September 2008

Lucky The White Sox Lost

STifled.jpgAs the above picture very adeptly shows, the Twins’ batsmen were a bit out of focus tonight against Indians rookie Scott Lewis, scoring just one run in the ninth inning.

In typical Twins fashion as of late, when the starting pitcher (Kevin Slowey: 6 IP, 3 ER) turned in a quality start and the bullpen (two perfect innings) did its job, the offense was mysteriously shut down by a left-handed hurler, and a green rookie at that.  Besides a 3-3 performance from Delmon Young (raising her average to .289 on the season), the Twins collected just two hits (including the Mauer home run in the ninth) the entire game.

In the heart of the pennant race, these are the types of games that are depressing to lose.  However, the Pale Hose also fell to the Bombers, so we’re still hanging in their.  I was talking with my Dad (a big baseball fan like myself) about the Twins’ playoff hopes, and he was rather negative about the whole subject, thinking that even if the Twins DO make the playoffs they will make another early exit.  One thing I would like to remind him (and all of you), though, is that ANYTHING can happen in the playoffs…there is a reason why they call it the “second season”.  Just two years ago, the St. Louis Cardinals had the worst single-season record (83 wins) of any playoff team in history, but went on to win the World Series.  My point is that the past is thrown out the window in the playoffs, especially that short, five-game first round that has produced many upsets over the years.  We just need to GET IN!

Notes:

-To be honest, the most troubling sign I see from the Twins right now is the continued free-fall of reliever Matt Guerrier.  When Matty is on, the entire bullpen falls into their roles easier.  When Guerrier falters, the whole pen is stretch and becomes less effective.  Guerrier covered the loss of Neshek for the first half of the season, but now that hole is very apparent.

Preview (82-68, 2nd, 1.5 GB CWS): Francisco Liriano (5-3, 3.19) vs. Zach Jackson (0-3, 5.63).  Liriano will almost certainly handcuff the punchless Tribe tomorrow night, but Jackson is another lefty, so you never know how the offense will react.  It looks like a cake-walk, but how many times have I said that on this blog and have it blow up in my face?!  We’ll win if we can hit, let’s just leave it at that.

Nothing Much Changes (And That’s Not A Good Thing)

slap.jpgThis past weekend, I was unfortunately unable to watch much (i.e. any) Twins baseball, thus I really don’t have any specific comments about the games.  On Friday, the first scheduled contest in Baltimore was rained out.  I was at a wedding during the Saturday doubleheader, but heard on the radio on the drive home that the Twins scored 12 runs in both games.  Today, I watched the Vikings (only play once a week, you know) and would have followed the Twins closer had not the first time I channel surfed over to FSN North the Orioles were up 4-0 en route to a 7-3 victory.

I suppose I should be happy that the Twins finally won a series on the road, but the White Sox also swept their contests with the Detroit Tigers to remain on top of the division.  It’s getting real late for this.

Preview (82-65, 2nd, 1.5 GB CWS): Kevin Slowey (12-9, 3.63) vs. Scott Lewis (1-0, 0.00).  Lewis was very impressive in his major league debut, but it was against a terrible Orioles team.  If the Twins have designs on becoming a playoff team, we should beat this guy (and also win this series, I don’t care if it is in Cleveland).  Plus, the White Sox are in New York this week, so perhaps the Bombers can find their ******** sticks at an opportune moment for the Twins.

Rain, Rain, Go Away…

rain.jpgTonight’s opening contest between the Baltimore Orioles and Minnesota Twins was rained out in Camden Yards, precipitating a double-header that will occur on Saturday.  The first game will start at 4:00 p.m. Central Time, while the second game will begin 20 minutes after the completion of the first.  The White Sox were also rained out and will play a doubleheader against Detroit tomorrow as well!

League Notes:

-I saw that Cliff Lee of the Cleveland Indians improved to 22-2 tonight.  Can you say “Cy Young Award”?!

Preview: (80-66, 2nd, 1.0 GB CWS): For the first game, the matchup will be Glenn Perkins (12-4, 4.11) against Garrett Olson (9-7, 6.43).  The second game will pit Scott Baker (8-4, 3.66) against Daniel Cabrera (8-9, 5.26).

The Long Walk

walk.jpgWith respect to author Stephen King, I think that Twins manager Ron Gardenhire should be the rightful owner of the “Long Walk” title, as over the past month+ he has sure done it enough times.

Today, both the Twins (hits from Morneau and Gomez) and the Royals (German and Guillen) scored early to knot the score at 2-2, but then neither team could push a run across the plate until the extra frame.  Twins starter Francisco Liriano (8 IP, 2 ER) held the Royals’ bats completely in check, as did Joe Nathan in the ninth.  Sadly, so did the KC pitchers, albeit in a different fashion.  The Twins seemed to get a runner on base nearly every inning, but just could not seem to push any of them home.  Basically, it was one of those games (that Twins fans know so well) where the bats went completely silent and the game could have gone 20 innings and the Twins probably wouldn’t have scored more than a couple more runs.

The “knockout punch” (more like a weak, glancing blow that happened to hit the perfect mark) came in the tenth, when they blooped two hits off Twins reliever Matt Guerrier.  With David DeJesus up, Gardy played his lefty-lefty matchup by bringing in Reyes from the pen, who promptly (one pitch) gave up a run-scoring single and was quickly hooked.  In the bottom of the inning, the Twins couldn’t touch the nasty stuff of Joakim Soria and went down 1-2-3.

Chalk up another blown tie for the pen, but blame the loss mainly on the bats, who should be able to rough up a guy like Duckworth.

Notes:

-At least the Twins were able to take the series from the Royals.  Now, the road trip consisting of Baltimore, Cleveland, and Tampa Bay begins.  The bad news: We’re on the road again.  The good news: Baltimore and Cleveland stink.

-I know I’m probably just jinxing things by bringing this up, but here is what I feel is the ultimate scenario for the Twins to reach the playoffs and succeed in them:  Angels (AL West, Best Record), Twins (AL Central, Worst Record of Division Leaders), Tampa Bay (AL East), Boston (AL Wild Card).  If that were to happen, the Angels would play the A’s and the Twins would play the Rays.  Call me crazy, but I think that the Twins can beat the Rays for some reason.  We would almost surely lose to Anaheim, and I think Boston would pitch us to death.

Preview (80-66, 2nd, 1.0 GB CWS): Scott Baker (8-4, 3.66) vs. Daniel Cabrera (8-9, 5.26).  The Twins often times do not play well in Baltimore, but the Orioles are just playing out the string right now so hopefully we can catch them in a funk.

I Almost Feel Bad For KC…

beat down.jpg

Since the Minnesota Twins became a perennial contending team in 2001, the Kansas City Royals have had one season (I believe it was 2003) in which they challenged for the division title.  All those other years, the Twins have countless times either hosted or traveled to KC during the month of September, when the Royals are elbow-deep in minor league call-ups, and either swept the series or at least got our bats healthy.  In this current three-game series, that is exactly what is happening once again!

Tonight, the Twins pasted the Royals 7-1.  The Royals scored an early run in the first inning…then were held off the scoreboard for the duration.  Offensively, the Twins were led by Alexi Casilla (3-4, 2 R), Jason Kubel (3-4, 2 RBI, 1 R), Delmon Young (2-4, 1 RBI, 1 R), and Carlos Gomez (2-4, 1 RBI, 1 R).

On the mound, starting pitcher Kevin Slowey held the Royals to just four hits and one earned run over seven innings for his twelfth win, while Boof Bonser and Craig Breslow coasted the team to victory.

So, basically tonight it was just another late-season victory over the helpless, hapless Royals, who sadly seem STILL a year or two away from serious contention again.

Preview (80-65, 2nd, 1.0 GB CWS): Francisco Liriano (5-3, 3.33) vs. Brandon Duckworth (2-1, 6.60).  With a win tomorrow afternoon (and, seriously, Duckworth?!), the Twins will assure themselves at least a .500 (81 wins) finish, something they were unable to achieve last season.

Back In The Race

slap.jpgWhen the dust finally settles on the “Great AL Central Race of ’08″, yesterday’s game (9-9-08) could very likely be viewed as the turning point of the stretch run for the Minnesota Twins.  Coming into the contest, the Twins knew that the White Sox had already lost the first game of their doubleheader with Toronto, and the Blue Jays also pulled out to an early lead in the second tilt.  Thus, with a win, the Twins knew they could jump right back into the thick of the division race once again.

The Twins got their win, although things did look a little shaky in the early innings.  Joe Mauer drove in Denard Span (who had doubled) in the first inning, but Miguel Olivo of the Royals homered to deep left-centerfield in the top of the second, tying the score.  Carlos Gomez and Span drove in two more runs in the bottom of the second to make the score 3-1, but the Royals again rallied back with one run in the top of the third on a Jose Guillen double.

At this point, however, is where the Twins showed us a glimpse of why they have been in the pennant race up until this point.  So many times during the past month, the Twins would let these sorts of games get away from them by not putting away the opponent early.  Last night, however, the Twins found their shovel and kept piling on some runs.  In the bottom of the third, a Brian Buscher double scored Delmon Young for a 4-2 lead.  Then, in the fourth, after a Mauer sac fly, Justin Morneau broke the game open (7-2) with a homer to right field that just cleared the baggie.

No more runs were scored the entire contest, and Twins fans have Nick Blackburn to thank for that.  After struggling in the early innings, Blackie settled down and ended up going seven strong innings, allowing just two earned runs on five hits to finally pick up that elusive tenth victory.  Dennys Reyes and Jesse Crain finished off the contest without incident (not to be overlooked in the Twins’ recent rash of bullpen failures).

Notes:

-I don’t know about you, but to me Brian Buscher needs to be in the lineup EVERY DAY down the stretch here in late September.  His defense may be just average (probably at best), but his bat is often crucial in keeping rallies going.  I think Gardy should have Buscher start nearly ever game at 3B, and have Punto/Harris rotate at shortstop depending on what the opposing pitching matchup looks like.  Then, when Buscher needs a day off, put him at DH.  His bat is too powerful not to have in the lineup at this point.

-I also saw last night that Paul Konerko, the powerful first baseman for the rival White Sox, will likely miss the rest of the season with an MCL injury.  First Carlos Quentin, now Konerko.  The White Sox have relied on their home run power for most of the season, so this could be a big blow to them as they begin a road trip (at the same time as the Twins) starting later this week.

Preview (79-65, 2nd, 1.0 GB CWS): Kevin Slowey (11-9, 3.75) vs. Kyle Davies (6-6, 4.59).  The Twins’ bats pummeled Davies the last time we faced him, so tonight should be a pitching matchup in our favor.

The NFL Looms

Rubbing.jpgFor any sports fan that has lived in Minnesota for any extended period of time, you know that this is very much a football state.  Typically, unless the Twins are in the midst of a pennant race, the Vikings completely take over the town.  With that being said, the Twins better start winning pretty soon or that Dome will seem pretty empty for the few remaining home series.

Another game was lost today when the starting pitcher began to struggle and the bullpen could not hold a lead:

Despite falling behind early in this contest, the Twins rallied back (thanks to big hits from Buscher and Morneau) to take a 4-2 lead heading into the sixth inning.  That inning began with four straight hits (including a home run from Miguel Cabrera) and ended with Perkins being pulled in favor of Craig Breslow, who also allowed a single to score a run and give the Tigers a 5-4 lead.

The next inning, Magglio Ordonez homered off Boof Bonser to extend the lead and Detroit pushed another run across the plate later in the inning for the 7-4 final.

Notes:

-I’ll be honest…I was so excited about the football opener today that I didn’t follow the Twins as closely as I should have.  I watched most of the early portion of the game, but once the Tigers took their sixth inning lead I fell away, instead following my fantasy football team.  After the big Vikings-Packers game tomorrow night, though, I will still be in the Twins’ corner!

Preview (78-65, 2nd, 2.5 GB CWS): Nick Blackburn (9-8, 3.71) vs. Brian Bannister (7-14, 5.56).  After an off day, the Twins begin a series that they need to win in order to stay in the race, plain and simple.

No More Excuses

Dennys.jpg

Mags.jpg

When the usually steady Minnesota Twins’ bullpen began struggling early in the month of August, I made every excuse I possibly could to exonerate them, mostly playing up the fact that the starting pitchers were not pitching deep enough into games to give the bullpen a fair shake.  Well, after a month of almost constant bullpen struggles, there are no more excuses…the bullpen had better get its act together, and fast.

Today, in front of a huge crowd and national TV audience, the Twins were leading 4-2 after seven innings, thanks primarily to RBI doubles from Jason Kubel and Carlos Gomez earlier in the game.  Baker had given up just three earned runs in those seven innings and looked to finally pick up another victory (lately, he has been the Brad Radke of the staff in terms of no-decisions).  But then, Gardy called the pen.

After Baker issued a walk in the top of the eighth, Gardy called for Dennys Reyes, who promptly allowed an absolute tattoo home run from Curtis Granderson.  Reyes was quickly pulled in favor of Matty Guerrier, who gave up a single and then another dinger (this time to Magglio Ordonez) to give the Tigers a 6-4 lead.

With the White Sox winning a dramatic, 15-inning game against the Angels when Jim Thome hit a long, walk-off home run, the Twins are quickly going in the opposite direction, LOSING a heartbreaking game.

Notes:

-Cuddy, Cuddy, wherefore art thou Cuddy?  The gaping hole in the Twins lineup usually filled by Michael Cuddyer was embarrassingly exposed in the ninth inning of today’s contest.  While nearly every Twin put together a good at-bat that inning (even Mauer in striking out), Gomez (who would be on the bench if Cuddy was healthy) flailed at three pitches and K’d, giving the Tigers an easy out.

Preview (78-64, 2nd, 2.5 GB CWS): Glen Perkins (12-3, 4.08) vs. Chris Lambert (0-1, 6.75).  With mid-September approaching, the phrase “must-win game” comes into play at this time.  This chance to win a home series qualifies as exactly that.

Home

Franky.jpg“I’m coming home…to a place where I belong…where your loves has always been enough for me.  These places and these faces are getting old, so I’m coming back home”

Last year, a former American Idol (Daughtry) made those lyrics, and they couldn’t be more appropriate to describe tonight’s Minnesota Twins contest at the Metrodome (finally!) against the Detroit Tigers.

After being on the road for what seemed like an eternity (in actuality 14 games), the Twins returned to their home stomping grounds tonight.  The game started off like many Twins games during the long road trip: The Twins loaded the bases in the first inning…and got one run out of the deal.  A Delmon Young home run in the fourth inning extended the lead to 2-0, though.

The most telling inning of the game, however, came in both halves of the fifth.  In the top portion, Marcus Thames homered off Francisco Liriano (who had been making the Tigers look like fools in the batters box to that point) to cut the Twins lead to 2-1.  At this point during the last few weeks, so many times have the Twins’ starting pitchers been unable to stem the opposing team’s rally and thus give up the lead.  Cisco got the next two batters easily and allowed the Twins to get back in the box.

Another depressing portion of the road trip was how the Twins were seemingly unable to bounce back from a lead change not in their favor.  Tonight, they quickly loaded the bases in the top of the fifth and Justin Morneau launched a deep drive to right (just a few feet below the “Subway Hotspot”) for a grand salami, giving his bunch a nice cushion.

Before running into a bit of trouble in the eighth inning, Liriano cruised the rest of the way, ultimately allowing just two earned runs.  Matt Guerrier did a nice job of getting out of the eighth, while Boof mopped up in the ninth.

Notes:

-Boy, do the Twins sure look like a different team in the Dome than they do on the road.  One thing I never considered until tonight is that perhaps the playing surface at the Dome (artificial turf) helps the team more than we think.  I know that it REALLY made a big difference a few years ago, before they softened it and took out all the seams, but maybe it still is a difference maker.  The Twins’ attack is based on speed and athleticism, so it is plausible that, while at home, we beat out those infield hits and bunts that on the road turn into outs.

-Over the next two weeks, here is what the Twins need to do: Before the big four-game series with the White Sox, we need to be NO MORE than 1.0 games behind them in order to have a realistic chance to win the division (which it looks like we will need to do, with Boston pulling away with the Wild Card).  This means that the Twins will have to win on the road starting the middle of next week, unless the Sox completely falter (not likely at this point).

Preview (78-63, 2nd, 1.5 GB CWS): Scott Baker (8-4, 3.66) vs. Justin Verlander (10-15, 4.74).  Verlander has always been tough on the Twins, but in the past we have been able to knock him out of games at the Dome.  Baker needs one of his seven inning, 1-2 earned run starts, not five innings and 3-4 runs.  National TV tomorrow!

Oh Please, Not Now

scratch.jpgIn baseball terms, the month of September is called the “stretch run”, where teams with playoff hopes must step it up a notch and those who do not will be watching the postseason on television.  So far, the Twins seem to be falling into the latter category.

Earlier tonight, the Blue Jays first nickel-and-dimed the Twins, then broke things wide open in the later innings.  The Jays knocked Twins starter Kevin Slowey out of the game in the sixth inning with a 3-0, then pounced on relievers Bobby Korecky and Philip Humber (both call-ups from Triple-A Rochester) for the big lead.

Of course, none of that really mattered much, as you can’t win a game with a big “0″ on the board.  Against Toronto starter Jesse Litsch (CG, 4 H), the Twins couldn’t muster even a single threat the entire contest.  A complete shutdown of the bats.  Sure, Toronto has good starting pitching, but nothing?!

Notes:

-I really hope that this isn’t the point where the young Twins fall out of the pennant race.  It has been so enjoyable watching them for the past five months that it would be a shame for the excitement to end now.  At least we are now heading home, where at times we have looked like a completely different team.

Preview (77-63, 2nd, 1.5 GB CWS): Francisco Liriano (4-3, 3.45) vs. Armando Galarraga (12-4, 3.17).  With Cisco on the mound on a Friday night the Dome should be packed, which hopefully is just the spark this struggling team needs.

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