- 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.
Tonight is conflicting for a baseball and hockey fan. The Twins take on the White Sox at Chicago, while the Wild are trying to keep their marginal playoff hopes alive against Nashville at the X. The Twins have a much better chance at winning, but the Wild have more at stake. I guess I’ll be flipping back and forth between the games a lot tonight. Well, until someone starts losing, anyway.
Joe Crede is making his return to Chicago after signing with the Twins in the offseason. There’s supposed to be a pre-game tribute to him and everything. It’s probably going to be the first time in history that a Twin will be cheered at the Cell (uh, until he hits a home run off of Jose Contreras, that is). Tonight’s pitching matchup features knuckleballer R.A. Dickey squaring off against Jose Contreras. Dickey hasn’t had a great deal of success as a starter, but the weather in Chicago should be perfect for the knuckleball (about 41 degrees, though it is breezy). Jose Contreras hasn’t been very effective against the Twins in his career (.285/.345/.392 in 11 starts), but he has managed to shut down Justin Morneau, who’s only 2-for-26 with two strikeouts and a pair of walks against the big righty.
This also marks the first time the Twins have returned to the Cell since that horrible one-game
heartbreaker tiebreaker last year. The Twins lost that game 1-0, even though starter Nick Blackburn pitched the best game of his career (barring one mistake to, of course, Jim Thome). Our boys are extra-motivated to win this game, but especially Dickey, who wants to keep a job in the bullpen once Scott Baker returns (probably Wednesday, according to Gardy).
Meanwhile, the Wild are playing another must-win game against the Predators tonight at the X. Since they can’t seem to win two games in a row, and since they absolutely need this one, they will probably lose. Jacques Lemaire is going to pull Backs if the game is tied late in the third period, as the Wild are looking up at Nashville in the standings and can’t afford to go into overtime. Of course, none of this matters if either the Blues or the Ducks win tonight.
- 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.
- The bad news is…
The Star Tribune is reporting that Boof Bonser is going to be out for the rest of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery today. Apparently doctors found a torn labrum and rotator cuff, which is odd since two different MRIs showed no structural damage. More details will be released once a formal announcement is made. This is a major setback for a guy who has the potential to be a dominant reliever (yes, you read that right). Yes, Boof has had his problems, which I’ve documented here, but he does have that 96-mph heater. And that nasty curve. At least he did, we shall see how his arm recovers after the surgery.
Update: It’s official, Bonser will be out for six months to eight months following surgery to repair a partially torn labrum and rotator cuff. And the Twins have apparently ended their pursuit of Juan Cruz, so just ignore the paragraph below. I guess you can’t have everything.
So where does this leave the bullpen? Well, the Twins might step up their efforts to acquire Juan Cruz in a sign-then-trade deal with the Diamondbacks. Cruz would be a worthwhile investment anyway, even if the Twins had to sacrifice a draft pick by signing him as a free agent. The farm system is pretty well stocked anyway, and they are going to receive a supplemental pick when Dennys Reyes signs with another team. The hard-throwing righty is a strikeout machine, and he’s put up very good numbers everywhere he’s pitched. *sigh* They’ll probably go out and get Odalis Perez instead.
Otherwise, it gives Philip Humber, R. A. Dickey and Jason Jones the chance to compete for the final spot. Humber probably has the best stuff of the three and therefore has the best chance of earning the job. Dickey is a knuckleballer, and although Ron Gardenhire has expressed a desire to have such a pitcher in the Dome, I would be extremely surprised to see Dickey make the active roster. The catching staff doesn’t have much (if any) experience with knuckleballers, and have had trouble handling him. Jason Jones is an interesting prospect who was plucked from the Yankees organization during the Rule V draft, but he isn’t quite major-league ready (the Yankees don’t seem very interested in him so he’ll probably remain a Twin even if he doesn’t make the team). Jones is a soft-tossing righty who is supposed to be a control pitcher, but walks way too many batters to earn that designation. He would benefit from more seasoning in the minor leagues, where the coaching staff works closely with young pitchers to develop pinpoint control.
- The good news is…
Joe Mauer took light batting practice yesterday and didn’t feel any pain in his back or abdominals afterwards. And by ‘batting practice’ I mean he hit 25 balls off a tee. Mauer’s recovery has been slow so far, but has been progressing steadily so it’s very likely that he’ll be ready for Opening Day. This is obviously great news, since his bat is so valuable in the lineup.
By the way, the most unintentionally funny quote about Joe comes from his buddy, Justin Morneau. When asked about the prospect of the catcher being signed to a long-term deal, the other half of the M&M boys said: “I told Joe if he ever leaves me, I’ll never speak to him again.”
The Twins play their first exhibition game tonight against the Red Sox, and Glen Perkins is supposed to start. The lineups are posted here. I’m not going to be able to see it, since I don’t have MLB.tv or the MLB Network, but I’ll get to listen to it on the radio. Whatever, I’m just glad that baseball is back.
- Get excited, Vikings fans
Your long search for a decent quarterback is finally over. The Wilfs’ solution to the problem is to bring in…wait for it… Sage Rosenfels. Yay. Sadly, he probably would be the second-best QB in the division, behind the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers. Unless of course, the Lions’ brain trust decides to do something crazy like draft Matthew Stafford or something.
Enjoy your new football team, Los Angeles.