- 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.
- Joe Nathan blows save, Twins win anyway on the speed(!) of Justin Morneau
Closer Joe Nathan had his first blown save of the year when Ben Zobrist (Who really, really wants a starting job in the outfield. That’s a pretty good way to earn one) hit a solo homer to tie the game. This is the second homer Nathan has given up this year, the first was to Jim Thome in a non-save situation against the White Sox. It pains me to say this, but he will be 35 this year which means that Nathan is at the point in his career when closers tend to become more hittable. While I think he’ll still be reliable and will be well worth the money the Twins are paying him, he probably won’t be as dominant as he’s been in the past and I wouldn’t be surprised if his ERA climbs north of the 2.70 mark for the first time since the Twins acquired him from the Giants in 2003.
Whether or not this leads to more blown saves will obviously depend a lot on the offense and how much run support they provide. Had the offense managed to capitalize on a few more of the scoring chances against James Shields last night, they would have had at least a two-run lead and Nathan would still have gotten the save even after giving up the home run. I just realized how dumb all of that sounds. And it’s not like I didn’t proofread before posting this, so I don’t really have an excuse. Sorry, dear readers, you deserve better than that.
Speaking of the offense, Justin Morneau once again provided most of it at the Metrodome last night. He got the scoring started right away in the first, with a two-run shot to left-center field, just beyond the outstretched glove of Carl Crawford. Morneau then drove in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth on a fielder’s choice with the bases loaded. Yes, you read that right, Justin Morneau of all people beat out a double-play ball to win the game (You can see video of Morny hustling down the line here. Not bad for a guy who runs like the tin man). Akinori Iwamura couldn’t handle the chopper to second (though, in his defense, that ball was hit really hard and certainly wasn’t an easy play to make), and couldn’t recover in time to get Morneau at first. And, at least for one more night, the Twins remain the only team in the league that is undefeated in one-run games.
Oh, and Francisco Liriano was pretty good last night too, scattering seven hits and giving up only two runs in 6.2 innings. He only struck out three batters, and gave up two walks, so he still struggled a little bit with his command, but was effective enough to shut out the Rays for the first five innings. Frankie was pulled in the seventh after he gave up back-to-back hits to put runners at first and second with two outs, but Matt Guerrier managed to retire B.J. Upton to end the inning with no damage done. Jose Mijares gave up a lead off walk to Carl Crawford (who then stole second), but then he settled down and struck out the next three batters he faced. Mijares has bounced back nicely from his awful spring training campaign, surrendering only one hit and one walk while striking out five since being called up last week. This is obviously very good news, since the Twins’ bullpen has been lacking a dominant reliever and were hoping that they could rely on Mijares after his stellar campaign in September.
Well, there’s some good news and some bad news on the injury front. The good news is that the best hitter in the lineup will probably be back by May 1, just in time for the series against Kansas City. Unfortunately, one of the best relievers in the ‘pen is on the 15 day DL with shoulder inflammation. This is terrible news. Except for his last appearance against the Angels, Jesse Crain has been lights-out this season, and other than last year, when he was still recovering from shoulder surgery, has been dominant most of his career. Pudgy lefty Jose Mijares has been called up to take his place. Mijares was lights-out during his September call-up, then was horrible in spring training, but has been back to lights-out for the Red Wings. Which Jose Mijares we will get remains to be seen.
Although, if he can work on his command, the new guy might not be so bad, either.
Of course, if all of the starters could pitch like Glen Perkins, then the bullpen wouldn’t be an issue.
This is precisely why the Royals aren’t going to win the Central this year. I guess maybe I should stop complaining about the Twins’ bullpen so much.
As much as I hate the Vancouver Canucks, even I think that this is pretty funny.
And if you’ve ever wondered what the saddest music in the world must sound like, well, now you know (language is NSFW or living things in general):
Something very rare happened yesterday: every Minnesota team that played a game actually won. This pretty much never happens. There isn’t a great deal of overlap between the schedules for all of our major sports franchises anyway, and the results are rarely so favorable when they do. Usually one team wins while the rest of them lose. Or, most likely, all of them end up losing.
- Twins beat Cardinals, 5-3
Kevin Slowey continued his bid to be a dark horse candidate for the 2009 AL Cy Young, giving up two runs on eight hits in six innings. He also recorded five strikeouts, including a big one against Albert Pujols with the bases loaded. The only runs he gave up came off of a two-run homer by Rick Ankiel, and as I’ve mentioned before, he does have a tendency to give up the long ball. Jesse Crain also bounced back from his awful appearance against the Reds, in which he gave up four runs on six hits in one inning, by pitching a scoreless eighth. Jose Mijares was the only Minnesota pitcher who really struggled on the mound, nearly giving the game away in the ninth. He gave up one run on three hits, and had runners on second and third with one out before getting the next two batters to ground out.
The good news for Cardinals fans is that Chris Carpenter looked really good for the most part. He did give up four runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings, which isn’t as bad as it sounds when you consider that he also struck out seven batters. Trever Miller and Chris Perez also pitched well, which is very good news for a team whose bullpen had its own share of struggles last year.
By the way, Twins’ infield prospect Chris Cates made his Spring Training debut in the later innings, too. This is only kind of interesting because, at 5′ 3″, Cates is the shortest player at any level of major league baseball (he’s actually just slightly taller than I am). He looks like a little kid:
- Wild beat Oilers, 3-2
Another game that is essentially meaningless, as the Wild are not going to make the playoffs. By beating Edmonton at Rexall Place last night though, they at least helped to ensure that the Oilers won’t make it, either. It was also really good to see Mikko Koivu back on the ice after sustaining a serious knee injury the last time they beat the Oil.
Actually, Niklas Backstrom is the only reason the Wild even won this game. They still turn over the puck way too much, and if Backs hadn’t been so sharp the Oil would’ve made them pay for all of their careless mistakes (much like the Flames did on Saturday). The Wild could still theoretically make the playoffs if they win every single one of their next six games. This is simply too much to ask for a team that hasn’t won two in a row in over a month, and hasn’t won three in a row since Thanksgiving. Considering that the Wild also have the Flames and the Stars on the schedule (two teams they have struggled to do much against the entire year) I think it’s pretty safe to say that the season is almost over with now.
But hey, at least Bemidji State is having a pretty good run in the NCAA tournament. The Beavers upset heavily-favored Notre Dame on Saturday, and stunned Cornell last night on their way to their first Frozen Four appearance in school history. I’ve written before that I started following college hockey when the North Stars were shipped out of town. And while my beloved Golden Gophers failed to even make the tournament this year, it is good to see at least one of our hockey teams in the playoffs.
- Timberwolves finally win a game!
Yeah, they beat the Nets. But a victory is a victory for a team that has only had twenty-one of them this year. I thought the Wolves were at least going to surpass last year’s grand total of 22 wins, but with only eight games left on the schedule, I’m not so sure. Sadly, if the Wolves were in the Eastern Conference, they would probably have a decent chance at making the playoffs this year.
By the way, I have now updated my blogroll. I added three new MLBlogs that I like a lot, as well as a couple of Twins pro blogs. If you haven’t yet, please check out Plouffe!, written by Twins infield prospect (and guitar player) Trevor Plouffe. He’s got some great stuff on there about his former roommate Delmon Young, and some cute pictures too!
- Team USA poops the proverbial bed
Well, things got off to a good start for the Americans. Brian Roberts hit a leadoff home run against Daisuke Matsuzaka. And then things kind of went downhill from there. The Japanese would score nine runs, only five of which were actually earned. Team USA’s defense was atrocious. Officially the Americans committed three errors, but unofficially it was probably closer to five or six. Obviously they didn’t want the Venezuelan record of five errors in a WBC game to stand (those commie ********!) and were trying their hardest to set a new standard in horrible defense. Either that or they simply forgot that this was a single-elimination game.
Japan now gets to defend its WBC title against Korea tonight. It’s kind of disappointing that the US didn’t make it to the finals, but this should be a very good game. These two teams are powerhouses of Asian baseball, sort of like the Yankees and the Red Sox of the far east. I don’t have a particular favorite to win it all, but I guess I’ll root for the defending champs. Which of course means that Korea is going to win. I mean, look at my track record so far.
- Twins beat Toronto, 11-6
The offense finally decided to score some runs in yesterday’s game against the Blue Jays. Justin Morneau had a three-run homer, his first big blast of the season. Morny had a very good day at the plate, going 2-for-2 with a walk (apparently Morny has been taking Harmon Killebrew’s batting advice). Actually, pretty much everybody had a good day at the plate, since Jays’ starter Matt Clement wasn’t very effective. The Twins knocked the righty out after 4 1/3 innings, pounding him for nine runs on six hits.
Our own Scott Baker wasn’t particularly sharp either, giving up four earned runs on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings. He didn’t give up any homers though (for once), and recorded five strikeouts and no walks. Jose Mijares continued to struggle, giving up two earned runs in 2/3 of an inning, and also injured his ankle while trying to cover first. It’s looking more likely that the lefty is going to spend the season in Rochester (although Gardy is stubbornly insisting they can turn him around before the team heads north in two weeks). This might give Brian Duensing an opportunity to make the team if the Twins decide they need another lefty in the ‘pen. Duensing has been a starter his entire career, and did struggle a bit early in the season while in Rochester last year, but has looked really good in his relief appearances during spring training. At least he can get hitters out, anyway.
- Wild shutout Oil at the X
Owen Nolan scored a couple of goals, the Oil scored on themselves, and Niklas Backstrom made himself worth every penny of his four year, $24 million contract extension in one of the closest games the Wild have played all season. They got off to kind of a slow start in the first, though they weren’t helped by some awful officiating. Mikko Koivu got called for a phantom interference penalty on Ales Hemske (that was a beautiful piece of diving), and Dan Fritsche got called for boarding when he barely touched Ladislav Smid. I don’t normally complain about officiating, but this was ridiculous. Luckily the penalty-killers (and Backs!) stepped up to prevent any sort of ill-gotten gains by the Oilers.
Marian Gaborik made his triumphant return to the ice after having surgery on his hip. Though he didn’t score any goals, it was just really good to see him out there again. Unfortunately, captain Mikko Koivu suffered a knee injury when he was pulled down by Ales Kolatik and will be out the rest of the week. He might even miss the rest of the season, which means the Wild might as well forget about playing hockey past April. Come on, Mikko. Just rub some dirt on it and you’ll be fine.
If you think Vancouver sucks, clap your hands
If you think Vancouver sucks and they’ll never win the Cup
If you think Vancouver sucks, clap your hands
I really shouldn’t mock the Canucks for this hilarious piece of epic fail. They are a lock to make the playoffs after all, and my
Mild Wild will be lucky if they manage to sneak in as the eighth seed (although beating the Oil certainly helps). But there is nothing quite as satisfying as watching a hated rival do something so ridiculously dumb. Especially when your own team has been doing so many ridiculously dumb things as of late.
It’s true. As Howard Sinker noted last Sunday (by the way, look who’s now on his blog roll), the Twins considered taking Manny in the third round of the 1991 amateur draft. Scout Herb Stein (who pushed the organization to draft the likes of Rod Carew and Frank Viola) was heavily urging them to draft him, but the organization ultimately decided to pass, taking first-base prospect David McCarty instead. Ramirez was drafted in the 13th round by the Indians and went on to be the greatest right-handed hitter of his generation (and arguably in baseball history), while McCarty went on to enjoy a career as a utility infielder, batting .242./.305/.351 in his eleven seasons with the Twins and Red Sox.
One has to wonder what the Twins’ lineup would have looked like with Manny Ramirez, though. Especially since that lineup would also have had David Ortiz. I doubt the Twins would have won any more World Series championships (Manny is not a starting pitcher, after all), but perhaps they could have been spared so many losing seasons. I’m not sure if that is such a good thing, however. The Twins would never have been able to keep either Ramirez or Ortiz if they became the offensive powerhouses we know and love. They would probably have been outbid by larger-market teams, and would have been forced to either trade each one for whatever prospects they could get (as they did Johan Santana) or simply lose them to free agency (like Torii Hunter). Worse yet, those losing seasons have helped shaped the current roster. Justin Morneau was a first-round pick in the 1999 draft (3rd overall) as was Joe Mauer (1st overall, 2001 draft). Imagine the current lineup without either one.
- Speaking of David Ortiz…
Big Papi was 2-for-3 with a two run homer against his former team in today’s 9-5 loss to the BoSox. The pitching wasn’t great on either side, though the Twins were much worse. Scott Baker was once again burned by his tendency to give up the long ball, surrendering the two-run blast to Ortiz and a solo shot to Jason Varitek. Baker gave up four runs on seven hits overall, and walked one while striking out two in three innings. Matt Guerrier wasn’t very sharp either, surrendering two two-run homers in one inning of relief. This is not good news for someone who struggled mightily down the stretch last season, and is going to have to be a key part of the bullpen this year. Jose Mijares pitched better than he has in his past couple of appearances, but he still wasn’t terribly effective. He surrendered one run on two hits and walked one in his one inning of work, though he did strike out two. Brian Duensing and Bobby Keppel were probably the most effective pitchers for the Twins, as they were the only ones who didn’t give up any runs.
At least the offense has started showing some life, though. Other than Justin Morneau, that is. Johnny Canuck has been struggling a bit at the plate and he was hitless in today’s game, striking out twice. Denard Span seems to have found his swing, and went 2-for-3 with a solo homer off of Jonathan Papelbon. Alexi Casilla has been getting hot lately, too, and went 4-for-4 with two stolen bases. While I doubt the two of them will be able to maintain this torrid pace during the regular season, they should at least be good enough to keep their one-and-two slots in the lineup.
- At least Pudge can go play for the Astros now
Team USA rallied from a two-run deficit to defeat the Puerto Ricans and advance to the semifinals in the WBC. This was quite a game, with the Americans down two runs in the bottom of the ninth. David Wright drove in the winning runs on a single, capping off one of the most dramatic rallies in the WBC (second only to the Netherlands/Dominican Republic) thus far. Okay, to be honest I didn’t actually watch this game, as I was watching the Wild pull off an impressive rally of their own, but it sounds like it was good. And now I’m officially cheering for Team USA, which means they’ll probably get eliminated right away in the next round (I was previously cheering for the Canadians and the Dutch, after all).
- Jose Mijares gives up four runs in one inning, Twins lose 9-5
Well, today’s game against Florida started out really good. The offense finally started coming to life, and Kevin Slowey looked really sharp out on the mound. The Twins had jumped out to an early 5-0 lead, and the relief pitchers were effectively shutting down the Marlins’ offense. Until Jose Mijares came in to pitch the seventh, that is. Mijares gave up four earned runs on three hits and recorded only one out. He was yanked in favor of knuckleballer R. A. Dickey, who quickly mopped up the mess (before getting into trouble himself in the eighth). What was once a five-run lead became a mere one-run lead. Then it became a four run deficit due to some defensive miscues by, well, a bunch of guys who have no chance at making the team anyway so I guess it doesn’t matter that much.
Mijares was very impressive with his few appearances with the Twins when he was called up in September. The hard-throwing lefty gave up one earned run on three hits in ten relief appearances last year, posting an ERA+ of 465. His stuff was absolutely filthy, and he wasn’t afraid to challenge big-league hitters even if he was behind in the count. Mijares will probably be a dominant set-up man, and could perhaps take over for Joe Nathan at some point. However, he needs a lot more work. He showed up grossly overweight at camp this year, after the coaching staff told him he needed to get in shape during the offseason. Although Mijares was very good in his first appearance, clearly his lack of physical fitness is affecting his effectiveness. He’s labored in his past couple of appearances, and has just generally looked like he was out of breath out there on the mound. It wouldn’t be so bad, but Mijares refuses to take responsibility for his lack of physical conditioning and instead blames a sore ankle for his poor performance (um, a sore ankle wouldn’t cause you to huff and puff after throwing a single pitch). It seems as though Mijares thought he was a lock to make the active roster out of Spring Training (despite Bill Smith’s assertion to the contrary) and simply failed to put forth the effort necessary to compete for a job. The best thing for the young lefty at this point would be to send him to AAA for more seasoning. He certainly can’t be relied upon to pitch out of the bullpen in such poor shape, and he really needs to learn to listen to the coaching staff.
- Francisco Liriano pitches effectively enough, Twins lose 1-0 to Reds
Francisco Liriano wasn’t that sharp against the Reds yesterday, but he was still effective enough. His one bad mistake was a solo homer to Jonny Gomes, but that was the only run he allowed in 3 1/3 innings of work. Frankie struggled to locate his fastball and his changeup wasn’t terribly impressive, but he still only gave up three hits and struck out five batters. Although he isn’t exactly the same pitcher he was before his Tommy-John surgery in 2006, Liriano is on track to become one of the top pitchers in the American League. While it’s a bit premature to say he will be a legitimate Cy Young contender, I do think that Frankie will at least challenge Scott Baker for the top spot in the rotation.
Jesse Crain looked really good on the mound yesterday, too. Crain has been having a really good spring, and his stuff was electric when he pitched for team Canada in the WBC. This is very good news, considering how awful the bullpen was last season. The team is still in need of a set-up man, and Crain is making a very good case for himself to earn that job.
I was going to complain about the lack of offensive production from the regulars yesterday, but Micah Owings and Edison Volquez are both some of the best young pitchers in the National League, so I guess I won’t whine too much. Besides, they more than made up for it in today’s game against the Marlins. Too bad the defense couldn’t make it stick.