Results tagged ‘ Nick Blackburn ’

What Went Wrong

After the season ended, I had planned on doing a position-by-position look at the Twins to examine what exactly went wrong that sent a 94-win team (2010) to a 99-loss squad (2011).  However, with the recent front office move of swapping Bill Smith for Terry Ryan (again), it seems as if three key categories came into play during the ’11 season that really just doomed the Twins from the start.

First, from a tactical perspective, the injuries were horrific…

When half (or more) of your starting team is injured for half (or more) of the season, the plan you put in place all of last offseason was pretty much shot in the foot before it ever had a chance to walk.  Whether bad luck, bad conditioning, or bad “mental toughness” (to quote Mike Tice), the team was limping off the field all season long.

Also, the depletion of the bullpen was another crippling tactical shortcoming…

I realize that the money got too much to retain our key bullpen horses, but in the end the lack of any steady relief help came back to bite the team perhaps more than anyone thought possible.

Second, beyond the tactical stuff, was the inability of our “core group” (outside of Cuddyer, of course) to produce.

Mauer & Morneau needed to get back to this…

But instead they barely played two weeks of the season in the same lineup.

Then, the “solid five” (Baker, Blackburn, Liriano, Perkins, Slowey) starters that we envisioned a few years ago have never (and probably never will) produced to their expectations…

Liriano is an enigma, Slowey is in the doghouse, Baker is failed potential personified, Blackburn is a rollercoaster, and Perkins is now a reliever (and one who has injury troubles at that).

Finally, the final area that really killed the Twins last year was a step away from their tried-and-true organizational philosophy of hoarding draft picks, developing talent, throwing strikes, and playing solid, fundamental baseball (especially defense).

When Nick Punto left in the offseason and ended up winning a ring with the Cardinals…

It signaled a shift from playing “Twins baseball” towards “going all-in to win now”.

Perhaps this was a difference in philosophy between two GMS…

But clearly, the team got away from the “fundamentals”.  The defense was rot, the pitchers walked more batters than ever, and the whole foundation collapsed.

Notes:

-Amazingly enough, Terry Ryan’s first move on his second go-’round as GM impressed the heck out of me, signing Jamey Carroll to play shortstop in ’12…

From what I hear/read, Carroll can play solid defense, handle the bat, stay in the lineup, and get on base a little bit…nothing our middle infielders did in ’11.  Carroll is not a long-term solution by any means, but he adds stability to a team desperate for it right now.

The Same Mistake

Last night at Target Field, I had an upper-deck, bird’s-eye view to one of what had to be the biggest Twins collapses in recent memory.  Aside from the obvious blame on Matt Capps for not really getting anyone important out in the ninth inning, this game was lost by our manager.  What makes it even more painful is the fact that, earlier in the game, the opposing manager of the Milwaukee Brewers made the exact same mistake…

In the early innings, the Twins absolutely blasted Brewers starter Narveson.  Cuddy and Danny V. hit back-to-back jacks to almost an identical spot at one point, and the Twins coasted to a 7-0 lead.  At one point, with the Twins up 4-0, Narveson had thrown almost 100 pitches, given up 11 hits, and yet the Brewer bullpen was JUST STARTING to get loose.  I figured that the inability to get a reliever into the game who could get outs would be the Brewers’ undoing.

Sadly, I was quite mistaken, and the shoe ended up firmly planted on the other foot.  Leading 7-4 going into the bottom of the ninth, “closer” Matt Capps allowed four runs to give the Brewers the lead and eventual victory.  While, to be honest, I am not all that surprised about Capps, as I believe he is the most overrated pitcher on our entire team, what absolutely perplexes me is why Gardy would leave him in the game for so long?

If you know anything about Capps, you know that when me melts down, every single fan in the ballpark knows it.  He’s a control pitcher with no dominant pitch (not exactly a closer repetoire, to be sure), so when the control isn’t present, it gets ugly quick and doesn’t end for a while.  Kind of like if Nick Blackburn doesn’t have his sinker; you KNOW he will struggle.

So, with the game hanging in the balance and potentially Joe Nathan or Phil Dumatrait ready to come in and (at the very least) secure a tie ballgame going into the home half of the ninth, Gardy sticks with Capps who promptly gives up a single and the game with it.  If anyone has one rational reason why Capps was allowed to pitch after allowing the tying run, please let me know.  To add insult to injury, Dumatrait then came in and got Prince Fielder to ground out on one pitch.

I’m sorry to say it, Gardy, but this one is on you.  Everyone makes mistakes, so let’s move on and try to take the series today, but when everyone in the ballpark knows the tide has turned and the pitcher is rattled, it is YOUR job to get him off that mound pronto.  Please do not let the “traditional closer role” dictate your thinking.  Ditto for “matchups”.  Capps needed to be removed, I don’t care if Jim Hoey is coming out of that pen (a profound and terrible statement in and of itself).

Preview (35-46, 4th, 5.5 GB CWS): Zack Greinke (7-3, 5.63) vs. Nick Blackburn (6-6, 3.64)

Treading Water

The definition of “treading water” is: “a stroke that keeps the head above water by thrashing or rhythmic movements of the legs and arms”.  Basically, treading water is the act of staying in one place despite a flurry of motion.  The last two days, the Twins have provided a clinic in such a behavor.

Last night, Nick Blackburn pitches a complete game gem…

…and really gets the fans up and yelling at Target Field once again (I was one of them!).

Then today…

…the offense once again goes dormant and gets shutout by Erik Bedard and Co. to lose yet another series.

Thus, essentially, we haven’t gained back any ground that we had lost before Blackie’s inspiring performance.  Treading water.

Preview (16-32, 5th, 5.5 GB CWS): Harmon Killebrew Tribute at Target Field.

Five Aces? Not So Much

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In light of the Twins’ recent struggles, I wanted to comment on one of the reasons WHY I feel we are sitting in the basement of the AL Central right now:

Just think back about 3-4 years, after we traded Johan Santana.  Likely one of the reasons we let Johan walk was because we thought we had a five-pitcher nucleus that would last for many years at a relatively low cost.

Well, you know what they say about “best laid plans”…

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Nick Blackburn: Maddeningly inconsistent, including various nagging injuries.  Typical sinkerballer…either boom or bust on any given day.

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Kevin Slowey: Almost chronically injured at this point.

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Francisco Liriano: Was supposed to be the ace of the staff, but post-TJ (except for parts of 2010) has been a mess.  No consistent delivery, no control, seemingly lax attitude.

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Scott Baker: The biggest disappointment of the bunch.  Has not improved one iota since the day he arrived in a Twins uniform.

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Glen Perkins: Bad-mouthed the Twins organization, served his minor league “sentence”; has been decent of late as a reliever.

At one point, all five of those guys showed tremendous promise.  Sadly, they have each fizzled for different reasons, leaving the Twins somewhat pitching-poor when they thought they would be solid in the next decade.

Hey Mikey…He Likes It!


Angels_Twins_Baseball_sff_189655_team.jpgTwo pitches decided the outcome of the game tonight:

#1…the one to Danny Valencia that Danny Boy sent 426 feet into the second deck in leftfield;

#2…the one that Jered Weaver grooved to Michael Cuddyer after Cuddy had fouled off all sorts of pitches high and low, outside and in, but eventually turning it into a three-run double.

Preview (72-52, 1st, 5.0 GA CWS): Nick Blackburn (7-7, 6.66) vs. Rich Harden (4-4, 5.45).  With Slowey on the DL, Blackie is back and (hopefully) here to stay now.

Right Move…But Right Guy?

Just heard today that the Twins got closer Matt Capps from the Washington Nationals…

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From a purely personnel standpoint, GM Bill Smith got it right. I’m glad he realized that Jon Rauch is not a playoff-caliber closer, and that adding a reliever to allow Duensing a spot in the starting rotation might be just as good as a high-caliber, high-risk, rental-player trade.

The only thing I’m concerned about is that, from what I’ve heard, Capps isn’t all that steadier than Mr. Rauch.  I don’t know too much about him, though, so I would appreciate some comments from more informed minds on the matter.

For now, though, I’ll say I like this trade going forward.  Pavano, Liriano, Duensing isn’t too shabby at the front end of the rotation, Blackburn will likely be pitching in big games (and probably suceeding, knowing him) in September again, and anything from Baker/Slowey is a plus at this point.

A Solid Nine

1662593145_d329719b43.jpgThis afternoon, the Twins rapped out 9 hits (two apiece from Morneau, Kubel, & Cuddyer) against the Tigers, while Kevin Slowey followed Blackie’s example and turned in his first quality start in ages, beating the Tigres 5-1 and pushing them just a bit further back in the AL Central standings.

The thing I wanted to comment on today, though, is the kind of lineup the Twins will be able to put on the field everyday once JJ Hardy gets back from his injury (likely this weekend):

1. Denard Span, CF

2. Orlando Hudson, 2B

3. Joe Mauer, C

4. Justin Morneau, 1B

5. Michael Cuddyer, 3B

6. Jason Kubel, RF

7. Delmon Young, LF

8. Jim Thome, DH

9. JJ Hardy, SS

Wow…Thome batting eigth?!  Of course, the two concerns are Cuddy’s defense at third and Thome’s status as everyday player (even at DH), but if those things pan out, that lineup could be as deadly as any order this side of the Yankees in the American League.  Plus, Gardy could (and would) bring Nick Punto off the bench as a defensive sub at practically any infield position late in the game.

I know that the Twins have always been a streaky bunch of hitters the last few years, with Young, Cuddyer, and Morneau (although perhaps not his ’10 form) prone to terrible dry spells, but that is where the depth comes in.  When guys 1-9 can provide big hits, it would take every single one of them in a slump to slow production.

Notes:

-It was nice to see Slowey strike a few guys out today.  Whereas Blackburn needs the ball to dive to get outs, Slowey needs to have his perfect control, which will lead to some K’s in big spots.

Preview (43-35, 1st, 1.5 GA DET): Jeff Niemann (6-2, 2.72) vs. Carl Pavano (9-6, 3.33). Man, if Pavano was any shorter, he’d be the spitting image of this guy:

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Three Times…A Charm

Tigers_Twins_Baseball_sff_179444_game.jpgAfter the Twins jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first inning against the Tigers tonight, then just as quickly fell behind 3-2, it looked like perhaps another one of “those” nights would transpire.

However, Blackburn settled down nicely (not spectacular, but enough to give him another turn in the rotation for sure), and let the batters take over.

The obvious player of the game was Denard Span, who tripled three times (tying a club record held by Ken Landreaux in 1980), drive in five runs, and scored twice to kick-start an offense that, by all means, needed a little jolt to the backside.

Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer also picked up clutch hits to break out of some batting doldrums, while Jim Thome hit career home run #572, putting him within one of Harmon Killebrew (I wonder if the Killer will be at the park tomorrow afternoon?!), en route to an eventual 11-4 victory that moved the Twins back into first place.

Notes:

-That outfield wall may not have too many balls fly over it at Target Field, but it sure gives fielders (especially towards that right-center area) fits with all those angles jutting out.  First Thome hits a three-bagger, than Span does him two better in a single game!

Preview (42-35, 1st, 0.5 GA DET): Andrew Oliver (0-1, 3.00) vs. Kevin Slowey (7-5, 4.79). Hopefully Slowey can make like his rotation buddy Blackburn and give us another quality start to retain first place.

Geesh, Blackie

20081001_blackburn_33.jpgWell, I wanted to get in a blog posting before heading up north for the weekend, but I wish it were under better circumstances.

Let’s just say this: If anyone thought that Jesse Crain would be headed to the batters box in the second inning, please raise your hand.  Didn’t think so.

As I type this right now, Nick Blackburn was absolutely terrible against the Phillies, allowing 8 runs in one and two thirds innings of “work”.  Chase Utley and Ryan Howard provided most of the damage with moon-shot home runs.

I know it’s way too early to panic, but I wish the starters on this team would be a little more consistant.  I have to give them credit for staying healthy, but you just can’t count on Blackie, Slowey, or even Baker, for that matter, to give you a good outing every five days.  It’s just that the Tigers are breathing down our necks.

Saturday: Kevin Slowey (7-4, 3.84) vs. Cole Hamels (6-5, 3.74)

Sunday: Carl Pavano (7-6, 3.92) vs. Roy Halladay (8-5, 2.36). Gulp

Two Good Teams

This past weekend, the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves (both leaders of their respective divisions) played some hard-fought games that brought to mind another series between each club that you might remember:

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On Friday night, Francisco Liriano and Tim Hudson locked horns in an epic pitchers duel (I was at this one in person!).  Frankie struck out seven batters in a row at one point (tying a club record), and the Twins did Hudson in with one productive inning in the seventh.

For Saturday’s game, another pitching lockup commenced, this time with Nick Blackburn taking the hard-luck loss to Derek Lowe.

In the finale, Kevin Slowey came back down to earth after a series of outstanding starts, and the Twins effectively lost after the second inning (down 5-0).  Delmon Young did continue his hot hitting with a three-run bomb, though.

Notes:

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-It was nice to see the Twins organization recognize Bobby Cox before the opening game of the series (Cox has announced his retirement from managing effective at the end of this season).  He truly is a class act who will be sorely missed by Atlanta and all MLB.

-Boy, is Delmon ever on a tear!  Of course, he is also prone to those bone-dry stretches as well, so is it really necessary to re-hash the Garza/Bartlett for Young/Harris trade every time he goes on a streak?!

-We need to get healthy.  We may be able to beat some NL clubs (like the incoming Rockies) with the likes of Danny Valencia and Trevor Plouffe in the lineup, but we need O-Dawg and JJ back to compete with the big boys offensively.

Preview (36-27, 1st, 2.5 GA DET): Aaron Cook (2-3, 4.76) vs. Carl Pavano (6-6, 3.92).  Does Pavano ever get a no-decision?  I’m kidding…that’s actually a positive thing, as it means he’s pitching deep into games.

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