Results tagged ‘ Angels ’

In The Big Inning

Besides the pun, I could have just as easily titled this blog post “Out Of Our League”, as that is exactly what the Twins are when playing the Angels.

Yesterday, it was the pitching of John Lackey shutting us down.  Today, it was one inning that led to our undoing.

 

dd98b77f-3f85-4397-bbec-2e796c2b4a40.jpgIn the bottom of the fourth, with the Twins actually leading 2-0 thanks to a Jason Kubel dinger, the Angels scored nine runs against Nick Blackburn and R.A. Dickey.  At one point, after the Izturis home run, Gardy actually turned his back to the field in disgust (I thought he was going to stroke out.

This was probably the most action that happened all day (from a Twins fans’ perspective, of course):

tackle.jpg

A week ago, while the Twins were still in the thick of things in the AL Central (how quickly things can change, huh?), I purchased tickets to the Monday and Tuesday night games next week against the White Sox.  Now, I’m just hoping that the division isn’t already cinched up by then.

Preview (48-50, 3rd, 2.0 GB CWS): Anthony Swarzak (2-3, 4.15) vs. Ervin Santana (3-5, 7.29). I fully expect a sweep, so a victory would just be icing at this point. 

Strange Things

Three days after the All-Star break, the Minnesota Twins were flying high. They had just taken two of three from the Rangers (and could have easily swept them if not for a walk-off home run in the final game) and were right back in the division race.

Four days later, that feeling has been squashed like an unlucky squirrel on an Interstate.

In Oakland, it turned out that we were lucky to win a single contest (and in extra innings at that).  The other two games were an embarassment, and well, maybe even a bigger embarassment, respectively.

Then, there was last night in Anaheim.  Scott Baker looked great through four innings, then tanked (as he so often does) in the fifth, allowing the Halos to claw back to within one run at 3-2 (the Twins had done some early scoring thanks to Mauer and Kubel).

From that point, both teams alternated runs until the ninth inning, when the Twins handed the ball to Joe Nathan with a 5-3 lead.  Right away, though, it was apparent that Nathan (for whatever reason) just didn’t have his usual “stuff” out on the mound.  He walked the first batter of the inning on a wild curveball, then hit another guy to put the game-tying runs on base.

Of course, that is when the next “strange thing” reared it’s head.  With a run already in and runners at the corners with two outs, Nathan was able to coax Angels batter Howie Kendrick to hit a weak little tapper up the middle.  Both Alexi Casilla and Nick Punto converged on the sphere to try and get the final out, but this was the end result…

27b99f58-4f10-4756-a8dc-b836964f7b1c.jpg

On a freak play, the ball hit off the corner of the second base bag and bounded away from both fielders, allowing Mike Napoli to score the tying run.  Had the ball not honed in on that base, it looked as if Punto would have been able to make the play and end the game.

So, it was off to extra innings once again.  The Twins went down 1-2-3 in their half of the tenth, then brought in there “new” callup from Triple-A…Jesse Crain.  As soon as I saw him coming into the game, I was more sure than I had ever been in my life that the Twins were going to lose this game.  The soundtrack in my head…

 

A seeing-eye single from Chone Figgins to open the inning, after which he was quickly bunted to second, only sealed the deal.  True to form, Crain actually gave fans a smidgen of hope when he struck out Kendrie Morales, but a gapper from Napoli quickly had the Twins trotting back to the visitors dugout.

 

e3f5a8df-4117-45b5-ab98-6542f93c0498.jpgFinal thought: The Twins are sinking (although not out yet), the starting rotation (unless Blackburn throws a gem every outing) is a mess, and Crain is probably a basket case by now and should be put on the waiver wire.

Preview (48-48, 3rd, 2.5 GB DET & CWS): Francisco Liriano (4-9, 5.33) vs. John Lackey (5-4, 4.39).

“Cycling” Back Up

KubelSalami.jpgI had to work until 10:00 tonight, so here was my Twins baseball experience:

I got into my car to head home and turned on the radio to hear that the Twins were down 9-4.  I was pretty frustrated and wondering who was blowing it this time (had I known it was Jesse Crain I probably would have driven into the ditch in anger!).  However, as I was driving home, the Twins began to rally in the bottom of the eighth inning on big RBI hits from Mike Redmond and Denard Span.  With two on and two out, Justin Morneau was intentionally walked so that the Angels could face Jason Kubel instead.  Big mistake, as on just the second pitch of the at-bat, Kubel launched a moonshot into the upper deck to give the Twins an 11-9 lead in another dramatic home-field comeback.  I’m glad I was pulling into my driveway at the time or I probably would have gotten into an accident with all the hollering I was doing (Kubel is my favorite Twins batter)!  Only moments later did I realize that the grand salami completed the cycle for Jason…pretty sweet!

Preview (5-7, 4th, 2.0 GB KCR): Darren Oliver (0-0, 2.45) vs. Kevin Slowey (1-0, 7.94).  A little more Dome magic, anyone?!

Tragedy In L.A.

Adenhart.jpgThough the Twins and Mariners played the final tilt of their four-game series yesterday (Jarrod Washburn out-dueled Glen Perkins for a 2-0 win as the Twins’ bats went silent), I think that all games yesterday were played with a heavy heart due to the sudden passing of Nick Adenhart.

For the past few years, Adenhart had been a prized young prospect in the Los Angeles Angels’ farm system.  He came up for a “cup of coffee” during the 2008 season and earned what turned out to be his only major league victory.

This year, after making the Angels out of spring training, Adenhart pitched six innings of shutout ball against the Oakland Athletics on April 8th.  Just hours later, he was killed when a minivan (which we now know was manned by a drunk driver who fled on foot after the accident but was later apprehended) ran a red light and smashed into the vehicle he was riding in.  Two of the other passengers were pronounced dead at the scene of the collision, while Adenhart was taken to a local hospital but died due to his internal injuries.

A terrible tragedy like this just makes me think how fleeting this thing we call “life” can really be.  I mean, Adenhart was only 22 years of age…one year younger than myself.  From a Twins perspective, I can’t imagine how the team would react if, say, a guy like Slowey, Blackburn, or Perkins was taken from us in a similar fashion.

The Angels cancelled their regularly scheduled contest yesterday, but will resume play tonight, presumably with very heavy hearts and conflicting emotions.  Knowing Mike Scoscia, Torii Hunter, and that Angels crew, though, they will do their best to honor the memory of Nick Adenhart.

Preview (2-2, 2nd, 0.5 GB KCR): R.A. Dickey (0-0, 0.00 ERA) at Jose Contreras (0-0, 0.00 ERA). The Twins’ starter tonight will feature a knuckleball, something I haven’t seen from a Twin in, well, as long as I have been following the team.

MLB Predictions: 2009

1908Cubs.jpgEach year, usually after receiving the Sports Illustrated Baseball Preview issue, I make a complete set of MLB picks.  It’s always fun to look back at them and see how right/wrong (wrong far outnumbering the right!) I was at the end of the season.  Here they are for ’09:

AL East:

Boston

Tampa Bay (Wild Card)

New York

Toronto

Baltimore

AL Central:

Minnesota

Chicago

Kansas City

Cleveland

Detroit

AL West:

Los Angeles

Texas

Seattle

Oakland

NL East:

Philadelphia

New York (Wild Card)

Florida

Atlanta

Washington

NL Central:

Chicago

Milwaukee

St. Louis

Cincinnati

Houston

Pittsburgh

NL West:

Los Angeles

Arizona

San Francisco

Colorado

San Diego

AL Champion: Boston

NL Champion: Chicago

World Series Champion: Chicago

So, after 100 long seasons of waiting, I think this is the year that the Cubbies will finally win the big one.  I just think that their pitching is too good not to make a deep playoff run.

Another Hilarous Winter Meetings

Each time around the major league baseball winter meetings, there seems to be a rather hilarious article “hot off the wire” detailing the “big signing” of the Minnesota Twins in the wake of the really big boys already changing hands.  This year didn’t fail to disappoint…

KRodYanks.jpg

First, record-setting closer Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez moved from the Angels to the Mets by signing a three-year, $37 million deal.  With Billy Wagner rehabbing an injury and perhaps on the downslope of his career anyway, the Mets figured they needed a dominant closer and thus went out and got the best.

cc-sabathia.jpg

Then, just a few days later, C.C. Sabathia moved from the Brewers to the Yankees (who else, really?!) for seven years and $161 million, the largest contract ever for a pitcher.  The bad news: He really could stabilize the Yanks’ starting rotation.  The good news: We (the Twins) may only have to face him 1-2 a season TOPS…hooray!!

PuntoSigned.jpg

Finally, the inevitable “big move” came from the Minnesota Twins, as they announced the signing of “Little” Nick Punto to a two-year, $8.5 million contract.  Ooh, the cash is really flowing now!  Start printing those World Series tickets…”Little Nicky” is back.

In all honesty, though, Punto was actually a pretty good signing for the small-market Twins, as he is the best defenseman (at any position) in the league and, as long as he can keep his batting average above .260 or so, isn’t a huge drag on the lineup with the speed and bunting ability he brings to the table.

ALDS Predictions

AmericanLeagueLogo.jpgNow that the Chicago White Sox are the final entree into the AL playoffs (tear), here are my predictions for the ALDS:

Boston Red Sox vs. Anaheim Angels: I’ll take the Angels in four games for this series.  The Halos have easily been the best AL team the entire season, and have been resting up for October baseball for weeks.  True, the Red Sox have good pitching (Beckett, Daisuke, Lester), but lingering injuries are a big issue for them.  Personally, I’d take Lackey, Santana, and Saunders any day.  Offensively, the Sox know how to score runs, but who knows how they will react to a non-Manny Ramirez postseason (i.e. can Jason Bay or someone else step up in the clutch?).  Besides 2002, when they won the World Series, the Angels’ postseasons have been doomed by an inability to score runs.  That’s why guys like Gary Matthews Jr. and Torii Hunter were brought in, to pair with Vlad the Destroyer and a deep lineup that can beat you out of any slot.

Chicago White Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays: Rays in four.  No, I don’t like the Rays just because their opponent is the sworn enemy of my Twins.  I just think that Chicago really isn’t that great of a team (I think I would have picked the Twins to lose to TB as well).  Both teams can pitch, but Tampa Bay’s offense is better built to score runs in the pitching-dominated postseason…Chicago’s sluggers will strike out too much.  The big factor in this series, though, is the first two games being played in Tampa, where the Rays have been nearly unbeatable.  This could easily be one of those series where the home team wins every game, but I think TB can pick one off in the Windy City to win earlier than that.

Playoff Notes:

-Philadelphia beat Milwaukee earlier today thanks to the strong pitching of Cole Hammels.  Of course, Mr. Automatic Win (C.C. Sabathia) is on the mound for the Brewers in Game Two, so this series will be even very soon. 

Closing It Down

K-Rod.jpgToday’s final tilt in the series against the Anaheim Angels reminds me of the annoying klaxan that can be found in nearly every cheesy science fiction movie, just modified a little bit to: “Warning, complete bullpen self destruct after seven innings”.

For most of today’s contest, the Twins held a slim lead.  Heading into the sixth inning, the Twins were up 3-0 thanks to RBIs from Justin Morneau on a single, double, and solo home run.  However, Mark “New Angel Twin Killer” Teixeira put the Angels on the board with a solo shot of his own in the sixth, and the next inning a Chone “Old Angel Twin Killer” Figgins grounded made it a two-run game.

It was in the eighth inning, however, that the bullpen collapsed.  Dennys Reyes gave up a double to Mark “Him Again” Teixeira, then was pulled in favor of Jesse Crain, who did strike out Torii Hunter…but only sandwiched between not one but two triples and a sacrifice fly, giving Anaheim the 5-3 lead that would prove to be the margin of victory.

In the ninth inning, Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez absolutely slammed the door for his 50th save, now just seven behind the major league record set by Bobby Thigpen.

Notes:

-Well, Crain fell into his usual pattern of just when you think it is safe to trust him, he lets you down.  Crain is still the most overrated (due to one statistically overblown season) player on the entire roster.

-If the Twins needed more incentive to win the AL Central division instead of the Wild Card, they have it now, as Anaheim will almost surely have the best record in the AL and thus draw the WC in the first round of the playoffs.  The Angels have solid starting pitching, a fireballing bullpen, and K-Rod finishing things off.  On offense, they can manufacture runs (Chone Figgins, etc.) or hit the long ball (Teixeria, Guerrero, Anderson).  Defensively they have a solid infield and spectacular outfield.  Not a good team to face in any series, much less a playoff.

-Though this series feels like a letdown (because the final two games were lost, not vice versa), splitting on the road with Anaheim is nothing to scoff at.  The Twins also played the Angels very tough, something most AL teams (as evidenced by Anaheim’s record) do not do.

Preview (74-56, 2nd, 0.5 GB CWS): Francisco Liriano (4-3, 4.24) vs. Miguel Batista (4-12, 6.55).  As long as Cisco doesn’t fill the bases with walks, this should be an easy Twins victory.

Can’t Buy Me Glove

Error.jpgWhen playing a team like the Anaheim Angels, a sort of “perfect game” must be executed in order to give your team a chance to win.  Tonight, the Twins got some inspired comeback hitting, but ultimately were doomed by one inning of errors and gaffes.

With no score heading into the bottom of the third inning, a high throw from Brian Buscher pulled Morneau off the first base bag and allowed the crafty Angels to start building a rally.  A few batters latter, with the bases loaded, Vlad the Destroyer cracked a laser beam to center field that went for a “double” (although, as pictured, I would have given Gomez an error).  The very next batter hit a ground ball to Buscher again, who this time fumbled the ball (missing an out at the plate) and making a late throw to first base.  By the time the Twins finally got their gloves back on, the score was 4-0 Angels.

After a solo home run by Casilla, Anaheim got starter Blackburn again for two more runs to make the score 6-1.  Yet, the Twins still had some fight in them, as they put together a four-run fifth to close the gap to one run.

From that point, though, the Angels bullpen (Oliver, Shields, K-Rod) dominated the Twins’ batters, and Mark Teixeira added a solo shot to right for the 7-5 final.

Notes:

-Blackburn (4.2 IP, 3 ER, 6 R) didn’ t pitch as bad as the score indicated, but errors will rattle a young starter probably more than anything in a major league inning.  Without the defensive meltdowns in that third inning, who knows what kind of grove Blackie could have gotten into.

-Despite the tough loss, I was very impressive by the multiple comeback attempts that the Twins made throughout the game.  All too often, some offenses (with the Twins being no exception) will get so frustrated being down by multiple runs to a good team that they will throw away at-bats.  Instead, the Twins kept hitting right to the end, when a few good defensive plays from the Angels robbed us of some baserunners.

Preview (74-55, 1st, 0.5 GA CWS): Kevin Slowey (10-8, 3.78) vs. Ervin Santana (13-5, 3.39). This is like one of those old “Brad Radke vs. Opposing Fireballer” pitching matchups of old.  The Twins batters need to get to the “other Santana” before he can get into one of his patented strikeout grooves, while Slowey needs to work his usual control-driven magic.

Pitching, Pitching, Pitching

Bullpen.jpgAfter managing to take the series from Oakland at the Metrodome, the Twins embarked on the longest road trip (two weeks) in perhaps team history.  The first opponent on the docket was Anaheim, who just happened to have the best record in the American League.  Remarkably, however, two games into the “open road” that Twins have reclaimed first place in the AL Central, due primarily to their dominant pitching.

On Thursday night, both teams scratched out single runs in the early innings, then the pitchers started shutting the door.  For the Twins, Baker went eight innings and allowed the one earned run before being pulled in favor of the lately shaky (yet now at least somewhat rested) bullpen.  Boy, did the ‘pen ever respond!  Matt Guerrier pitched two scoreless innings, while Crain threw perhaps his most impressive inning all season, retiring Mark Texiera, Vlad Guerrero, and Torii Hunter on just six pitches.  Then, after Hunter dropped a ball in center that Nick Punto turned into a triple and eventually scored on, Joe Nathan slammed the door closed (two Ks) and lowered his ERA to 0.98, or Dennis Eckersley-like numbers.

Last night, the mound presence came from starter Glen Perkins, who shut out the powerful Angels through eight innings on just five hits.  As a result of that great pitching, the Twins’ bats were able to get comfortable against lefty Joe Saunders to the tune of nine runs.  Denard Span (3-4, HR, 4 RBI, 1 R) and Delmon Young (2-4, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R) led the charge.

Thus, with those two victories (coupled with a ChiSox loss Friday) the Twins moved into first place in their division by half a game.

Notes:

-At the risk of being redundant, or sounding too much like Bert Blyleven (!), the rest of the Twins’ season WILL be determined by the strength of their starting pitching.  If the starters can regularly pitch deep into games and keep the bullpen fresh, I think the Twins are the favorites to win the division (as good pitching beats good hitting).  However, the concern is that not one Twins starter has ever pitched 200 innings in the major leagues, so they are all big question marks come September.

-Also, the mark of a good offensive team is the ability of different players to step up and produced on any given night.  Right now, Morneau is struggling at the plate, but guys like Span, Young, and Kubel are picking the team up.  Eventually, Morneau will come back around and someone else will struggle.

Preview (74-54, 1st, 0.5 GA CWS): Nick Blackburn (9-7, 3.71) vs. Jon Garland (11-8, 4.33).  A split on the road is great, but an early series win would be heaven!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.