June 2008

An Entertaining Loss (?)

If such a thing as an “entertaining loss” exists, the Twins sure had that kind of a game yesterday afternoon.  Despite losing a 4-2 contest that lost them a chance to gain another game on the White Sox, for some reason the game was thoroughly entertaining.  A few observations:

Another home run from Jason Kubel!  He has been on quite the power streak during the recent month.  If this continues, it could be a HUGE lift for the Twins, who are always starved for power hitting.  The last few years, everyone has said that if Kubel could just get consistent playing time (in the field or at DH) that he would start to produce with the bat.  Well, he is getting the playing time now, so hopefully he is finally starting to mature as a hitter.

Scott Baker made a bit of history yesterday as well, striking out four batters in a single inning (the first time a Twins pitcher had ever accomplished such a feat)!  Three of the strikeouts were “normal”, while one came on a called third strike to Prince Fielder that Mike Redmond let get by him allowing Fielder (of all people) to reach first base.

Speaking of Fielder, I was quite tickled to find out that he went completely “vegetarian” over the offseason.  If there was one guy in the entire major leagues I would not have pegged as a vegan, it would have been Prince.  I remember watching the tail end of Cecil Fielder’s career, and he looked like a walking blimp, so I guess Prince isn’t doing too bad with the genetics he was given!

Finally, for the first time in my life yesterday, I came to understand the “mysterious” double switch of the National League.  Being an American League guy all my life, I’ve just never watched enough NL games to figure it out, but yesterday for some reason the light bulb just went on.  Basically (in case you are confused as well), if a team replaces a pitcher, as well as replaces one other position player, then the pitcher’s batting spot can be swapped with the batting spot of the position player that was replaced.  For example, yesterday Twins third baseman Brian Buscher (batting sixth) struck out to end an inning.  The pitcher’s spot would have been due up the next inning, but Gardy pulled a double switch, replacing his starting pitcher with a reliever and pulling Buscher for Matt Macri.  Thus, the pitcher would now bat sixth in the lineup (where Buscher used to be) and the third base slot will bat ninth.  Simple, huh?!

Preview (34-36, 2nd, 4.5 GB CWS): After today’s much-needed off day (it’s only been a month since the last one!), the Twins host the Washington Nationals (featuring old friend Cristian Guzman) beginning Tuesday.  The Fat Man (6-4, 5.84) gets the opening game against John Lannan (4-7, 3.43).  The Nats are by all means the worst team in the National League so far this year, so it would be a disappointment if this does not result in a series win for the Twins.

A Wild And Crazy Affair

First off, I just want to mention that I wasn’t able to watch tonight’s game.  There was a tornado warning in my hometown (Fergus Falls, MN) and while no touchdowns occurred (sounds like the Vikings’ passing game….heh, heh), our FSN station went on the fritz because of the storm.  With that said, I believe I just may have missed the most exciting game of the year:

I was glad to see that Perkins turned in a solid effort.  Not spectacular, but enough to keep the Twins in the game.

However, after a rally that gave the Twins the lead in the bottom of the ninth, my hero (otherwise known as Twins closer Joe Nathan…just look at the title of the blog) blew a save.  This isn’t supposed to happen!  I suppose it just means that he is human after all.

Yet, the Twins were still able to rally in the ninth and put a bunch of runs together to take the game (and, thus, the series already).  I bet Miller Park (if a bunch of Twins fans still made the trip even with the high gas prices) was rockin’ when Cuddyer hit his triple and scored on the throwing error for the Twins’ final run of the game!

Well, that’s about all I have to say about this game, as I was unfortunately unable to watch it.  One final thing that caught my eye, though, was that Jesse Crain pitched two scoreless innings in a tie ballgame…remarkable!  If you’re not a Twins fans just looking at Crain’s stats you probably think I have been rather hard on him in my recent blog posts, but if you have been a Twins fan for a few years you know EXACTLY what I am talking about.

Preview: Scott Baker (2-1, 3.60) will try to complete the sweep tomorrow against Seth McClung (3-3, 4.07).  I’ll tell you what…interleague play sure shows me how much knowledge I lack about National League players…I’m not familiar with any of Milwaukee’s pitchers!  Hopefully my cable comes back online (fingers crossed) and I will be able to watch the final tilt tomorrow.

The Tables Finally Turn

Finally, a blowout victory (10-2) in the Twins’ favor!  The Twins have been on the other end of one of those WAY too many times the past week and a half.

Of course, as usual, the strong effort was made possible (geez, I sound like PBS) by a starting pitcher…in his case Kevin Slowey.  He made quick work of the Brew Crew, allowing just two earned runs in eight innings.

The offense also gave Slowey an earlier 1-0 lead, then built it up to 4-0 after four innings.  Again, there is nothing more settling to a pitcher than to not have to be perfect on every pitch, and I think Slowey really benefited from that tonight.  Whether it was clutch hits, doubles, triples, home runs, or even sacrifice bunts (that turn into hits!), the Twins managed to do it all tonight.

Finally, it is always fun to watch the pitchers bat in interleague play.  Slowey was incredible with the bat tonight, launching a double off the base of the wall in left field and then singling in two runs later in the game.  To be honest, I bet the Twins wished that they played in the National League.  Think about it…most AL teams the Twins play have some big slugger off the bench at DH, while more often than not the Twins have guys like Brendan Harris or Mike Lamb.  In the NL, however, there is just one less slugger that the pitchers have to get out.

Preview (33-35, 5.5 GB CWS): In the second “premium” game (read previous post) of the Miller Park series, Glen Perkins (2-2, 4.58) will pair up with Jeff Suppan (4-4, 3.78).  Why not win the series right away and not wait around for the third game?!

“Premium” Games My…

Before recapping the action of later tonight (hopefully a well-played Twins victory!), I wanted to share something that I feel is a complete injustice to the game of baseball…so-called premium games.  Being a Twins fan, I will explain this “phenomena” (although I’m guessing many of you know what I am talking about already) from my point of view:

Basically, the Twins are trying to screw over their fans for a little more money by adding “premium” games to the schedule (this has been going on in Minnesota for a few years now).  Whenever the Red Sox, Yankees, or Brewers come to town, the price of each ticket is raised by three dollars.  To me, this is the ultimate insult to fans, and almost could be seen as price-gouging (although baseball is not under government jurisdiction, so it’s not likely there is anything that can be done about it).  Do these games somehow mean more in the standings than the others?!  No!!  The only reason they are “premium” is because the Twins organization knows that fans want to see those games, and thus just charge more.  The Milwaukee deal bothers me the most, as the Twins know that the neighboring-state series is usually a big draw.

The reason I bring this up before tonight’s game, though, is that the Brewers do the same thing (I think they started their “premium” games just recently).  I have an aunt who lives in Wisconsin, and sometimes we make it a road trip to visit her and take in a Twins/Brewers game at beautiful Miller Park (what a stadium!).  Usually, we paid about $40 for lower-deck seats, which isn’t too bad.  This year, however, I went to look for tickets for those same seats and found them to be upwards of $60.  I couldn’t figure it out…until I noticed that the Twins games at Miller Park are now “premiere” events, and thus cost more.  This was a major (combined with the high gas prices) factor in our family’s decision not to make the trip this year.

I am afraid that baseball is slowly turning into professional basketball (as far as prices are concerned), and that scares the heck out of me!  Baseball is supposed to be a leisurely family sport, without the violence of the NFL or the attitude of the NBA.  However, even small families are no longer able to afford outings to the ballparks, as once you factor in parking, concessions, and “premium” games, the price is akin to giving up half a week’s wages for 2-3 hours.  It’s absurd.  With the skyrocketing gas prices, I honestly think that baseball may have to do something about their price scheme, or there will be a lot of blue (meaning empty) seats covering the Metrodome (and all other ballparks) this season and beyond.

Juan is Gone

I didn’t get a chance to watch much of the game tonight, but when I turned on the TV it was 11-1 Cleveland and thus not exactly a scintillating experience.  Basically, it looks like the Fat Man got beat up again.  More than any other of his starts, this is a very bad thing for Livan…as if he can’t pitch decently against the Indians this year, I don’t know where he will ever pick up another win.  The offense went in the tank again tonight as well, but when you are behind 6-0 after three innings, regaining the lead seems like a daunting task, and thus batters try to do too much.  Also, a chance to gain a game on the White Sox was lost, and now the Indians themselves are breathing down our necks.

The big news today, though, was the possible demotion of Juan Rincon to the minor leagues.  He has 72 hours to accept his assignment, or he will be placed on waivers (where some team will inevitably pick him up).  I think that this is completely the right move, but what really interests me is whether Rincon will remain loyal to the Twins and accept the demotion, or be greedy and refuse.  Here’s the way I see it: After a few dominating seasons as the setup man to Eddie Guardado and Joe Nathan, Rincon seems to have lost all ability to ever return to that form again.  In the meantime, the Twins have kept him on the roster long past what common sense would dictate, likely out of loyalty to his past performances, clinging to the hope that he could possibly regain some smidgeon of his old self.  After the past week, however, it became clear that a drastic change needed to be made.  So, like I said, it will be interesting to see how Rincon chooses to react.  I would like to see him remain loyal to the Twins and go down to the minors to see if he can get himself straightened out, but I have a sneaking suspicion he will not, as most players don’t seem very loyal to their teams in this day and age.

Preview (32-35, 5.5 GB CWS): The Twins begin the main portion of their interleague play schedule tomorrow when they travel to Milwaukee to take on the Brew Crew.  Kevin Slowey (2-6, 5.15) will square off against Dave Bush (2-6, 5.85).  A series win would be nice…for a change.

A Tentative Victory

Hooray!  The Twins are back in the win column!  Of course, they couldn’t just put the game away after jumping out to a 6-1 lead, but at this point I guess a win is a win.

In the fifth inning, with the game tied at 1-1, the Twins did what they should do against the perpetually average Paul Byrd…rough him up a little.  Morneau and Cuddyer doubled home runs, while Kubel went deep to center field, and by the end of the inning the Twins had a 6-1 lead.

Yet, as has been Twins baseball recently, that lead was not safe.  After six strong innings, starter Blackburn was pulled for Boof Bonser.  In what must have come as no surprise to fellow Twins fans, Boof got into trouble right away, putting two Indians on base.  Then, Reyes trotted in from the bullpen and proceeded to allow a three-run homer to Grady Sizemore.  The lead was now a slim 6-5, and Twins fans had that “oh no, not again feeling”…again.

The pleasant surprise of the night, though, was Jesse Crain pitching a solid inning of relief in a pressure situation (something that hasn’t happened for quite awhile).  Besides the fact that he can never quickly put a batter away (but that has always been Crain), he looked sharp.  A good step in the right direction.

Because of that strong outing from Crain, the Twins were able to hold the lead and even add two more runs in the ninth, giving closer Joe Nathan a 8-5 lead to do this thing, which he did almost flawlessly as usual.  Before tonight, it seemed like Nathan had been cooped up in the pen forever, so it was nice to see his domination over opposing batters once again.

The Twins also played strong defense tonight, which is something that MUST continue into the future.  All the routine plays were made (the most important thing), and even a great one was turned in by Cuddyer in right with his diving sprawl.

Thus, despite the Bonser/Reyes hiccup, the Twins played a solid game tonight, something that has not been said since the calendar turned to June.  Plus, they gained a game on the White Sox!

Preview (31-34, 5.5 GB CWS): Tomorrow night (yes, a rare Thursday night game) the Fat Man (6-3, 5.32) will take the mound armed with his scintillating repertoire of…junk, while Aaron Laffey-Taffey (too funny not to!) (3-3, 2.98) will start for Cleveland.  The way the Indians have been struggling to score runs of late, even Livan should be able to shut them down.  Thus, all the Twins should need to do is scratch out 3-4 runs to win this contest and secure a much-needed series victory over someone!

Twins (and Gomez) Fall Again

Towards the end of the 2007 major league baseball season, the Cleveland Indians faced a dilemma regarding ace pitcher C.C. Sabathia.  They had three options (much like the Twins regarding Torii Hunter and Johan Santana): 1. Trade him for the biggest possible bounty; 2. Sign him to a long-term contract for big bucks; 3. Keep him around for one more season (his last under contract) in hopes of contending and either trade him at the All-Star break or lose him outright at the end of the season.  Why couldn’t the Indians have picked the first option?!

Once again tonight, as has become so familiar to Twins fans, Carsten Charles dominated Twins hitters, shutting them down through nine full innings on just five hits (all singles).  For some reason, the Twins have always had problems hitting left-handed pitchers (perhaps because Mauer and Morneau are lefties themselves?), and powerful lefties with great command and velocity…forget about it.  It was one of those nights where you just knew the Twins weren’t going to get a hit.  I thought the Twins might have had a chance in the ninth inning when C.C. went to a 3-1 count on Matt Macri (as the top of the order was due up next), but of course he came back to whiff the new third baseman.

A game like tonight gives me flashbacks to the 2005 (shudder) season.  That year, it seemed like when the Twins hit well (rarely) their pitching failed them, and when they pitched well their hitting failed them (often).  The same pattern is developing this season.  Take this last week: The Twins actually hit quite well against the White Sox, but the starting pitching was so atrocious that they were swept out of town.  Now, in this first game against Cleveland, Baker turned in a gem of an outing and the bats went completely silent.  Wasn’t this the reason why Torii Hunter took a swing at Justin Morneau in ’05?!

Finally, I don’t want to sound like I am nit-picking here, but I was really disappointed by Carlos Gomez again out in center field.  Sure, the Twins aren’t going to win tonight’s game without scoring any runs, but he was the reason why Cleveland’s lone run scored in the first inning.  After Ben Francisco doubled, Ryan Garko lined a single into center field.  Gomez charged the ball hard for a play at the plate…and, once again, overran the ball and let Francisco score unchallenged.  If that would have been the first time Gomez made that mistake I wouldn’t be so frustrated, but it has happened time and time again.  I know that a center fielder must charge the ball hard, plus the adrenaline begins to flow when a play at the plate looks possible, but Gomez MUST secure the ball first.  Too many times it has squirted under/over/sideways past his glove and behind him.

Preview: Tomorrow night, Nick Blackburn (4-4, 3.94) toes the rubber against Paul Byrd (3-5, 4.46).  Blackburn is looking to bounce back from a poor outing (but, at this point, aren’t all Twins starters?!), while the Twins often struggle to hit Byrd’s funky delivery.  Sounds like another “fun” night…

“Crain”ing His Neck…Again

As I was watching the afternoon tilt between the Twins and White Sox today, I really felt that the Twins were going to pull out a victory.  Then, Jesse Crain was summoned from the bullpen, and the game turned sour in a hurry.

Before I go any further, I am fully aware that Matt Guerrier had an extremely poor outing and deserved to take the loss today.  However, I also strongly feel that if other members of the bullpen would step up their game, we wouldn’t have to rely on Guerrier every other day.  Everybody has bad days, and I think today was Guerrier’s “bad day”.  I will not fault a pitcher who is usually reliable for having one bad outing.  I don’t know the general opinion about the Twins bullpen, but right now I only trust Guerrier.  Rincon is finished, Reyes is too wild, Breslow is unproven, Bass is a mop-up guy, and I’m just getting started about Crain.

But, rant aside, let’s get back to the game at hand.  After struggling to make it through five innings, Gardy gave starter Perkins the quick hook after walking Jim Thome with one out.  Though I was surprised that Gardy pulled the youngster (especially waiting until Perkins almost threw the first pitch to Jermaine Dye and making Mauer call time) so early, I can see the rationale: Perkins had labored through five innings, and the Twins had a 5-2 lead.  Though I would have left Perky in the game, I can see Gardy’s reasoning and don’t fault him too much for his decision.

But then, like a scene from a cheesy old horror movie (where everybody screams in mock panic), Crain was summoned from the pen.  Again, I do not fault Gardy for bringing in Crain, as the bullpen is terribly overworked and, as of now, can only turn to the freshest arm each night.  Crain managed to look impressive in striking out Dye, and I thought that perhaps he could actually put forward a rare performance in which he performs well in the clutch.  That thought was quickly adjourned, however, when the next batter–Nick Swisher– launched a bomb into the seats to put the ChiSox within one.  Thus, once again, Crain was left to his seemingly-normal routine: Watch the flight of the moonshot, stare at the ground for awhile, and start rubbing up a new ball.

Because Crain could not be productive, Guerrier had to be brought into another game, and had his “bad day” as previously mentioned, taking the loss.  I don’t know about you, but I am not projecting a postive future for Jesse Crain whatsoever.  Besides that one season a few years ago where he padded his record with a lucky string of extra-inning victories that fell into his lap, Crain has done nothing but get injured and fold under nearly ever pressure situation thrown his way.  I really hope that Rick Anderson can straighten him out, because he does have a nice curveball and nice velocity.  However, it will take a string of good outings (perhaps an entire season!) to put him back in my good graces.

On a finale note, am I sure glad the Twins are leaving Chicago!!  The combination of terrible Twins starting pitcher and monstrous ChiSox production is not a good mix for Twins fans.  I don’t think I have ever seen a Twins series in which the opposing team hit so many long fly balls (either home runs or not).  It seemed like half the outs the Twins did record were in the gap or on the warning track.

Preview: The Twins get no rest after their long series with Chicago, as they begin a three-game tilt in Cleveland tomorrow night.  Scott Baker (2-0, 4.03) will take the mound against C.C. Sabathia (3-8, 4.81).  Even though C.C. hasn’t been pitching well this season, he is still a “Twins killer” because of his lefthanded status.  Like with Chicago, though, the Twins’ mound opponent won’t matter much if Baker can’t provide a quality start.

A Sad Day All Around

Today, in almost a mirror-image of last night’s contest, the Twins weathered a rain delay, took an early lead, and saw that lead quickly vanish due to a collapse of the starting pitcher.

The victim today was Kevin Slowey.  Slowey made it through one whole inning today before giving up the long ball (a three-run blast to Nick Swisher), then barely made it through the third inning, first allowing three more Chicago runs.  Once again, a Twins starting pitcher turned in a complete failure of an appearance.  During that third inning, it was as if Slowey was throwing BP to the White Sox hitters…he could not get a ball past them.

The sad part of today’s game, however, was watching Juan Rincon get knocked around once again.  Even though I think that Rincon’s career may be finished at this point, it is still a sad moment to see him fall so far.  He did so much for the Twins during the ’03-’05 seasons that I am rather embarassed at the Twins organization for making him endure this endless punishment.  I am completely perplexed as to why he is still on the team?!  He has stunk for two and a half years, yet somehow he is still around.  I heard a theory floating around that the Twins are only keeping him on the team so they don’t have to pay the rest of his contract, but at some point you just have to cut your losses and “pay out”.

On a final note, I turned the game off after the fifth inning today (once the Twins were behind by double-digit runs), as I didn’t want to watch another pounding.  If that was the thought-process going through my brain, what must the Twins themselves have been feeling?  As I mentioned in an earlier post, falling behind by multiple runs in the early innings of a ballgame is one of the most deflating moments in baseball.  Though I realize that these players are professional and will always give their full effort, it still must be daunting to look up at the scoreboard from the batter’s box and find yourself down by double-digits again.

Monday Preview: Provided the weather holds out, the final game (a make-up date from an earlier rain-out) of this series will pit Glen Perkins (2-2, 4.50) against Jose Contreras (6-3, 2.76).  At this point, the Twins can no longer look at the standings or their record or anything like that…they just need to get in the win column.  Contreras has been pitching well this season, but he does have his bad days.  Of course, that won’t matter at all if Perkins doesn’t last more than a few innings.

Livan’s Crash Landing

Oh boy…this is starting to get ugly.  For the umpteenth time tonight, a Twins starting pitcher let the game get out of hand before the offense could even begin to warm up.  This time, it was the Fat Man (well, both Fat Men actually, Livan and Boof!).  Of course, the only people this should surprise are the blindly-optimistic Twins fans, who thought that Livan would finish the season roughly 25-5.  Win-wise, Hernandez had a great month and a half to start the season, but now he is just coming back to earth.

Really, the Livan Hernandez approach to pitching is quite simple: let the hitter hit the ball and let the law of averages take over.  In that case, the best hitters are only going to get hits off of him three out of every ten times.  Of course, that is almost exactly what happens!  In his career, Livan is 140-130 with a 4.27 ERA…exactly what one might expect from a pitcher who plays the odds.  Hernandez will likely finish with a 15-14 record or so when all is said or done.

That being said, the Twins really need to get their starting pitchers back on track.  To me, there is nothing more demoralizing (besides, perhaps, a blown save) than having your starting pitcher give up crooked numbers in bunches.  This actually affects the hitters as much as the pitchers themselves, as the hitters begin to try and do too much and do not put in quality at-bats.  I am not panicking about the Twins’ starting pitching yet, though.  If the “2000-era” Twins have shown me anything, it is that they have the ability to salvage a pitching staff.  By nearly all accounts, the Twins shouldn’t even be this close (4.5 games after tonight’s loss) to the top of the division with their current pitching staff, which has only let them down in the last two weeks.  I think Gardy and crew can still get this thing back on track.

On on bright note, Delmon Young went yard for the first time of the season.  Comically, it didn’t even make it to the first row of the seats!  Historical Rant: During the 1998 season, my Dad and I saw the only home run hit by Otis Nixon as a Twin.  It too landed in front of the first seat in left field at the Dome.

Preview: Tomorrow afternoon, Kevin Slowey (2-5, 3.76) takes the mound against Gavin Floyd (6-3, 3.15).  Slowey has been pitching pretty well as of late, so hopefully he can stop the bleeding.  Remember, the Twins lost the first two games of the Yankee series last week and came back to get the split…we desperately need the same thing now!


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