Results tagged ‘ Nick Blackburn ’

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…

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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).

The Lonely Goatherd (aka Diary Of An Insane Night)

A recap of the events on the fateful night of 7-20-09 in Minnesota Twins fan history:

From 7:00 to 10:00 p.m., I was at the local theater performance of “The Sound of Music”

 

It was a great performance, especially considering the small-town venue.  It ran a bit longer than I thought it would, so I hurried out to the car radio to get the Twins games on the sub-woofers.  At that point, I found out that this was happening…

HappyBeforeSuck.jpg

Basically, it was a good ‘ole fashion beat-down courtesy of guys like Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, and, well, pretty much everyone else. The high point came at 12-2 in the third inning, I believe, when it looked as if the Twins might set a new single game scoring record.

The only damper on the evening is that the A’s kept trying to crawl their way back into the game due to the fact that Nick Blackburn was essentially throwing batting practice (his sinker wasn’t moving at all). He left after five innings having given up seven runs.

Of course, the bullpen would come in and cobble together the rest, right. Yeah…the lines for the next two Twins hurlers:

Brian Duensing: 1.1 IP, 3 ER

Bobby Keppel: 0.0 IP, 3 ER

As I thought the game was well in hand, I was kind of messing around on Facebook while all the horrendousness was going down, so I don’t remember exactly what transpired, but suffice it to say that Duensing loaded the bases in the seventh, then Keppel gave up a grand slam to Matt Holliday to tie the game at 13-13…

 

SucksBigTime.jpg Then Gardy, looking like he could bite the head off a bat, pulled Keppel for Jose Mijares.  On the first pitch. Jack Cust took HIM deep, and the A’s had remarkably taken the lead.  This was my status quote on Facebook at that point:

**** (14-13)

But that wasn’t the last of it by far.  With two outs and the Twins looking to go down meekly in the bottom of the ninth, Cuddyer doubled and Kubel was intentionally walked.  Delmon Young then stepped to the plate and did his level best to prolong the game (by not swinging…his premier aspect).  On the second pitch to Young, the ball bounce high of the plate and, to the horror of Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki, could not be found.  Cuddyer easily took third, then made the now-fateful decision to try and tie the game.  He came barreling into the plate, slide across the dish right between Suzkuki’s legs and before the tag, and looked to home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski for the “safe” sign that would surely be forthcoming:

CuddySlide.jpg

Unfortunately, to paraphrase poet Ernest Thayer:

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,

And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;

But there is no joy in Twinsville – mighty Cuddy was called out.

I have watched a lot of baseball over the years, and that “out” call may have been the worst umpiring decision I have ever seen. Cuddyer was halfway across home plate before Suzuki’s glove hit him, yet Muchlinski gave him the fist pump. I am usually not one to call for suspensions/fines lightly, but if Muchlinski doesn’t get some sort of reprimand from MLB I would be disappointed. A major league umpire should make that call in his sleep.

Preview (47-46, 3rd, 1.5 GB CWS): Anthony Swarzak (2-3, 4.50) vs. Dallas Braden (7-8, 3.45). How exactly does a team bounce back from a loss like last night?  That is the question I posed to Bert Blyleven on the Carsoup.com “Email the Booth” website before tonight’s game.

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 Team Loss, If Such A Thing Exists (But Thanks, Brad)

a7fe91c9-d7a9-4bd5-99c5-b591ed92d190.jpgBefore the game earlier tonight, the Minnesota Twins inducted former starting pitcher Brad Radke into their Hall of Fame, an honor I believe he rightly deserves.  Although he was just a smidge over .500 for his career winning percentage, he also played on a bunch of terrible Twins clubs early in his career, and then for few teams that didn’t score him many runs at all.  About the only run support he got was in his final year, 2006, when he was essentially pitching with a torn-up shoulder.  Yet, even during that ’06 campaign, where he showed more heart and guts than any pitcher in a long time, he was still more reliable than any Twins starter this season, save for perhaps Nick Blackburn.  Deep down I wished he could have just stayed out there on that mound in place of Glen Perkins and set down the ChiSox order with his pinpoint control and pull-the-string changeup.  He looks like he could still do it!

After the ceremony, however, the game was nothing but a slow spiral into another notch in the right-hand column of this season’s winning percentage.  During his inning in the TV broadcast booth, Radke kept talking up the fact that baseball is a team game, giving all the credit to his success to his former teammates.  The Twins proved him right on the field, but unfortunatly it was in the opposite way he intended.  Basically, all areas of the Twins’ game stunk in some way, shape, or form:

Starting pitching: Perkins just didn’t have it tonight.  Maybe he wasn’t still fully recovered from his recent illness, but he just wasn’t hitting his spots or making good pitches.  Thus, the Sox battered him around accordingly.

Bullpen: Brian Duensing and Jose Mijares were solid, but R.A. Dickey was just a complete pain to watch.  He didn’t throw strikes, couldn’t get batters to chase the knuckler, and walked three batters in an inning and a third.  Of course, his outing wouldn’t have been nearly as bad if not for…

Defense: With the bases loaded with Sox in the sixth inning, Jim Thome busted his bat and hit a little bloop to left-center that Gomez pursued with his usual reckless abandon.  The ball bounced once on the turf, vaulted Go-Go, and Span got all turned around in trying to back up the play.  When all was said and done, the bases were cleared.

Hitting: Yes, the Twins did eventually put seven runs on the board, but WAY too many at-bats earlier in the game were just give-aways.  The reason Gavin Floyd was able to last as long as he did in the game was because we had such weak at-bats in the first innings.  Michael Cuddyer especially got on my nerves tonight, as he is such a sucker for that low, sweeping slider down and away.  Makes him look like an idiot when he flails at it.

Preview (44-44, 3rd, 1.5 GB CWS): Mark Buerhle (9-2, 3.14) vs. Scott Baker (6-7, 5.31). The wait for Baker to develop into any sort of consistent starting pitcher continues on Sunday before the break.

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).

Emperors And Idiots

EmporerIdiots_Large.jpgJust recently, I finished reading Mike Vaccaro’s book entitled “Emperors and Idiots” and had fun re-living the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry of 2003 and 2004 (as well as down throughout the years).  However, after watching the Twins get swept (once again) by the Yankees this past week, I think that title could very well ring true to the contests between these two teams as well.  Basically, the Yankees are the emperors, and they make the Twins look like idiots.

Each of the three games of this most recent series was, in its own right, a little slice of why the Yankees thump the Twins so bad each and every game.  First, was the big blowout where the Yankees just teed-off on Scott Baker.  Second, was the Twins’ bats running into the buzzsaw that is A.J. Burnett (I almost titled this post “Why do guys named A.J. always haunt the Twins?”) while we throw Anthony Swarzak in against the most powerful lineup in the game.  Finally, Thursday’s matinee was just that kind of game where the Twins kept battling for all nine innings, but the Yankees always had an answer with their bats.

To put it bluntly, the Yankees make us look like a minor league outfit for one primary reason: our pitching isn’t good enough to stop their tremendous hitting.  Unless Nick Blackburn were to take the mound, there would be no starter-starter combination that would favor the Twins.  Baker is too inconsistent, Liriano is Liriano, Swarzak’s just a kid, and Perkins is erratic.

All told, the series can be summed up in two pictures:

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d56283f4-f836-4067-ad83-bd83f9ee915f.jpgPreview (43-43, 3rd, 1.5 GB CWS): John Danks (7-6, 3.76) vs. Nick Blackburn (7-4, 2.94). Coming into the Yankees series, the Twins were in second place and nipping at Detroit’s heels.  Now they are in third place and looking up at the Pale Hose as well.  A “statement series” before the All-Star break would be nice, as would the bump in the standings.

Thoughts From The First Two Games

A few random thoughts from the first two games of the current Twins-Tigers series:

-Though going 16 innings and losing is bad enough for players and fans alike, I really can’t pin the blame on anyone in particular.  The Tiger bullpen was just throwing gas, and the Twins’ batters were (by and large) having decent at-bats.  They just couldn’t string enough hits together to get that elusive run across the plate.

-The Twins showed a little moxie today after Liriano gave up the big fly to Magglio Ordonez to give the pinstriped ones their short-lived lead.  In a game that needed to be won, the Twins came up with some clutch at-bats and were able to get the job done.  Now, we just need to take care of business tomorrow and things will be okay again.

-I never like to see a pitcher like Kevin Slowey go on the disabled list, but hopefully this will give him some time to either: A. get his wrist checked out, or B. get his mind right and back in that groove he had been in until a week or so ago.  Swarzak can probably fill in decently for Slowey, but we need Kevin back to his Brad Radke-esque form, where he can pitched deep into games and always give us a chance to win.

-I really think that Denard Span and Carlos Gomez need to stop fighting over outfield assists.  Eventually there is going to be a nasty train-wreck out there if they don’t get on the same page.  I think the problem is that both players, being center fielders by natural position, are used to calling off all other fielders (usually the CF’s perogative) to catch the ball.  However, Span is playing out in left alot recently, and in the back of his mind he probably knows that Gomez doesn’t take the best routes to balls but will scream for the catch anyway.

-Former Cubbie star Mark Grace was showing some serious love for the M&M boys today in the FOX TV broadcast.  Well-deserved, too, as they contributed to most of the scoring.  I look forward to watching them in the All-Star Game (which the roster for will be released tomorrow, by the way).

-Finally, today’s Fourth of July holiday also marks the 70th anniversary of Lou Gehrig giving what is now famously known as his ‘Luckiest Man” speech.  I know that the Iron Horse was second-banana to The Babe for so many years, but in that moment he showed what was truly in his heart all that time…kindness, gentleness, yet a competitive spirit that made him choked up over being taken out of a lineup when he was actually dying.  It still gives me goosebumps every time I see it.  Greatest first baseman of all-time?  Yes.  Is there really any other serious competition?!

-Of course, for a little lighter holiday fare, you could check out the annual SciFi Channel Twilight Zone marathon.  Still a creepy show all these years later!

Preview (42-40, 2nd, 0.5 GB CWS for 2nd): Rick Porcello (8-5, 3.90) vs. Nick Blackburn (6-4, 3.10).  Need to win this series…that is all.

Hitless Wonders

19f0f023-2597-4c84-be24-649f2e355876.jpgWeren’t we all afraid this was going to happen?  Coming off what is traditionally the hottest part of the season for the Twins, Interleague Play, the Minnesota players and fans came into Kansas City on a high.  Sure, we were only a game over .500, but we had been playing better baseball (especially on the road) and still (if only by default) in the AL Central division race.  Then we lay on egg against the Royals with our best pitcher on the mound.

Besides a two-run blast from Justin Morneau, the Twins couldn’t muster any offense against KC’s Luke Hochevar.  I believe we had one hit through five or six innings against him.  Once again, the lineup that can (at times) put some crooked numbers on the board wilted on the road against a team we should handle fairly easily.  Not once in the game did two consecutive batters get a hit.

On the flip side, Nick Blackburn pitched a decent game, but seemed to be just a little “off” from his normal self.  He wasn’t getting first-pitch strikes, and the hitters seemed to be really teeing-off when they got their pitch (thus the two home runs from Callaspo and Olivo).  However, this was probably just the case of a pitcher (as sometimes happens) not having his best stuff, and battling through it.  He kept us in the game, at the very least, although with the kind of stink our offense was wallowing in it really wouldn’t have mattered anyway.

Now the pressure is on to win the final two games of this series…as that is what a contending team should do.

Preview (39-39, 2nd, 4.0 GB DET): Scott Baker (5-6, 5.17) vs. Brian Bannister (5-5, 4.17)

Keep On Rollin’ (And A R.I.P.)

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The Twins finished up the Interleague Portion of their season today, beating the Cardinals 6-2 behind a strong start from Francisco Liriano and some big hits from Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel.

Looking back, the Twins (once again) really enjoyed this month of NL play, as (just recently) we were one Nick Blackburn gaffe and two Albert Pujols swings away from sweeping both the Brewers and Cardinals ON THE ROAD.  The Twins haven’t played that well in an opposing ballpark since guys like Mientkiewicz, Rivas, and Guzman were still lurking around!

Now, though, the test will be whether or not the Twins can parlay this Interleague success back over to the AL.  Luckily, the road doesn’t get much easier than in Kansas City, our opponent tomorrow night.

Preview (39-38, 2nd, 4.0 GB DET): Nick Blackburn (6-3, 3.11) vs. Luke Hochevar (2-3, 5.87). The Royals have nothing without Zack Grienke, and we don’t draw him…sweet.

By the way, this guy died today…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkuReA-AGa8

Unbelievable.  Celebs (Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Mays) are dying at an incredible rate these days.

Unfortunately, this just means that this guy…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJEKqI1e714

…is now the “king” of infomercials. Sad.

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