- Slowey suffers setback in rehab
Well, there goes the season
Ugh, I hope it’s just a slight one. The Slow Man was supposed to throw
a bullpen session today, but his wrist injury flared up again and was unable to do so.
He’s supposed to try throwing again on Wednesday, and the Twins are
holding off on any further decisions regarding treatment until then.
So I’m going to hold off on any further panicking until then. What is
certain, however, is that he won’t be making his next scheduled
start on July 21 at Oakland. Anthony Swarzak will get the nod instead.
- Casilla up, Tolbert down, Harris back to the bench?
As LEN3 reported,
Alexi Casilla has been recalled from Rochester, while Matt Tolbert has
been sent back down. It’s essentially Casilla’s last chance to prove
he can stick in the major leagues, or the Twins will probably be moving
him in the off-season. Casilla struggled mightily at the plate earlier
this season, batting a mere .180/.242/.225, and all of the defensive
miscues certainly didn’t help his case. But he’s been on fire since
his demotion to Rochester, batting .340/.379/.449/.827 OPS for the Red Wings. Still, as Jason
Bartlett can attest, it’s very difficult to get out of Gardy’s doghouse
once you have been banished there. Casilla will probably have to magically
turn into Chase Utley overnight to keep his job, and even that wouldn’t
With Casilla getting the start at second, this begs
the question as to who will be the everyday shortstop. Gardy says he
will try to find playing time for both Punto and Harris, but this is
highly unlikely. Punto will most certainly be the starting SS, and
Harris will almost certainly be back to the bench. The Twins are paying
Punto $4 million this year, so he and his .201/.319/.223 line won’t be
playing the utility role. Gardy has already said as much.
And really, when you look at the numbers, neither one is exactly running away
with the starting job. Punto is terrible at the plate, but he’s a
career 21.0 UZR at the position, so his defense is good enough to make
him at least replacement-level. Harris isn’t very good on defense (he’s a
career -11.9 UZR) but his .275/.318/.392 line makes him just a little
better than replacement-level, but not enough to just hand him the job,
either. Now, if only there was a way to combine Harris’ bat with Punto’s glove…
- Gomez goes 3-for-4 with a home run and 5 RBI in series finale against White Sox
That goofball is bound and determined to make me love him.
Actually, I pretty much already decided that the first time I saw him sniff his bat.
At 43-43 44-43, this team is exactly average. I’m certainly not the first person to notice this, nor am I the first to point out
that it’s mostly because all of the great talent on this team is
balanced by players who have no business on a major-league roster. The
awesomeness of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau is balanced by the
suckitude of well, the entire second half of the lineup. Nick
Blackburn is putting up the best numbers of his career, while Scott
Baker and Francisco Liriano are putting up the worst. The comparison
between the best and worst players on the team is stark:
Joe Mauer: .389/.461/.651/1.112 OPS 4.3 WAR
Justin Morneau: .313/.390/.582/.971 OPS 2.8 WAR
Jason Kubel: .306/.364/.540/.904 OPS 1.3 WAR
Denard Span: .288/.375/.377/.752 OPS 1.7 WAR
Matt Tolbert: .178/.272/.225/.497 OPS -0.9 WAR
Nick Punto: .211/.322/.234/.556 OPS -0.2 WAR
Carlos Gomez: .218/.277/.318/.595 OPS -0.3 WAR
Delmon Young: .270/.296/.349/.646 OPS -1.2 WAR
The pitching is a slightly different story:
Nick Blackburn: 2.94 ERA 4.94 xFIP 1.272 WHIP 1.82 K/BB 2.0 WAR
Kevin Slowey: 4.86 ERA 4.38 xFIP 1.412 WHIP 5.00 K/BB 1.4 WAR
Joe Nathan: 1.35 ERA 2.42 xFIP 0.750 WHIP 6.14 K/BB 1.4 WAR
Scott Baker: 5.31 ERA 4.24 xFIP 1.221 WHIP 3.90 K/BB 1.3 WAR
Francisco Liriano: 5.47 ERA 4.53 xFIP 1.490 WHIP 2.02 K/BB 1.3 WAR
guys like Luis Ayala (0.1 WAR), Sean Henn (-0.2 WAR), and Jesse Crain
(-0.2 WAR) haven’t been helping much, either. The good news is that
none of these guys are in the bullpen right now. The bad news is that
they were here long enough to cost the team wins.
are a couple of things worth noting here. First of which is that, as
much as both Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano have struggled this
season, both are still above replacement-level (that is, both are more
valuable than some scrub picked up off the waiver wire), and both
obviously have tremendous upside. So, unless the Twins are absolutely
blown away with an offer for either one, it would be wise to hang onto
them for now (and no, Jon Garland and his 5.28 xFIP is not that guy).
Secondly, despite his .270 batting average, Delmon Young is still one
of the worst hitters in the lineup. His .349 slugging percentage is
anemic, his 58/6 K/BB ratio is the worst on the team, besides providing
crappy defense in left (-9.1 UZR). No wonder the Rays were so eager to
get rid of him.
Of course, this is
pretty much the way the Twins have operated for the past decade, so
none of this comes as a surprise. The likes of Ramon Ortiz, Sidney Ponson, and Rick Reed have rounded out a rotation fronted by Johan Santana and Brad Radke. Dustan Mohr, Michael Restovich, and Michael Ryan have all patrolled the outfield alongside Torii Hunter. After Corey Koskie left, guys like Tony Batista and Mike Lamb were manning third base until Joe Crede came along. Jason Tyner, he of the one major league home run, was the DH for 31 games in three seasons with the Twins (when Rondell White and Ruben Sierra weren’t available, of course). Tyner, by the way, was featured on the “Best Persons in the World” awhile back when his current (former?) team traded him away for nothing. And then there was the Luis Rodriguez–Juan Castro–Luis Rivas infield, with Terry Tiffee on the bench. And these weren’t even the worst Twins teams.
there was a lot of talk about the Yankees’ payroll during the series at
the Dome, and it’s true that having a larger payroll gives a team more
flexibility. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a “Woe is us, how can we
ever keep up
with the Yankees and Red Sox?” post. Simply spending a lot of money
doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a team will even make the playoffs
let alone win a championship, and there is much more parity baseball
(especially the AL) than pretty much any other major professional sport
in this country. It’s just that a smaller payroll
gives a franchise a much smaller margin-for-error when making trades,
signing free agents, and even in the draft, since a bad move can
hamstring such an organization for decades.
The Nick Swisher trade is a very good
example. Now, the Yankees
acquired him from the White Sox for next to nothing, but even if he
doesn’t work out, the team isn’t completely sunk. The Yankees
technically have six outfielders since acquiring Eric Hinske from the
Pirates, so they don’t really need Swisher and could easily trade him if
he starts to decline.
Compare that to the Delmon Young trade (I know, I know, they’re not
really the same since the Young deal had a much higher risk, but bear
with me). The Twins gave up a lot to
acquire Young and he has yet to live up to his potential. To be fair,
Young isn’t the only terrible hitter on this team (and he hasn’t even
entered the prime of his career yet), but he needs to put up better
power numbers to make the trade worthwhile (and to justify giving him
so much playing time). At this point, though, it’s hard to argue that
the Twins wouldn’t be a better team
with Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett. Worse yet, his poor performance
and perceived attitude problems mean the Twins would have a tough time
getting anything of value for him should they consider themselves
buyers the trade deadline. Like it or not, they’re pretty much stuck
and simply have to hope that Young will eventually start to develop
By the way, I tend to consider the
Young trade karmic retribution for the A.J. Pierzynski trade.
Although, when you think about it, the Young trade is even worse.
Pierzynski was at least competent both at the plate and in the field,
and Giants fans only had to put up with him for one season. Delmon, on
the other hand, is the gift that keeps on giving.
- Nick Blackburn pitches his third complete game of the season in Twins’ 6-2 win
However, even though Blackburn is putting up some of the best numbers of his career, it’s still way too early to declare him the team ace (or talk about extending his contract). He wasn’t much better than average last season, and his poor peripherals suggest that a good deal of his success this season is probably due to luck. Coming in to yesterday’s game, Blackie had a very good 3.10 ERA, but his 1.67 K/BB ratio and 2.3 BB/9 rate are at career lows. I wrote elsewhere that if those numbers don’t improve, he will likely finish the season with an ERA much closer to his 4.98 xFIP. The good news, though, is that some of his peripherals have indeed been improving. While his 1.80 K/BB ratio is still rather low, and he still gives up a lot of hits, his BB/9 rate has been steadily declining the past few months (from 3.08 in May to its current 1.00). A lot of it has to do with the fact that his fastball is nasty. The velocity tops out at around 91 mph but the movement on it has been absolutely filthy, and as long as he can sustain that kind of break on his fastball, his strikeout rate should start to improve. Blackburn will likely keep rolling through the second half of the season (and hopefully the playoffs).
- Twins once again send three representatives to the All-Star Game
Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Joe Nathan are all set to represent the
Twins in the ASG. Kevin Slowey probably had a good chance of joining
his teammates in St. Louis, if he hadn’t gone down with a wrist injury
(he is supposed to have an MRI on it today. UPDATE: it is just a strain. He was treated with a cortisone shot and should resume throwing in a few days). You could probably make
the case for Nick Blackburn too (Joe Nathan did), since he is sporting
a 2.94 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, but I have no problem with the likes of
Justin Verlander and Mark Buerhle getting the nod instead. I’m not
going to get into a huge debate over who got snubbed and who didn’t
deserve a starting spot, there’s already plenty of that on the
internets. I don’t think there are many glaring oversights on either
team, other than maybe Ian Kinsler and Torii Hunter (who should be
starting), and the ASG isn’t something I get all worked up about
Justin Morneau has indicated
that he will probably decline an invitation to the Home Run Derby, if
asked. It’s probably just as well. His tendency to fade down the
stretch probably doesn’t have anything to do with participating in the
HR Derby, but why take that chance? Anyway, this way people won’t get
mad at him for beating a much-flashier superstar. Again.
Mauer is making his second consecutive start in the ASG, and his third
career appearance. Even after missing the first month of the
season, he’s still far and away the best catcher in the AL. Although,
5 of the 31 “greatest minds in baseball” think that Victor Martinez
should have been the starting catcher. That’s right, a guy batting
.303/.382/.506/.888 while making half of his starts at first base
deserves to be the starting catcher, while the guy batting .389/.465/.648/1.113
should be on the bench. Yes, let’s give all of the voting power to
these people, clearly the fans are too stupid to get it right.
Nathan is also quietly having one of the best years of his career. His
last blown save came against the Yankees on May 15th, and he hasn’t
surrendered a run since. Not an unearned run, not an inherited runner scoring,
nothing. His 2.40 xFIP, 6.14 K/BB ratio, 11.6 K/9 rate, and 1.9 BB/9
rate as well as 1.35 ERA and 0.750 WHIP are all at or near
career-bests. He’s been getting hitters to chase pitches outside the
strike zone a little more, which has made him extremely effective even
when he doesn’t have his best stuff.
Milton Bradley had a very tough day at work today. He lost Jason Kubel’s routine fly ball in the sun, which put two on with nobody out and set up a two-run inning for the Twins. Later in the same inning, he couldn’t field Michael Cuddyer’s line drive to right, playing a single into a run-scoring double. But, most hilariously, he also had a major brain fart on a Joe Mauer pop fly. Bradley forgot how many outs there were in the inning and threw the ball into the stands (hint: there was only one, Milton). Nick Punto scored easily and Brendan Harris was awarded third base. Personally, I think the play should’ve been ruled a home run. That ball went right into the stands! So what if Bradley was the one who threw it there? Bradley kind of redeemed himself by hitting a big two-run double in the sixth, cutting the Twins’ lead in half at that point. Unfortunately, he couldn’t redeem himself completely, allowing Delmon Young to rob him of the potentially game-winning hit in the eighth.
For Twins fans and Cubs haters alike, this was a great game. Joe Mauer hit his 13th home run of the season, a two-run blast that gave the Twins an early lead (and tied his career high set in 2006). Jason Kubel hit a solo shot in the ninth that extended the lead to 7-4, his tenth of the season. And Brendan Harris went 3-for-5 with an RBI and a run scored, which should help his case to be the starting shortstop (at least until Gardy realizes he isn’t a utility role player anymore). Nick Punto even hit the ball out of the infield a couple of times. I can’t remember the last time I wrote that.
Kevin Slowey was cruising along through the first five innings, allowing one hit and striking out nine Baby Bears. I guess he decided not to rely on the worst defensive outfield ever behind him. Slowey did start to fall apart in the sixth, when he surrendered three runs and cut the lead to only one run. None of that can be blamed on the defense though, all of those runs came on some very hard hit line drives (the outfield didn’t walk Mike Fontenot, either). The bullpen wasn’t great, but they managed to (barely) hang onto the lead for a change. Joe Nathan retired the Cubs in order to pick up his fourteenth save of the season in a very non-heart-attack inducing manner.
Ron Gardenhire gets a lot of criticism from fans for his management of the bullpen, especially his reluctance to use Joe Nathan in anything other than a save situation. And since the front office has consistently failed to put together a decent bullpen, the few reliable relievers on the staff get overworked (sometimes to the point of injury, see Pat Neshek and Jesse Crain). Case in point: Matt Guerrier. Matty G. had logged 28.1 innings coming in to today’s game (where he was asked to record the final out in the eighth) and had made three straight relief appearances, while Joe Nathan had only logged 23.1 and hadn’t worked since Wednesday. I realize that this is a national league ballpark, and the thought that Joe Nathan might come up to bat isn’t particularly appealing, but it was a save situation anyway and it makes sense to use Nathan since he’s had more rest. Guerrier was awful in the second half of last season, posting a. 8.88 ERA and 2.092 WHIP after the All-Star break, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that he was overworked. And with all of the innings he’s logged the past six seasons, it’s probably only a matter of time before he too ends up on the surgery list.
By the way, the best part of the game is that Wrigley was half full of Twins fans. Seriously, if Wrigley Field weren’t so distinctive, one would think the Cubs were the visiting team. Chants of “M-V-P!” and “Where’s Mark Prior?” whenever Joe Mauer came up to bat warmed even my icy cold heart. There was plenty of cheering whenever the Twins would score, or when Kevin Slowey struck out yet another Cub. There was also a lusty booing of Cub players, although I don’t think all of that was coming from Twins fans.
On a completely unrelated note, but because I find the idea so delightfully disgusting, here is former Toronto pitching coach Bob Miller discussing the fine art of spitting tobacco juice on umpires:
Oh, I could harp on our guys for their inability to win games on the road. I could rake them over the coals for going 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position and stranding 31 runners in the past three games. I could worry that the Twins seem unable to get themselves above the .500 mark, that they can’t seem to gain any ground on the division-leading Tigers, and that their 7-18 road record is second only to the Orioles (8-20) for the worst in the AL. But I’ve been doing those things a lot lately, and it doesn’t really seem to be helping. So, maybe it’s time to take an entirely different approach: from now on, no matter what happens, I’m only going to focus on the good things that the Twinkies do. Maybe a little encouragement is exactly what our boys need, maybe they’ll start to believe in themselves. Maybe they’ll actually start to win some games in places other than the Metrodome. So, instead of focusing on the fact that the Twins only scored five runs in three games against the Mariners, I’m only going to talk about the things that went well:
- Joe Mauer
The AL-Player-of-the-Month went practically hitless in the series, got caught in a rundown in a key spot, and only threw out one potential base stealer. But it’s actually a good thing that the golden boy had a relatively quiet series. The less productive Mauer is at the plate, the lower his price tag, and the likelier he will remain in Minnesota for the rest of his career. Besides, he’s already got a couple of batting titles; he should stop being so selfish and let someone else win one for a change.
- Justin Morneau
Johnny Canuck was doing his horribly unfunny Carlos Gomez impression at the plate pretty much the entire series, waving at pitches well outside the strike zone with runners in scoring position. He went 1-for-11 with a couple of strikeouts and stranded seven of his teammates on base. But, hey, at least he drove in a pair of runs on a couple of sac flies. Way to be a productive out, Morny. That’s kind of helpful. And he did score the winning run in Friday’s game on Matt Tolbert’s double/Wladimir Balentien’s fielding error, so there’s that. Now that selfish jerk Mauer won’t be able to hog all the glory for himself anymore.
- Kevin Slowey
Well, four runs on ten hits in 4.2 innings certainly doesn’t sound very good, but give me a minute and I’ll find something nice to say. Umm…well…at least the three home runs Slowey surrendered were solo shots. That’s good, right? So one entire thing did not go really bad for Kevin Slowey. For the most part, though, the pitching was actually pretty good. Frankie technically had a quality start, Nick Blackburn pitched pretty well, and even the ne’er-do-wells in the bullpen only surrendered a single run the entire series. Luis Ayala (of all people) recorded a very important out in the eighth inning of the series finale. It would’ve been more important, though, if the Twins actually scored against Sean White in the ninth. But I guess they just wanted to make sure the kid got his first major-league save. That was awfully nice of them.
- Francisco Liriano was awful despite striking out seven hitters in four innings
As Fangraphs notes, Francisco Liriano had statistically one of the strangest outings of the year against the Red Sox Monday afternoon. He struck out seven batters in four innings, didn’t walk anyone, and still surrendered five runs on eleven hits. While some of these balls were hit hard, and Frankie was struggling a bit with command of his fastball, he did get extremely unlucky in that pretty much everything that could have fallen for a hit actually did (Boston’s BABIP was .733, which is very unusual in combination with such a high strikeout rate). He was also unlucky that Brian Buscher, who has the range of a telephone pole, started at third in place of Joe Crede (who is day-to-day after being hit on the hand with a pitch on Sunday). Almost everything hit to third ended up in the outfield, and unfortunately it led to a short start for Liriano.
Of course, Frankie certainly deserves his share of the blame for Monday’s meltdown, too. His struggles with his command and his tendency to overthrow when he gets himself in trouble have been well-documented. His numbers certainly suggest that he’s having trouble finding the strike zone, with a mediocre 1.88 K/BB ratio and an ugly 4.1 BB/9 rate. The Twins have been patient with Frankie (and really all of the struggling starters) so far, but they can’t afford to do so much longer and expect to contend for a division title. Anthony Swarzak pitched effectively enough against Milwaukee on Saturday, only striking out three and walking two but shutting out the Brewers for seven innings. Obviously Swarzak will need more than one start to prove he can pitch effectively in the major leagues (his next start against Boston will be most telling), and Glen Perkins probably has the most vulnerable spot in the rotation. Still, it isn’t unreasonable to think that a demotion to the bullpen is in Frankie’s future if he fails to show any significant improvement.
- Nick Blackburn, on the other hand, has been remarkably consistent
Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey have proven to be the most consistently effective starters thus far. Blackburn had one of his best starts of the season against the Red Sox last night, surrendering only one earned run on eight hits and recording a career-high seven strikeouts. His 3.55 ERA leads the team, and although he’s given up a lot of hits this year, most of them have been relatively harmless singles. Blackburn has also been stingy about issuing free passes (only 19 in 63.1 IP) and home runs (only 4), which is obviously very important for a contact pitcher. His 4.12 FIP is very good for a sinkerballer (the league average is 4.50), especially since his .298 BABIP is only a little better than league-average.
And after I posted this, I discovered that Twinkie Town has a much better assessment of our default ace.
Kevin Slowey got off to a bit of a rough start, surrendering twenty-two hits and posting a 7.94 ERA in his first two starts, but he’s settled down as well and has become one of the best starters in the rotation. Both his command and control have been impeccable, posting a league-best 9.75 K/BB ratio and 0.65 BB/9 rate. While he tends to be an extreme fly ball pitcher, Slowey has been pretty good at keeping the ball in the park, giving up the gopher ball at a rate of about 1.3 per nine innings. Better yet, most of these home runs have come with the bases empty and thus keeping the damage to a minimum.
Is the Joe Crede signing the best thing Bill Smith has done so far as GM? Well, considering that his other moves include the Santana trade, the Delmon Young trade (which is looking worse by the day), signing the likes of R.A. Dickey and Luis Ayala to upgrade the bullpen, and passing on Orlando Hudson in favor of Nick Punto, then it probably is.
Speaking of decisions that may come back to haunt them, the Twins have likely blown their chance to re-sign Mauer at a more reasonable rate. Which means they probably won’t re-sign him at all. I guess that’s good news for Red Sox fans.
Well, I certainly can’t blame any of these losses on the starting pitchers. Unless, of course, you want to blame them for not pitching complete-game shutouts, which is essentially what they’ve needed to do to beat the Yankees. All three pitched well enough to earn the win in every single game of this series, but the bullpen and the offense haven’t exactly held up their part of the bargain. Francisco Liriano gave up one earned run in six innings, and although he wasn’t particularly sharp, consistently managed to pitch himself out of trouble. Which pretty good for a guy whose emotions often get the better of him when things don’t go his way and would subsequently let the game get out of hand (like in this game against the White Sox). Nick Blackburn was also pretty effective, giving up a three-run homer to Mark Teixeira, but settled down nicely after that and surrendered only four runs through 7.2 innings. Kevin Slowey pitched an absolute gem through 7.2 innings, striking out eight batters and outlasting A.J. Burnett. Unfortunately, the two earned runs he surrendered in the bottom of the seventh kept him from actually out-dueling his Yankee counterpart and earning a much-deserved win.
While it’s tempting to blame the bullpen for everything, the truth is that the Twins left a lot of runners on base. Yes, Joe Nathan deserves the blame for blowing the save on Friday night. Yes, Craig Breslow surrendered a two-run homer to A-Rod in the bottom of the thirteenth in game two. And yes, today Jesse Crain gave up the game-winning homer to Johnny Damon in the tenth. But it doesn’t really help that Twinkies have stranded 34 runners on base in the first three games of the series. Twice they loaded up the bases in today’s game, and twice they failed to drive in any runs. It’s somewhat understandable that they couldn’t do much against A.J. Burnett, but the failure to do anything against a journeyman like Brett Tomko is simply inexcusable. All of the games in this series have been decided by two runs or less, and the Twins have led going into the later innings in every single one. But the failure to capitalize on scoring chances, and the failure of the pitching staff, particularly the bullpen, to hold the lead has been frustrating. It is costing the team wins, plural. And even if they manage to win the division anyway, which they could, so what? They are likely to meet one of the AL East teams, such as the Red Sox or Yankees, in the first round. And will likely get swept in the first round if they don’t do something to shore up some of the glaring weaknesses in the bottom of the lineup and in the bullpen.
By the way, how amazing is Joe Mauer? This has to be the play of the decade. I don’t care what it costs, Joe has to stay in a Twins uniform until he dies.