Results tagged ‘ Joe Nathan ’

Why We Lost, Theory #1: We Beat Ourselves

4767380f-27d8-4a7b-9fd8-d4d6a3153f25.jpgNow that a bit of time has passed and my initial reaction to the ALDS sweep has lessened a bit, I wanted to take a look back and see why the Twins got the broom. Here is one theory, with another to follow in a later post:

We beat ourselves. Plain and simple.  No B.S., no excuses.  Each and every game the Twins gave their all against a very tough Yankee ballclub, yet there was one key collapse and enough mistakes to go around that the only entity to blame for the sweep is staring us in the mirror.

Game 1: As expected, young starter Brian Duensing had trouble containing the big bats of the Yankees, and C.C. Sabathia was mowing us down like a shiny new Briggs & Stratton.  However, in the middle innings, the Twins were just down by a pair of runs and manager Ron Gardenhire decided to go to the bullpen in a key situation to retire Hideki Matsui.  Twins fans expected Ron Mahay, but instead Francisco Liriano trotted into the game.  My reaction: OMFG.  Matsui poked one into the seats and the Yanks never looked back.  Poor managing, plain and simple.

Game 2: Too many mistakes to count, really.  First was the now-infamous rounding of the base from Carlos Gomez (him being in the lineup in the first place could also be viewed as another Gardy Gaffe), where he allowed himself to be tagged out before Delmon Young could cross home plate and thus erasing a potential early lead and key run for the Twins.

Next, was the complete and utter implosion of closer Joe Nathan.  Way too many times down the stretch of the regular season (and in this game, obviously), Joe would come into games with no life on his fastball, the pitch that sets up his nasty breaking stuff.  Thus, he would be forced to throw the breaking stuff (which rarely gets over the plate) early and, when the patient Yankee hitters would lay off, he would then have to groove a fastball, exactly what happened to A-Rod.

The thing that sticks in my (and Gardy’s, I bet) craw the most, though, was the debacle when the Twins loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the eleventh inning.  Both Gomez and Delmon Young proceeded to swing at the first pitch of each at-bat (proving that they still just don’t “get it”, yet) and record outs en route to no runs coming in at all.  I bet that Gardy could have wrung their necks at that point.  Thus, the walk-off from Mark Teixera was all but imminent (if we can’t score with the bases loaded and no outs, when would we ever?).

Game Three: The Nick Punto baserunning blunder was the deflation-point of this game, as Punto got a little too excited when he heard the roar of the crowd and decided to round third with his head down at full speed, completely ignoring (well, not even seeing, actually) the “stop” sign that was clearly given from Scotty Ullger.  Jeter snagged Span’s bouncing up the middle and easily doubled Little Nicky off.  The Yankees then went on to dominate us (especially our bullpen once again) in the later innings.

Not only were those blunders quite apparent, but also present was the fact that the Twins left about a week’s worth of runners on base throughout the entire series.  Basically, we rarely got the big hit, and when we finally did we found some way to screw it up.  Kubel, Cuddyer, and Young (the hot hitters who propelled us to the AL Central crown) were downright atrocious in nearly every at-bat.

So, grouse all you want about a botched fair-foul call that went the Yanks’ way or the fact that their payroll triples ours, but the sad truth may be that we lost this one all by ourselves.

Little Big Man

c15b02bb-f861-4f41-b83a-459ec887f628.jpgAfter hearing (and digesting, if you will) the news that Justin Morneau will no longer be contributing for the remainder of the season due to some pretty serious back issues, it was clear that other players would have to step up in the big Canadian’s abscence.

Well, Nick Punto made that quick impact tonight, collecting three hits and knocking in two runs as the Twins defeated the Indians 5-4.  Despite jumping out to an early lead, the Twins found themselves down 3-1 to the Indians after Scott Baker’s mini-meltdown in the fourth inning.  However, in the bottom of that inning, Punto’s RBI single brought the Twins to within one and later, after a solo homer from Orlando Cabrera tied it and a big hit from Brian Buscher put the Twins in the leader, Punto again singled to score the Busch-Man and give the Twins a much-needed insurance run, as Nathan struggled (solo shot, left tying run on second) to close the door in the ninth.

A great win that, what with Detroit again having their backsides handed to them by the Royals, pulls us one game closer.

Preview (73-72, 2nd, 4.5 GB DET): Aaron Laffey (7-5, 3.79) vs. Nick Blackburn (9-11, 4.39)

Big Mo (And The Loss Of)

momentum.jpgYou know, the more I watch sports, the more I begin to realize that the concept of “momentum” is almost as important as concepts like “talent” or “good coaching”.  I mean, just think about this for a second.  Heading into Wednesday of last week, the Twins were riding high having won 14 out of 17 or something, and looking to finish off a sweep of the White Sox at the Dome.  Then, Joe Nathan heartbreakingly blows a save, and everything comes crashing down, as Detroit goes on a terror (they never seem to lose anymore) and the Twins drop two of three to the Indians.

Now call me crazy, but I truly believe that had Nathan thrown one more key strike and finished off the Sox in that fateful ninth inning, the Twins would NOT have collapsed against the Indians and might still be in the thick of things in the AL Central race, not just scoreboard watching and needing to sweep the Tigers twice in the next few weeks to have any hope of the postseason.  I know that major leaguers are professionals and should be able to play every game on an even keel, but for what it’s worth, I doubt that ever actually happens (unless said players are in a rare mindset personified by guys like Derek Jeter or Tiger Woods).

Just look at it from a fan’s perspective…one day, we’re riding high and excited about the Twins after nearly giving up on the season two weeks previous.  Now, after the events of just a few more days, we’re starting to give up again.  You can’t tell me that the players don’t feel some of those same feelings, pondering the “what-ifs” and getting down just like “us”.

Just a theory, but would explain the rollercoaster play of the Twins for the past three seasons, as young guys are very excitable and prone to those ups and downs.

At least the Twins were able to get a Labor Day victory today, thanks to a big first inning and a strong bullpen picking up Jeff Manship.  Oh, and Nathan dominated the ninth…

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Preview (69-68, 2nd, 6.5 GB DET): Brian Duensing (2-1, 3.81) vs. Ricky Romero (11-7, 4.15). Maybe we can get Big Mo back with a good series in Toronto (after collapsing there last fall).

Two Disturbing Trends

I know that the next statement I am about to make is not at all fair to closers all over baseball, but (at least in my case) it is true nonetheless: Having your team’s closer blow the game in the bottom of the ninth is the single worst way to lose a ballgame, bar none.  Now, add to the mix the idea that your closer might do so against your hated enemy, with two outs, and two strikes (twice).  That’s pretty much what Twins fans are feeling towards Joe Nathan today.  He’s too important to our playoff hopes to give up on him now, but I think there has to be a cooling-off period (probably a good thing the Twins are travelling to Cleveland today).

Once Wednesday’s meltdown was complete, the impact of such a crucial and heartbreaking loss really drove home to me two disturbing trends that the Twins have fallen prey to both this season and the last.

First, are the late-season struggles of Joe Nathan:

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When all is said and done, Nathan’s stats inevitably compare very well with the best closers in the league, yet for the past two years he has struggled to close out games come late August and early September.  Now, we’re not talking about the Eddie Guardado-method of struggling here (filling the bases and then wriggling out of trouble)…Nathan’s problems get so severe that he often blows the save chance or the game.  He hasn’t been on his game as of late, and Twins fans will also remember how bad he was during that long, late-season road trip in September of 2008 (capped by that now-infamous throwing error against the Blue Jays in Toronto).   Sometimes he will still have the ability to blow guys away, but all too often he is not able to find the handle on this control, thus having to groove meatballs just to get strikes.  Gordon Beckham and Paul Konerko showed him EXACTLY what happens to grooved meatballs in major league baseball.

Disturbing Trend #2: A similar slump from Justin Morneau…

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If the league MVP award was given out after July, Justin Morneau would win the darn thing almost every single season.  Yet, in those final two months (it happened last year and is happening again now), the home runs disappear and the average begins to sink towards about .270 (after sitting at .310 or so for most of the year).  This trend may be even more disturbing (and perplexing) than Nathan’s, though, as Joe Closer can usually right the ship by season’s end.  Justin, however, continued to sink last year to the point where opposing pitchers were walking Joe Mauer to get to him.

I don’t quite understand why this is, as he plays about the least demanding position on the diamond in terms of physical conditioning and injury potential.  For example, I don’t know any of these splits, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Torii Hunter (while playing on the Dome turf) slumped in the later months due to the beating his body took from bouncing around on that carpeted concrete.  The same axiom is usually try for mortal catchers (e.g. those not named Mauer)…they take a physical beating the slump accordingly.  About the only thing “afflicting” Morneau, though, is that he gets less off-days than any other player on the team, but once again that should be expected out of his position.

If the Twins think they can continue to play well and capture the AL Central, both those “wrongs” are going to have to be corrected, as the bullpen can’t survive without a closer and the lineup isn’t deep enough to support a slumping Canadian.

Preview (67-66, 2nd, 5.0 GB DET): Carl Pavano (11-10, 5.11) vs. Jeremy Sowers (5-9, 4.88). The schedule is again in our favor this weekend, as the Tigers draw the Rays while we get the Injuns.

Texas Two (Out Of Three) Step

Man, I bet the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays are our biggest fans right now! Like the couple in the above video, the Minnesota Twins took a little while to get going tonight, but when push came to shove we came out on the winning end of another series against the Texas Rangers.

The Rangers took an early 1-0 lead in the third inning when Elvis Andrus singled in Ivan Rodriguez, but a big fly from Kubel (with Morneau on base) took care of that in short order…

KubelRangers.jpgFor the next couple of innings, Scott Baker proceeded to shut down the bats of one of the most potent lineups in the American League…

BakerRangers.jpg  I have to tip my cap to Baker after writing him off in May/June…he has really started to come around the past two months.  Sure, he has a bad start now and then…but who doesn’t?  Without him upping his game, the Twins might be in as big of a free-fall as the Sox are right now.

Yet, with a bloop and a blast in the seventh inning, the lawmen managed to grab a 3-2 lead.  The Twins’ bats managed to have a bit more life in them, though, scoring three times in the bottom of the eighth (including a squeeze bunt from Nick Punto) to take a 5-3 lead.

Then, just when you thought it was safe to exhale again, Joe Nathan got shaky once again.  After a crazy series in KC a week ago, Nathan found himself tonight in a bases-loaded, no-out jam.  Not only was he wild in the strike zone and getting hit, but he also threw low (and in the dirt for a no-catch) to second base on what should have been an easy double play ball.  The good news?  Just three batters later, Nathan was doing this…

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Whew!!

Notes:

-It was a very sloppy game by both sides.  The Twins had the Nathan throw-away in the ninth, while the Rangers couldn’t seem to hold onto the ball all night…

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-Mike Redmond hit a triple. Yep, it is possible. Eat your heart out Matthew LeCroy!!

Preview (65-65, 2nd, 4.5 GB DET): Gavin Floyd (10-8, 3.95) vs. Nick Blackburn (8-9, 4.29). Despite the fact that Brett Favre will be playing on Monday Night Football tomorrow night, I’m still more interested in what the Twins tangling with the ChiSox.  Football can wait its turn.

A series win can all but put away the Pale Hose, while a series loss (especially if Detroit keeps winning) will set us back two weeks.

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…

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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).

No No Na-Nathan?

Alright Gardy, please explain something to me…your team (and mine, ours, etc.) is playing in a game that, if won, will vault us into second place in the AL Central and only a game behind the leader. The bats (well, Punto, Young, and Casilla) did enough in the early innings to grab a lead, but the pitching (Liriano) faltered late. Thus, the game goes to extra innings and both bullpens are mowing guys down. In the bottom of the twelfth, though, Duensing (who had been mowing guys down the previous inning) gives up a relatively harmless single, then a sacrifice bunt. With Joe Nathan warmed up (or was, an inning or two previous) in the ‘pen, you amble out to the mound to presumably bring the best closer not nicknamed Mo into the game to shut the door, right? I mean, this is a crucial game. When chasing a team down the stretch, every single inning of every single game is critical (was that not a hard enough lesson learned last year?). Yet, this is (metaphorically speaking) what Nathan was doing during that fateful twelfth…
Nathan-Crossings.jpgInstead, Gardy calls knuckler R.A. Dickey from the pen. There are so many things wrong with this decision that I would probably overload the server if I were forced to list them all. About the only thing he DID do right was not throw a wild pitch. Of course, the only reason that happened was because his knuckler was so ineffective as to be laughable. Starting with the very first pitch he threw to Ian Kinsler, the Texas second baseman’s eyes looked like beach balls (as did the sphere, I would imagine) and he started taking some monstrous hacks, off which he would just miss or foul the ball straight back (i.e. he was on the ball). In all honesty, I don’t think I’ve ever been so sure of something in my life that Kinsler (or the next batter) was going to win the game. Unfortunately, that is EXACTLY what transpired…
3808eaef-c65c-48dc-874e-8245718e53bf.jpgUnless Nathan was considered “off limits” for last night’s game (and I doubt that, as he was warming up in the bullpen on at least one occasion), I can’t think of a single reason why he wasn’t brought in for that situation. I know Gardy likes to take the conservative approach, but that doesn’t fly in the heat of a pennant race. So what if we may need Nathan to close out a game tonight in Oakland…I would have MUCH rather taken my chances with him last night.

Notes: -The Twins signed Mark Grudzielanek to a minor league contract yesterday. They say he won’t be in baseball-ready shape for a month at least. I’m usually good for some trade-deadline satire involving the Twins (“locking up” guys like Punto when other teams pull off blockbusters), but this is just ridiculous.

Preview (47-45, 3rd, 0.5 GB CWS): Nick Blackburn (8-4, 3.06) vs. Gio Gonzalez (1-2, 6.29). The A’s stink, but they have a ton of lefty pitching…meaning more Delmon Young than fans should probably ever see.

A.L. Steals Another One

2009_AS_game.jpg(I was out of town for the A.S. Game, thus am just commenting on things now…)

For whatever reason (probably because of the rich history of the event), I am an MLB All-Star game junkie. I started watching the Midsummer Classic in 1997, the same year the American League began their current winning streak, and have been hooked ever since. I mean, how can a baseball fan NOT be excited about the biggest gather of current stars in the same place, as well as the fact that the actual game means more than any other professional sports’ All-Star games (almost put together). I am also in the minority (at least I think) of people who LOVE the fact that the game determines which league gets home field advantage in the World Series…I would never want to go back to those by-and-large boring contests of the 1990s, where the Home Run Derby and pregame ceremonies far eclipsed the game itself. Thus, this year was no less exciting for me.

 First, there were the always-touching pregame ceremonies…
Stan.jpgOld-time St. Louis Cardinals such as Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, Red Schoendist, Bob Gibson, and Stan Musial (picture above) were honored before the ceremonial first pitch. As a self-proclaimed “baseball historian”, I always find it exciting to see those stars of yesteryear and remember their past greatness on the diamond. It was also quite interesting to see how the metaphorical St. Louis baseball torch is being passed from Stan The Man to Albert Pujols. Stan owned St. Louis since his retirement, and only Pujols has been able to carry that mantra since.

The network then made a big deal about the ceremonial first pitch, as it was thrown out by some guy you probably have heard of…
Barack.jpgLet’s just say that maybe he should stick to hoops (although at least he didn’t bounce it too badly!).

The game then began with the two horses (Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum) taking their respective mounds for either league…
DocLink.jpgRight out of the gate, the National League looked like a circuit that has had its hind end handed to it for a while now, as some fielding jitters allowed the AL to take an early 2-0 lead.

 In the second inning, though, the NL came storming back…
Yadier.jpgYadier Molina singled to score David Wright and Shane Victorino, and was quickly driven home himself when Prince Fielder hit a ground-rule double, giving the Senior Circuit a 3-2 lead.

For the next few innings, the contest was dominated by pitching. Only a Joe Mauer double in the fifth, preceded by a Derek Jeter fielder’s choice, finally tied the contest at 3-3…
MauerJeter.jpgArguably the biggest play of the night, though, came in the seventh inning, when pinch hitter Brad Hawpe sent a towering fly to left-center off the first pitch he saw from Jonathon Papelbon. Carl Crawford drew a bead on the missile, though, and timed a perfect leap to rob Hawpe of four bases…
Catch.jpgThen, right away in the next half-inning, Curtis Granderson tripled off of NL reliever Heath Bell, and later scored on a sacrifice fly from Adam Jones, giving the AL a lead it would not relinquish (not with Joe Nathan and Mariano Rivera next out of the pen). Granderson took home MVP honors for his triple and run-scored…
Curtis.jpgSo once again, the 2009 version of the MLB All-Star game was another exciting experience. The game was well-contested and full of tension, while (selfishly) the AL extended its winning streak and will now have home turf come late October. Plus, Joe Mauer (1-3, double), Joe Nathan (1 scoreless inning), and Justin Morneau (two hard-hit outs) had good showings in the game.

Twins Notes:

-Relief pitcher Kevin Mulvey is up, third-string catcher Jose Morales is down, as the Twins want a 12-man pitching staff going forward.

-Late breaking news: Alexi Casilla may still be a bonehead; letting a ball skip right past him on one occasion last night and then failing to cover the base on another. Let’s just chock it up to “I want to impress Gardy” nerves and keep our fingers tightly crossed.

Preview (46-44, 3rd, 0.5 GB CWS): Scott Baker (7-7, 5.42) vs. Scott Feldman (8-2, 3.83). One big key for the Twins in the second half is to have Baker and Liriano pitch better than they did in the first 81. That starts tonight.

House of Horrors

When the White Sox come into the Metrodome, do you think that songs like that are running through their brain?!   Amazingly, after looking like a glorified Double-A squad against the Yankees, the Twins were able to put together a strong effort and inch back towards that runner-up slot in the AL Central.

Of course, in the first inning it helped when Chicago starter turned the game into the rough equivalent of one of these:

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Danks walked the first four batters of the game and a big hit from Jason Kubel gave the Twins an early lead. Of course, since nothing is easy with this year’s bunch, the White Sox kept pecking away at the defecit until finally tying it in the sixth inning (only a tremendous leaping catch from Michael Cuddyer at the base of the baggie prevented the Sox from taking a lead). I was a bit nervous at this point, but Blackie was still pitching well and the pen did their job the rest of the way. This should come as no surprise, but this guy…
18797011-0959-4c36-9373-16a644e0f41e.jpg…got the big two out hit in the seventh inning that put the Twins in front, while a perfect squeeze bunt from Carlos Gomez an inning later scored Matt Tolbert (pinch running for Kubel after his third hit of the game) with a big insurance run that allowed Joe Nathan to do his thing in the ninth:
6ef10c34-51ee-4b12-b659-4ad5586ceccf.jpgPreview (44-43, 3rd, 0.5 GB CWS): Gavin Floyd (6-6, 4.33) vs. Glen Perkins (4-4, 4.38). Ozzie Guillen juggled his rotation to have his Big Three horses face the Twins this weekend. That went well (at least so far).

Can’t Hit? No Matter

5a6848c5-90c1-47c5-a0ce-44cee65f0a09.jpgIf one thing has become crystal clear during the 2009 Interleague Play schedule, besides the fact that the Twins can win on the road when playing the NL, it is that starting pitcher Glen Perkins cannot hit.  He goes up to the plate, takes a few feeble waves, and (in nearly every occasion past, present, or future) goes back to prepare for the next inning on the mound.

That didn’t matter tonight, however, as Perkins was brilliant for seven innings, holding the Cardinals to just four hits and one earned run.  He didn’t strike many batters out (3), but nobody really hit anything hard off of him, either.  The bullpen then shut the door from that point.  Guerrier struggled a bit in the eighth, but with one out Gardy summoned Jose Mijares, who proceeded to throw one pitch, get the double play, and get back in the dugout.

The offense left a few men on base again tonight, but two-hit games from Kubel and Cuddyer proved to be enough.

Perhaps the most telling stat, though, is that Albert Pujols was just 1-4 on the night, and whiffed against Joe Nathan in the final frame.

Notes:

-At one point, a camera showed former Twin Dennys Reyes warming up in the bullpen.  My first thought was, “Geesh, that’s the ugliest guy I’ve ever seen”…

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But then, Ryan Franklin was brought in for the top of the ninth…

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I rest my case.

Preview (38-37, 2nd, 4.0 GB DET): Kevin Slowey (10-2, 4.04) vs. Todd Wellemeyer (6-7, 5.53). Though still a bit of a long-shot, Slowey might just be pitching himself into All-Star consideration.  He doesn’t have the dominating ERA, but a win tomorrow would give him the AL-lead in that category.  Of course, I remember a year or two ago that Kyle Lohse (for the Cards) was something like 12-2 at the break with a similar ERA and didn’t make the Midsummer Classic.  However, if a few guys picked by the managers fall ill or have other conflicts, you just never know.

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