August 2008

Throwing Back The Bass

Bass.jpgAfter Wednesday’s afternoon game against the A’s, the Twins announced that Alexi Casilla would be recalled from the DL and Brian Bass would be sent down to Triple-A.  Perhaps the effectiveness of the bullpen on that day was a part of that decision:

Despite allowing an unearned run (Nick Punto (rare) error) in the first inning, Francisco Liriano pitched five innings on Wednesday and did not allow an earned run.  The problem: he was over the “magical” 100 pitch mark (geez, I sound like Bert Blyleven now!) and thus pulled from the game.  This was not a good sign, as the Twins’ bullpen seemed to just be recovering from a rough stretch and now they would be used again in long relief.

However, the pen was up to the challenge on this day.  Boof pitched two impressive innings, while Jesse Crain recorded perhaps the most important outs of the game in the eighth inning with A’s clogging the bases.  Joe Nathan picked up his 34th save of the year and lowered his ERA to an even 1.00.  The good: The bullpen pitched four EFFECTIVE innings.  The bad: The bullpen pitched FOUR effective innings, thus needing another pick-me-up from Baker tomorrow night.

Offensively on Wednesday, the Twins were held mostly in check but for Mike Redmond (2-4, 2 RBI) and Justin Morneau (1-3, 1 RBI).  Yet, thanks to the solid bullpen, that was all that was needed.

Notes:

-Do I agree with Bass being sent down?  Not exactly…at least from a pure performance perspective.  Taking into consideration the entire season, I’d say that Bass has pitched better than Bonser overall.  Yet, there must be monetary reasons (like, the Twins don’t want to dump his larger salary) why the Boofster still commands a bullpen chair.

-Liriano still needs to work on not giving up so many walks.  Were it not for those on Wednesday, he would have likely pitched into the sixth or even seventh inning.  A better hitting team (if he ever faces one!) will eventually make him pay for those free passes.

-The Twins have won their past 11 home series.  Wow!  If we can hang in the race over the long road quest, those home games against the ChiSox are looking pretty good.

Preview (72-54, 2nd, 1.0 GB CWS): Scott Baker (7-3, 3.91) vs. John Lackey (10-2, 3.22).  Traditionally, Lackey has been hard on Twins’ bats.  Beating him could be a big boost in terms of road morale right from the get-go.

Hit Parade

Hit Parade.jpgDespite letting the Oakland A’s get on the board first tonight, the Twins controlled the rest of the game with authority, belting out 16 hits en route to a 13-2 victory.  Leading the offensive charge were Justin Morneau (3-4, 1 RBI, 3 R), Brian Buscher (3-4, HR, 5 RBI, 2 R), Randy Ruiz (2-4, 2 RBI, 2 R), and Brendan Harris (2-3, 2 RBI, 1 R).  Denard Span added an RBI triple, while Carlos Gomez crushed a deep shot over the left field fence.  Besides a pinch hit appearance from Mike Lamb, in which he drew a walk, every single Twins batter had at least one hit tonight.

Of course, one cannot discount the pitching performance of Kevin Slowey (7 IP, 1 ER, 5 H, career-high 12 Ks), as he was able to give the pen at least one day of rest.  As I said in a previous post, if the Twins keeping getting qualities starts like what Slowey contributed tonight, they will be my favorite to win the division come October.

There’s not much strategy to debate in such a blowout game, but I picked up on an interesting comment today from the TV announcers that I thought was very pertinent to the current batting order: the importance of the lead-off guy.  Although Gomez gave the Twins a spark out of that spot early in the season, his over-eagerness and thus susceptibility to striking out have dropped him down to ninth.  Those struggles corresponded to the Twins struggling on offense until Span (a much more patient hitter) was installed in the #1 spot.  Interestingly enough, the Twins had the same thing happen in 2003…they struggled the entire first half until they traded for Toronto’s Shannon Stewart, who brought many more quality at-bats into the fold and propelled the struggling team into the postseason.  What I also like about Span is his ability to drive the ball when necessary…not only can he beat out a bunt, but he can also crank the ball into the right field gap or seats.  It takes a special player to possess all those skills, and perhaps Span is at that level already.

Preview (71-54, 2nd, 1.0 GB CWS): Francisco Liriano (3-3, 4.97) vs. Dallas Braden (3-2, 4.50). After Monday’s frustration, the Twins now have put themselves in good position (what with Cisco toeing the rubber) to take the series and go into the long road trip on a positive note.

An Exercise In Frustration

01-frustrated.jpgAs the above picture illustrates, tonight’s contest against the Oakland Athletics was a study in frustration.

The game immediately got off on the wrong foot when Nick Blackburn’s first offering to Mark Ellis was punched over the left field fence.  Only briefly did the Twins do anything to mount a comeback after that point.

As the A’s continued to scratch runs across the plate to take a 3-0 lead after four innings, the combination of Justin Duchscherer (before leaving due to injury), Kirk Sarloos, and Alan Embree stifled the Twins’ offense through seven innings.

The Twins did put together a mini-rally in the eighth inning that led to two runs off former closer Huston Street and submarining newcomer Brad Ziegler.  However, Ziegler found his groove again in the ninth and escaped with the 3-2 victory.

Finally, adding insult to injury, Twins’ starting shortstop Adam Everett was hit in the hand by a foul ball while sitting in the dugout and had to be removed from the game to have X-rays taken.

All in all, just not a good night for the Twins.  Whether it be leaving men on base or committing uncharacteristic errors, the Twins were guilty of pretty much everything tonight.  About the only positive to be taken from the tilt is that Blackburn was able to pitch into the eighth inning, give at least some rest to a beleaguered bullpen.

The quicker this loss is behind the Twins, the better.

Preview (70-54, 2nd, 1.0 GB CWS): Kevin Slowey (9-8, 3.94) vs. Sean Gallagher (4-5, 4.50). The Twins beat themselves tonight, so eliminating mental mistakes can still lead to a series victory starting tomorrow night.

Guess Who’s Back…Back Again

0_mlb_baseball_minnesota_twins.gifAfter a two-week, Internet-free vacation at “The Cabin”, I’m now back to give my nightly analysis of all things Minnesota Twins.  Here is a quick summary of how things played out in my brief absence:

-The race with the White Sox is as tight as it can get.  Somehow, Ozzie Guillen has his strange mix of aging veterans and (very) fresh youngsters still atop the division.

-Despite winning nearly every series in August so far, a deepening ***** is developing in the Twins’ armor: The starting pitching is great…for 5-6 innings.  Thus, the bullpen is used extensively nearly every night and wears down.  Matt Guerrier is so overworked (or, overutilized might be a better term) that he is nearly completely ineffective.  Even Joe Nathan is pitching more innings than Gardy would like him too.

-After playing Oakland at home the beginning of this week, the Twins begin a two-week road trip in Los Angeles (of all places), due to the Republican National Convention coming to St. Paul, Minnesota.  This stretch has the potential (since the Twins have stunk on the road this year) to break this young team, or give the young players confidence that they really belong on top of the division.

Preview (70-53, T-1st w/CWS): Nick Blackburn (9-6, 3.73) vs. Justin Duchscherer (10-8, 2.59). I believe this will be the Twins’ first look at the A’s this season.  That being said, we’ll be seeing a lot of the AL West in the coming weeks.

The Cabin

sunset.jpgFor those of you who read this blog, I would like to inform you that for the better part of August (or at least the next two weeks), I will be vacationing on my Grandparents’ lake cabin on Lone Lake in Aitkin, MN.  This cabin does not have internet access, thus my only connection is at the public library.  As a result, I will update this blog on a series-by-series basis, not every day.

Thanks for reading, and go Twins!  I will hopefully be back on a daily basis come later August.

Bad Blood

Gardy2.jpgAlthough the Minnesota Twins and Milwaukee Brewers are geographically the closest two teams to each other, tonight proved that the Chicago White Sox are still the most heated rival of the Twins.

In the earlier innings of tonight’s game, the ChiSox jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead (thanks in part to a Jim Thome long fly to left), only to see it trimmed to 4-3 on another Justin Morneau clutch home run.  Then, in the seventh inning, all hell broke loose:

With Denard Span leading off the inning, Span appeared to be hit by the pitch, but after an A.J. Pierzynski appeal to the umpire, the ump ruled that Span offered at the ball in his bunt attempt.  Later, replays would clearly show that it was an incorrect call.  Ron Gardenhire stormed out of the dugout to argue, but was ejected before he reached the top step.  After a few minutes of theatrics, Gardy kicked his cap high into the air before retreating into the dugout, inspiring many fans to throw their caps out on the field.  In a tense situation, Ozzie Guillen pulled his Sox off the field for a short time before order could be restored (essentially, until all the drunk guys could be settled down).

When all was restored, Denard Span drew a walk and later scored on a Joe Mauer single.  Then, with Morneau and Delmon Young on base, Kubel launched a laser beam into deep right field to give the Twins a 7-4 lead.

A two-run shot from Jermaine Dye briefly moved the Pale Hose to within one run, but the Twins opened things up again in the eighth, scoring three times for the 10-6 final.

Considering the dramatic comeback, tense rivalry, and bullpen battles this game featured, it may very well have been the single most exciting game of the season to date.

My Thoughts:

-Dome, Sweet, Dome.  Hopefully, by continuing to win at home, the Twins are slowly gaining enough confidence to go out and win a few road contests.  With the big road trip at the end of August and beginning of September, the Twins will need to learn this valuable skill.

-Twins/Sox in the last homestand of the season.  Division title on the line?  Better glue Gardy’s cap to his head!

Preview (60-48, 2nd, 0.5 GB CWS): Nick Blackburn (7-6, 3.69) vs. Jeremy Sowers (1-5, 5.86). Sowers pitched well against the Twins last Sunday, until we strung a few hits together in the late innings to get the W.  Blackie pitches well at home, and the Indians don’t play well anywhere, much less the Dome.

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