June 2008

Mental Edge? Not So Much!

Well, so much for my “mental edge” theory.  Tonight, the Twins were outplayed by the rival ChiSox, losing by the score of 10-6.  Two comments about tonight’s contest:

1. Once again, the value of power (whether gap or home run) was readily apparent tonight.  Though the Twins hit a few home runs of their own (but Gomez and Casilla will not produce those kind of bombs on a consistent basis), the White Sox showed that a few big bats can really turn a game around.  Case in point: in the fifth inning, at one point the Sox had the bases loaded with no outs, and ended up having all participants in that situation touch home plate.  The following inning, the Twins loaded the bases with one out…and nobody scored.  However, one really can’t fault the Twins too much, as if you score six runs in a game you expect to win it, which brings me to my second point.

2. Ultimately, the blame for this loss falls squarely on starter Nick Blackburn and reliever Juan Rincon.  Though its easy to blame Rincon due to his current doldrums, it was Blackburn that loaded (and, I guess, unloaded when you count A.J. Pierzynski’s double) the bases in the fifth inning.  Hopefully, this was just a little hiccup for Blackburn on a cool, windy night (not the best pitching conditions to begin with) and he will bounce back next time.  Rincon, on the other hand, I feel is a lost cause.  He is nowhere near the dominant setup man he once was, and he shows no signs of returning to that form anytime soon, if ever.  I realize that the Twins are giving him every opportunity in the world to stick around, as he is out of options and would likely not clear waivers, but at what point do you say “enough is enough”?  Personally, I would much rather see a young talent like Bobby Korecky out in the bullpen.  At least he brings some degree of confidence to the mound; unlike Rincon who elicits groans from fans just while warming in the bullpen!

Final thought for all Twins fans: Don’t you just hate it when Mr. Pierzynski gets a clutch hit against us?!  I suppose I shouldn’t be all that surprised, as he was always one of our better clutch hitters, but it still irks me nonethless!

Preview: An interesting pitching matchup in Livan “Fat Man” Hernandez (a funny nickname, not mean-spirited!) vs. Mark “Twins Killer” Buerhle.  Livan better be on top of his deception game, or the Sox will tee it up.  Also, pitching deep into the contest is a must, as the pen is overworked as it is (why else would we see Rinky-Dink come in during a close situation?).

A Mental Edge

As I mentioned in my previous post, there is no team I would rather have the Twins chasing in the AL Central than the Chicago White Sox.  Why?  Perhaps I am alone in this interpretation, but I feel that the Twins have the “mental edge” over the Pale Hose.

Here is how I see it: when the Twins play Chicago, Twins players/fans think “Oh yeah, we can beat these guys”, while White Sox players/fans think “Uh oh, here come those #$%^ Twins again”.  I think this attitude comes from the 2002-2004 seasons (and even in 2006, I guess), when the Twins always seemed to come up with a big series win (often a sweep) against Chicago.  Just out of curiosity, do Chicago White Sox fans feel the same way?

Just for fun, here is how I think the “mental edge” works in the other AL Central matchups:

Twins/Royals: Twins expect a series win, with a sweep never too far away.  KC fans just keeping chanting “lets go Royals” in monotone no matter who they play.  Advantage–Twins.

Twins/Tigers: Tigers expect a tough matchup, but the Twins are always worried that Detroit’s big bats could come alive at any moment and our sometimes-shaky bullpen will not be able to shut them down.  Advantage–Tigers.

Twins/Indians: For some reason (although I don’t have exact statistics on the matter), I feel that Cleveland has owned the Twins the past few years.  Whenever I see Cleveland on the schedule (not matter how good or bad they are playing) I think “oh no, not them again”.  I really have no idea how the Indians perceive the Twins.  Advantage: Indians.

Another Letdown

After losing an afternoon contest to Baltimore today (will the Twins ever win a noon, week-day game?!), the Twins dropped the three-game series to the Birds.  One of two things happened the past three days in order for this series to be lost:

1. Being a very young team, the Twins may be experiencing trouble after very emotional wins.  After taking three of four from Boston last month, the Twins were promptly swept by the Blue Jays.  Then, after fighting New York to a four-game split last weekend, we promptly lost the series to Baltimore.  Though it is tough to know exactly what the timbre of the clubhouse is after each game, it could very well be that the Twins (as young teams often do) think they are on “top of the world” after each big series win, and thus experience a huge letdown afterwards, as that sort of attitude is not conducive to the type of long season that baseball personifies.  After each game, I have noticed that Ron Gardenhire never gets too high or too low about his players…he is very even-keeled (almost mistaken for apathy).  Though I’m sure he would love to rant and rave about his players, he knows that its a long season and ups and downs are just part of the game.

2. Of course, the other option is that the Twins just ran into a hot Orioles team!  The Twins pitched at least decently in each game of the series and seemed to collect all the clutch, two-out hits that usually decide ballgames, but the O’s were always one or two runs ahead due to their home-run power.  One can really see how deficient the Twins are in the power category…it takes them 3-4 hits to score one run in some innings!  While this approach is good in the long-run (as speed really wears down opponents, and the Twins have speed!), it can often produce frusterating results, like what happened in this Orioles series.

Either way, the Twins need to put this series behind them and focus on heading into enemy territory in Chicago.  The Twins played well enough in Baltimore not to be panicking or embarassed, but we are now 2.5 games behind the Sox (after being just 0.5 back at one point).  However, if there is one team in the division that I want the Twins to be chasing, it is Chicago, as the Twins most definitely have the mental edge (remember the beatings we gave them in ’02-’04?!) against Ozzie Guillen’s bunch.

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