- 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.
- 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).
Before I get into how awful the Twins have been away from the Dome, I just want to say: OMG THE BULLPEN MANAGED TO NOT BLOW A ONE-RUN LEAD FOR ONCE. ON THE ROAD TOO. TRULY THE END IS NIGH. Anyway, at 25-27, the Twins are currently two games under .500 and 4.5 games out of first in the AL Central. And it’s really no mystery why our boys are struggling to stay above the .500 mark: their 6-16 road record is abysmal. While there aren’t many teams in the league with winning records away from home, few have such a record of futility as the Twinks. There are only two teams in the league with worse road records than Minnesota: Washington (6-20) and San Diego (8-19), and obviously neither one is likely to make the playoffs this year. While the Twins had lost 11 of their past 12 road games before beating Tampa on Sunday, four of those losses had been by one run and six of their last nine losses have been by two runs or less.
The Twins, like most teams in the league, have always played better at home than on the road. Most people like to blame it on the obvious home field advantage the Twins enjoy at the Dome, but the disparity between their home and road records hasn’t been as vast as people tend to think (they usually have a league-best home record and a road record somewhere around the .500 mark). In the seven seasons under manager Ron Gardenhire, the Twins have posted a worse road record through the end of May only once: in 2006, when they were 8-20. The Twins had gotten off to a slow start that year and were 24-29 on June 1st, 11.5 games behind the division-leading Tigers, before riding an incredible hot streak and finishing 96-66 to capture the division title (they finished with a 42-39 road record, btw).
Pitching has obviously been part of the problem, though the pitching staff as a whole hasn’t been that much worse on the road. As a team, the Twins have a road ERA of 5.16 compared to 4.53 at home. In road games, opponents are batting .272/.345/.485 against the Twins and the pitching staff in general is posting a 1.45 WHIP, 1.70 K/BB, and 6.15 K/9, compared to .273/.322/.427 with a 1.33 WHIP, 2.50 K/BB, 6.06 K/9 inside the teflon confines. Obviously these numbers aren’t great, but they’re not bad for a team whose one and two starters have been pitching more like back-of-the-rotation starters through the first few months of the season. For the most part, the pitching has been good enough to keep the team in ballgames as long as the offense has been productive. Unfortunately, this hasn’t usually been the case.
The lack of offense has really been the heart of the Twins’ struggles away from the Dome. There’s a very good assessment of the offense to this point here, and while it’s hardly surprising that the bottom of the lineup has been ice cold, these problems have been exacerbated on the road. At home, the Twins are batting a decent-enough .278/.356/.447 with an OPS of .803. On the road, however, the Twins are a mediocre .263/.335/.406 with an OPS of .741. The best hitters in the lineup, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, have put up some very good numbers on the road, but with the likes of Nick Punto, Delmon Young, Matt Tolbert, Alexi Casilla, and Carlos Gomez at the bottom of the order it’s not surprising that the Twins have averaged only 4.2 runs per game away from the Dome (which is actually skewed from the 20-1 thumping of the Pale Hose). And that’s an improvement over the 3.6 runs per game the team was averaging with Casilla and Tolbert batting second in the lineup. While Young, Casilla, and Gomez are all young enough that they should improve, it remains to be seen how much longer the organization will be patient with their development.
- Scott Baker will start the season on the DL
First it was Joe Mauer and his aching back. Then Brian Buscher had a health scare. Delmon Young, Joe Crede, and Michael Cuddyer have all been struck with various hand injuries. Justin Morneau is battling stiffness in his back. And if all of that weren’t enough, now starter Scott Baker is going to start the season on the DL with stiffness in his right shoulder. It isn’t clear at this point how long he will be out, and he will be re-evaluated on Saturday, but things certainly aren’t getting off to a very good start for the Twinkies. Baker doesn’t think the stiffness is anything serious and would have preferred to pitch anyway, but the Twins have decided not to take any risks with their $15.25 million-dollar arm. In the meantime, Francisco Liriano has now been given the Opening Night nod opposite Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, and R. A. Dickey will take Baker’s spot in the rotation. With Baker going down, there is now an extra spot in the bullpen, so it looks like both Philip Humber and Brian Duensing will be coming north with the team.
The only real position battle left now for the Twins is the final bench spot. Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert, and Brian Buscher have all been competing for the utility role, with Harris having somewhat of an edge because he’s out of options. The Tenth Inning Stretch has raised the intriguing possibility of Buscher being traded to the Cardinals, as Troy Glaus’ recovery from shoulder surgery isn’t going as well as expected. While I would be sad to see Buscher go, he isn’t the greatest defensive infielder and he isn’t the most versatile, either. Still, I would be kind of surprised if the Twins did move him. Joe Crede is hardly a sure thing at third, and the organization might be more apt to keep Buscher around simply to provide more depth.
Speaking of Liriano, he was effective in his brief start against the Red Sox. He was only allowed to pitch three innings, as he will be starting right away on Monday, and gave up two hits and a run while walking one and striking out three. He wasn’t struggling with his command like he was in his previous appearances, which is very good news. Well, it’s good news for the Twins and bad news for opposing hitters. Unfortunately, Brian Duensing wasn’t as effective in relief, giving up a two-run homer to Jason Bay. Luckily the offense was able to bail him out to the tune of seven runs on twelve hits, with Michael Cuddyer doing most of the heavy lifting.
By the way, The Answer Man has an interesting interview with Joe Nathan.
- Wait, Sidney Ponson has a job?
Remember all those nice things I said about the Royals? Yeah, never mind. They’ve decided that Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez are going to be the fourth and fifth starters this season. Apparently Dayton Moore was so impressed with Ponson’s performance in the WBC that he thought the pudgy righty could be an effective major league starter, despite all of the evidence to the contrary. Horacio Ramirez is remembered very fondly on the South Side for being the worst reliever in Sox history. What either one of these two is doing in the starting rotation for a major league ballclub is beyond me, especially over the likes of Brian Bannister and Luke Hochevar. Perhaps it’s all part of of some elaborate, Major League-esque scheme to build the worst team in baseball and get out of their lease at Kauffman stadium.
- Twins hit four homers against O’s
The Twins teed off on Baltimore yesterday, bashing four home runs. Justin Morneau hit his second dinger in as many games, a two-run shot off of Jeremy Guthrie in the first. Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert(!) and Delmon Young all homered off of Adam Eaton in the sixth, though the wind did help out a little bit (except for Brendan Harris’ rocket off of the Walgreen’s sign in left field, and Morny’s laser to center). And while nobody homered in today’s contest against the Marlins, the offense managed to produce eight runs on twelve hits. Starter Kevin Slowey had two hits and three RBI of his own, while shutting down the Fish for five innings (his lone run was a Dan Uggla solo shot).
The Twins have now scored 29 runs in their past four games. While some readers thought that I was just being negative when I complained about the lack of offense, it turns out that a little tough love is what the guys really needed. You’re welcome.
- Chicago pounds Oakland, 20-5
Kyle Orton threw two touchdown passes, and Chicago added a couple of field goals on their way to a rout of Oakland. The Raiders couldn’t solve the Bears’ stifling D, and only managed to score a field goal and a safety.
Seriously, though, this has to be the ugliest boxscore ever. Paul Bako had four hits and three RBI even though he didn’t come in until the sixth inning. Oakland reliever Edgar Gonzalez barfed up seven earned runs in 2/3 of an inning, giving him a 94.50 ERA for the day. Andrew Bailey was the only Oakland pitcher who managed to toss a scoreless inning.
- Japan defeats Korea, 5-3 to repeat as WBC champs
I’m not going to lie, I fell asleep on the couch in the bottom of the eighth and didn’t get to see how the game ended. I can’t help it, I was tired! And it looked like Japan pretty much had this one in the bag, anyway. Luckily the good people at Ghostrunner on First were paying attention, so I didn’t have to. While I think that the tournament has its flaws (the timing is wrong, the formatting should be better, etc.) these games have to be some of the most exciting I’ve seen in a long time. After being deprived of baseball for four long months, it just felt really good to have that had all of the excitement and intensity of playoff matches. In March! Four years just seems way too long to wait for more.
- But what if you don’t really want either one?
The geniuses in the St. Paul Saints‘ public relations department have dreamed up another brilliant promotional scheme. These are, after all, the same people who came up with the Larry Craig bobble foot doll (in honor of National Tap Dance Day, of course):
In honor of Minnesota’s never-ending Senate recount, the Saints created the “Re” Count bobble head doll:
The “Re” Count doll will be distributed to the first 2,500 fans on May 23, prior to a game against the Sioux Falls Canaries. Hopefully this whole thing will be over with by then. But I wouldn’t count on it.