July 2008

The Fat Man Goeth (Hopefully…)

Fattie.jpgOne question: How long are we going to let this continue?  Seriously.  In the middle of a tight pennant race, why the Twins run the Fat Man out to the mound every week is beyond comprehension…especially when Liriano seems ready in the minors.

Tonight, Livo gave the ChiSox a 5-0 lead after four ups.  Completely unacceptable…especially when it happens on nearly every occasion that the Fat Man toes the rubber.  With that big deficit, the Twins were unable to play their speed-ball game and thus lost 8-3.

Honestly, that’s about all there is to say about this game.  If we have to release Livo, then that is what must be done.  Even if Liriano comes up and gets hurt, his replacement would STILL probably be better than Hernandez.

Preview (59-48, 2nd, 1.5 GB CWS): Scott Baker (7-3, 3.38) vs. John Danks (8-4, 3.18). After the excitement created by the first two wins of this series, it would be just as big of a letdown to lose the final two.  Baker can be our stopped, and we need him again tomorrow.

Go-Go Is Perfect; Morneau Clutch

JustinMorneau.jpgDespite seeing the Twins fall behind 4-0 after four and a half innings of play tonight, I still just had this feeling that the Twins would eventually figure out Richard’s (White Sox starter) herky-jerky motion.  In the bottom of the fifth inning, I was proven right in a big way:

Run-scoring singles from Carlos Gomez and Joe Mauer cut the lead down to 4-2, but the Twins still needed a big hit when Justin Morneau came up with the bases loaded and two outs.  As usually, Morneau pounded a double that scored all three “ducks on the pond” and put the Twins up 5-4.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, a single from Mauer (scoring Gomez) proved to be quite necessary, as Joe Nathan allowed a solo home run to Nick Swisher before banking the save.

My Thoughts:

-I believe Twins fans should be lucky that we have a ballplayer as special as Justin Morneau.  Though the exact opposite of Kirby Puckett in both stature and personality, Morneau reminds me a bit of Puck due to his high batting average, good power, and knack for delivering clutch hits.  Morneau actually has more power than Puck, as well as much better plate discipline.  We are now finding out why Mornie was signed to the longest contract in Twins history during last offseason.

-If Ron Gardenhire continues to use Gomez in the lineup on a consistent basis, the nine hole may just be a nifty slot for him.  He had a perfect 3-3 game tonight, including two runs scored and one RBI.  Perhaps not having the pressure of leading off weighing him down will allow Go-Go to thrive once again.  Plus, the combination of Gomez-Span-Casilla (when healthy) is a terrific trio in front of Mauer-Morneau-Cuddy-Young.

-Before tonight’s game, Ozzie Guillen (Sox skipper) was running his mouth to the media again, this time defending his “love” for the Twins (many ChiSox writers have criticized him for being “too nice” to the enemy Twins).  To me, Guillen is just jealous of what we have and he doesn’t.  I think he would love to field a team based on speed and defense like we do, but his GM Ken Williams (who once picked a fight with Frank Thomas, proving how smart he is) keeps signing marquee power free agents, building his team around power (that is now aging).  Plus, the White Sox have no one even close to the clutch-hitting abilities of Morneau.

Preview (59-47, 2nd, 0.5 GB CWS): Livan Hernandez (10-7, 5.31) vs. Gavin Floyd (10-6, 3.57). Can the Dome magic continue?  You know the Fat Man will give up some runs, so the bats better have some pop in them tomorrow again.

Settle For A Slow-Down

Slow Dog.jpgAt first glance, the pitching matchup (Slowey vs. Buerhle) for tonight’s Twins/White Sox contest seemed like a mismatch.  While Buerhle typically owns the Twins, Slowey has no overpowering pitches against a lineup that feasts on sub-par pitchers.  This is where the Twins needed Johan Santana to come in and dominate, right?!  Think again!

Using his pinpoint control and putting an astonishing amount of movement on his pitches, Kevin Slowey absolutely stymied the White Sox hitters tonight, holding them to just six hits and no earned runs over the full nine innings for a complete-game shutout.  Slow-Mo only needed 102 pitches to accomplish this task, as batter after batter swung either underneath his pitches (pop-ups) or on top of them (weak ground balls).  No Chicago players (with the exception of Jermaine Dye’s long fly to left) made solid contact the entire night.

Offensively, the Twins finally found a way to silence their most nefarious current foe…with the long ball.  In the third inning, Denard Span sent a bomb to right field off Buerhle to give the Twins a 2-0 lead, while Morneau soon follow with a two-run shot of his own…this time to straight-away centerfield, a real screamer.  In the fifth, Morneau drove in another run with a single, while Brendan Harris doubled late in the game to score two for the 7-0 final.

Observations:

-Isn’t it great to beat Mark Buerhle?!  Perhaps the fans were blowing again, huh Mark?!

-It was nice to see Carlos Gomez enter the game in the late innings and get a nice ovation from the fans.  Perhaps, in my earlier post today, I underestimated his value as an exciting, fan-favorite.  Jason Kubel or Craig Monroe (the outfielders who could replace him if he continues to struggle) don’t generate nearly that kind of fan response.

-Are you sure that Brad Radke didn’t just go back in time and put his essence in Slowey’s body and arm?  They are so similar.  On one hand, they can struggle mightily if their control is off, but when “on” that type of stuff frustrates batters to no end.

Preview (58-47, 2nd, 1.5 GB CWS): Glen Perkins (7-3, 4.08) vs. Clayton Richard (0-0, 9.00). This pitching matchup is pretty one-sided, but Wednesday and Thursday are another story.  Richard is making just is second major league start, while Perkins has been pitching very well of late.  Wouldn’t it be great to assure at least a split this early in the series?!

Staying Close

I was again out of town over the weekend and without Internet access, so here is my quick review of the Cleveland series:

Span.jpg

Game #1: The Fat Man pitched a complete game, but allowed five runs in the process in the 5-4 loss.  Carlos Gomez was carted off in the first inning after crashing into the center field wall, while a Justin Morneau home run in the ninth inning was not enough to complete a comeback.

Game #2: The whupping sticks came out against Cleveland starter Fausto Carmona.  Delmon Young collected three hits, as did Brian Buscher (who also homered and drove in five runs).  Scott Baker improved to 7-3 on the season thanks to all the run support.

Game #3: With the game tied 2-2 heading into the ninth inning, the Twins finally outlasted Jeremy Sowers, who had held them to two scratch runs in the previous eight innings.  Facing new Cleveland “closer” (kind of like Mike Trombley closing for the Twins in the late 90s!) Rafael Perez, Alexi Casilla hit a ground-rule double.  Then, favoring the lefty-lefty matchup, Cleveland skipper Eric Wedge let Perez pitch to Morneau.  Of course, the Big Canuck smacked a double to break the tie, and was later singled home by Jason Kubel for the 4-2 final score.

Some thoughts about the series:

-This series pretty much belonged to Denard Span.  At bat, he worked deep into counts and seemingly always got on base in some fashion.  In center field, he made numerous running or jumping (as pictured) catches that saved countless runs.  When Go-Go’s back is ready for action again, Gardy will have an interesting decision to make.  Things will even get murkier when Cuddyer returns.  My vote is for Gomez to be sent down and go with a Young, Span, Kubel outfield for now, than sub in Cuddyer when ready and have Kubel platoon at DH with Craig Monroe (a right-handed batter).  Gomez’s “slump” has turned into a trend.  He still has a very bright future, but pitchers have finally figured him out and he needs to make the adjustment, which hasn’t happened yet.  In the middle of a pennant race, patience with him his tough to stomach, as he strikes out so many times and makes himself look foolish on many occasions.

-I think it’s also time for the Fat Man to go.  Sure, he is a veteran presence, but he is clearly now finally showing his true statistical line.  Many people will point to the fact that he pitched a complete game on Friday night, but he also gave up five runs…that’s a 5.00 ERA (not very impressive in my book).  Time to call up the Cisco Kid and see what happens.  Perhaps Livan would be willing to go the pen for a while?  Doubtful, but in that case we would have to release him and take a chance on Liriano…a chance I am willing to take.

-Finally, I am always hopeful for a Twins victory when Scott Baker is on the mound, but he really needs to find a way to limit is pitch count before I will count him as a truly reliable starting pitcher.  He almost always has his good “stuff”, but that “stuff” often requires 100+ pitches in 5-6 innings and leads to many short starts.  Johan Santana had kind of the same problem, but he was usually able to find a way to pitch into the seventh inning.

Preview: (57-47, 2nd, 2.5 GB CWS): Kevin Slowey (6-7, 4.41) vs. Mark Buerhle (8-8, 3.56).  In under an hour, the Twins begin their most important series of the season to date…a four-game with the Chicago White Sox.  A win against notorious Twin-killer Buerhle would really boost confidence.

The Moose Is Loose

moose.jpgIn his career against the Minnesota Twins, Mike “Moose” Mussina is 21-6 in 31 starts with four shutouts and a 3.18 ERA.  True to that form, Mussina dominated the Twins once again this afternoon, holding them to six hits and no earned runs over eight innings while striking out seven.  Besides perhaps Roger Clemens, no single pitcher that I can remember has enjoyed as much individual success against the Twins as Moose has.  Whether it be his awkward delivery or his ability to pick apart young batters (probably the latter), the Twins just cannot figure this guy out.

Pitching-wise, Glen Perkins (6 IP, 5 ER) pitched the best game of the series for a Twins starter…but this time was done in by some unusual suspects.  Besides a “typical” A-Rod RBI double, the other Yankee runs were scored on a double from Justin Christian (the #9 hitter) and a sacrifice fly from new Yank first baseman Richie Sexson.  Here is the problem in a nutshell: while the Twins had Mike Lamb and Brendan Harris in the sixth and seventh slots in the batting order, the Yanks had Robinson Cano and Miguel Cabrera.  Enough said.

When the final out is recorded in this “House of Horrors”, will anyone be happier than Ron Gardenhire and his boys?!

Preview (55-46, 2nd, 2.5 GB CWS): Livan Hernandez (10-6, 5.29) vs. Cliff Lee (13-2, 2.29). After Thursday’s day of rest, the Twins head into Cleveland for the weekend.  This series is interesting for the following two reasons:

1. On Friday night, Livan Hernandez may be pitching for his job.  With Francisco Liriano dominating the minor leagues, the Twins may think he is just the spark they need, and the Fat Man is the only cog in the rotation that could use a replacement.

2. With the White Sox coming into town at the beginning of next week, the Twins can’t fall out of striking distance.  If we can get back to 1.5 GB after Sunday I would be happy.

Of course, the Twins only have to defeat the best pitcher in the AL on Friday night…but at least ‘ole Carsten Charles isn’t following him!

**** Yankees

Abreu.jpgDespite having a one-run lead as late as the sixth inning tonight, the Twins were once again beaten by the long ball (pictured, from Bobby Abreu) in an 8-2 defeat.

I don’t have much to say about this game, only that it was a typical Twins loss against the Yankees.  Pitching-wise, Kevin Slowey did not make it out of the fifth inning, then Jesse Crain was hamered in the sixth.

Offensively, the bats went completely silent against mediocre pitching, totaling just five hits and one double.

Like I said, another typical loss to the Yankees.

Preview (2nd, 55-45, 1.5 GB CWS): Glen Perkins (7-2, 3.84) vs. Mike Mussina (12-6, 3.49).  Let’s try to keep the brooms from flying in the upper deck, huh?!

The Evil Empire

Empire.jpgWhile watching the pre-game analysis on television before tonight’s contest, I was amazed to hear that the Twins had not won a series in Yankee Stadium since 2001, when Brad Radke and Joe Mays took two out of three from New York.  Now I remember why.

Tonight’s game turned ugly early, with A-Rod blasting off against Blackburn in the first inning, then the Yankees knocking Blackie clean out of the game in the second.  “Reliever” (aka Man Without A Position) Boof Bonser didn’t fare much better, giving up home runs to Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter.  Both Craig Breslow and Matt Guerrier also were tagged for single runs.  Essentially, the Yanks pummeled every pitcher we threw at them to the tune of a 12-4 final score.

To make matters worse, our bats went quiet in the clutch against Sidney Ponson.  The Twins collected 9 hits off him in just five innings, but only scored three earned runs.  I have a theory that perhaps the Twins get a little too excited at the plate when facing a pitcher they know they SHOULD just tee-off on.  That’s exactly what seemed to be happening tonight, as batter after batter would try to do too much and pop the ball up or weakly ground out.  Ah, the trials and tribulations of a young team.

A few final thoughts:

-The Twins have never matched up well against the current-generation Yankees…I think they just have too many great hitters in a row for our pitching staff to handle.  Our staff is built to prey on the weaknesses of poor hitters by throwing strikes, but the Yanks battle deep into counts and turn those strikes into hard hits.  Of course, I’m sure the Twins are not the only team in baseball that feels this way!

-With that being said, though, right now the Twins and Yankees have nearly identical records, and may very well be competing with each for a wild card spot come September.  Thus, we need to beat them NOW.

-Finally, the Twins continue to struggle on the road, which is quite scary to me, as they have a few long road trips in the near future.  We need to find a way to get Joe Nathan a few bottom-of-the-ninth save opportunities.

Preview (55-44, 2nd, 0.5 GB CWS): Kevin Slowey (6-6, 4.26) vs. Darrell Rasner (5-7, 4.97). The offense needs to be less anxious, and Slowey needs to have his pinpoint control working for the Twins to succeed tomorrow night.  

Another Series Win

Victory.jpgI was out of town this weekend (just the time to be the featured blog on MLB.com, of course!), so here is my recap of the weekend’s action:

Friday: Behind the strong pitching of Glen Perkins (who improved to a remarkable 7-2 on the season), the Twins shut-out the Texas Rangers 6-0.  Delmon Young continued his hot hitting (4-4), while both Jason Kubel and Brian Buscher had two hits and two RBI.  Basically, another impressive Twins victory.

Saturday: The whooping sticks came out, as Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, and Young each homered en route to the big 14-2 victory.  The Fat Man picked up his tenth win of the year in a strong seven inning, two earned run effort.

Sunday: The most compelling (and frustrating) game of the series.  Scott Baker took a perfect game into the sixth inning, then lost everything on one swing of the bat from Rangers’ catcher Teagarden, who hit a solo dinger.  That proved to be the only run of the contest from either side, as the Twins were stymied by Vincent Padilla and could not bring in Mauer from third base in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Essentially, the weekend was another strong series for the Twins.  Despite losing the finale in rather heartbreaking fashion, a series win is the ultimate prize anyway.  Plus, we also gained a game on the White Sox, which is always good news.  A few quick random thoughts:

-Aren’t MLB agents the pits?  If you haven’t heard, Francisco Liriano’s agent is whining about the fact that Liriano hasn’t been called up to the major leagues yet despite pitching very well in the minors.  The agent is claiming that it has something to do with a service time matter, but I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that Liriano was called up once already this season and stunk, or that the Twins are the hottest club in baseball right now on primarily the strength of their starting pitching?!  So, my advice for the Cisco Kid–Tough…Get Over It.

-Delmon Young seems to be heating up at just the right time.  His is a bat that the Twins could really use down the stretch (especially considering our weakness against lefties).

-Doesn’t that series with the ChiSox next week get you excited already?  The Twins need to play well this week to put themselves in a position to do some really damage in the division race by that point.

-Finally, I usually keep this blog about sports, but I saw “The Dark Knight” Saturday night and I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone!  If you are a Batman fan you will love it, and if you have never seen a superhero movie you will still be impressed by the deep themes and incredible acting.

Preview (55-43, 2nd, 0.5 GB CWS): Nick Blackburn (7-5, 3.65) vs. “Sir” Sidney Ponson (5-1, 3.96).  If you know anything about the Twins, you will know why a loss tomorrow night at Yankee Stadium would be deemed tremendously embarrassing.

Kicking Off The Second Half

JOsh.jpgTonight, when Josh Hamilton leads the Texas Rangers into the Metrodome, the Twins will kick off the unofficial second half of their season.  The Twins are currently 53-42 and 1.5 games behind the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central division.  Glen Perkins (6-2, 4.14) will take the mound tonight against Kevin Millwood (6-5, 5.11).  I won’t be near a computer this weekend, so I will comment on this series upon its conclusion.

Twins All-Star Trio

Trio.jpgThe Minnesota Twins sent a trio of All-Stars (Joe Mauer, Joe Nathan, and Justin Morneau) to the 79th Annual All-Star Game and Home Run Derby.  It turned out to be perhaps the greatest representation of the Twins in All-Star Game history:

-Joe Mauer: Played a rather small role, but caught the first five innings and collected one infield single and one walk at the plate.

-Joe Nathan: Pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning for Terry Francona’s AL stars.

-Justin Morneau: Won the Home Run Derby, went 2-4 in the All-Star game, and scored the winning run of the contest by barely beating a throw from right field while tagging from third.

Considering that the Twins are usually a non-factor in the midsummer classic, this game was a remarkable occurrence and will hopefully energize the team in the coming weeks and months.

The Twins are off on Thursday and kick off the unofficial second half of the season against Texas at the Dome on Friday night.

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