though, Mauer is the most valuable player in the league, and it isn’t even close.
- 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).
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.
Last night, he hit a game-winning grand slam in the thirteenth inning. In the series finale earlier this afternoon (which I actually didn’t see because I was still sleeping from last night’s extra-inning marathon), he drove in a pair of runs on a single to give the Twins a lead they would never relinquish. Crede has always hit Tigers’ pitching well, posting a career .276/.339/.558 with an OPS of .897 and 24 home runs going into today’s game. And his numbers aren’t skewed just from hitting in U.S. Cellular field for so many years, either. At Comerica Park, he’s a career .287/.341/.599 with 15 homers and an OPS of .939. The Crede deal looks as though it’s starting to pay dividends. Even though he’s provided Gold-Glove caliber defense all season, his bat has been relatively slow to wake up. And that makes sense, as he’s never hit well at the Dome and he’s had to adjust to playing with a new team with an entirely different approach to hitting. But he’s been batting .290/.313/.548 in the month of May, with two homers and eight RBI in his last four games, so perhaps he’s starting to see the ball better inside the Teflon confines. And yes, it does beat having Tony Batista at third.
Scott Baker suffered from yet another big inning that got away from him when the Tigers scored five runs on six hits in the sixth. It wouldn’t be such a big deal, except this is at least the third time he’s had such an inning this year. Dr. Baker was very effective through the first five innings, and though he may not have matched Justin Verlander’s impressive performance, he pitched well enough to keep the Kitties off the scoreboard. Unfortunately, Mr. Scott came out to pitch in the sixth, and things promptly fell apart. Of course, it didn’t help that he had Jason Kubel in the outfield, who rarely plays in the field and missed a fly ball that probably should’ve been caught (and would’ve ended the inning). Kubel is usually the DH because his defense is less than stellar, but he was in the outfield today because Delmon Young is out with a family emergency and is expected to miss at least the next three days. Jose Morales has been called up from Rochester in the meantime. Still, if this doesn’t make the case that Denard Span and Carlos Gomez should both be starting in the outfield, then I don’t know what will. Yes, Kubel is swinging a hotter bat than Go-Go, but his lack of range in the field nearly cost the Twins the game.
Most importantly, though, the bullpen was handed a one run lead and actually held onto it for a change. Craig Breslow pitched a scoreless seventh and retired the first two batters in the eighth before being lifted in favor of Matt Guerrier. Breslow struck out a batter and didn’t walk anyone, which is good news for a guy who has an ugly 0.90 K/BB ratio. He didn’t surrender any home runs, either, something he had become prone to doing lately. Matt Guerrier bounced back from a terrible appearance the night before, when he gave up a three run homer to Miguel Cabrera and a solo shot to Jeff Larish to put the Tigers ahead by a couple of runs. Still, one has to wonder why Guerrier was asked to get the final out in the eighth. While it is perfectly understandable that acting-manager Scotty Ullger (Ron Gardenhire was ejected after arguing with the home plate umpire) didn’t want to leave Breslow in to face Ryan Raburn with a runner on base, since all of the homers he’s surrendered have been to right-handed hitters, Matty G. has pitched 18.1 innings so far this season and has made five straight relief appearances. Why not bring in Joe Nathan? He’s going to pitch the next inning anyway, and unlike Matty G, has only pitched thirteen innings so far this year. Save Matt Guerrier’s arm!
Oh, yeah, and that Joe Mauer guy sucks.
- 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: