Results tagged ‘ Nick Punto ’

Why We Lost, Theory #2: We Were Overmatched From The Start

yankeesboard06.jpgIn the previous post, I made the point that the Twins have nobody to blame but themselves for the ALDS sweep at the hands of the Yankees. But is this really true?

This is kind of a touchy issue, at least for me, as it implies that the Twins (or any small-market “David” vs. a big-market “Goliath”) really never have much of a chance to compete against the “big boys” of the league.

Any competant baseball fan knows that the economic system of the game is messed up due to the fact that no salary cap is in place.  Teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels (in the American League) have such a huge advantage over the Twins and Royals of the world that its a wonder any other team ever represents the league in the World Series (I guess that is the crapshoot of a playoff structure that features a 3-of-5 first round).  Sure, Bud Selig’s supposedly brilliant luxury tax system (where, much like Robin Hood, the league robs from the rich to give to the poor) helps a little bit, but in reality all it ends up doing is narrowing the free agent pool each year (as the middle-market teams are able to lock up a few key players to long-term deals).  It most definetly, however, does not prevent teams like the Yankees from nabbing the best free agents year after year (case in point: C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett brought in before the start of this season).  The Twins could never have dreamed of signing guys like that.

Of course, baseball will likely never changed (at least not with Selig at the helm), as the success of the Yanks, Sawx, and Halos fuels the revenue machine, especially in the World Series.  Though it might provide some sanctity back into the game, nobody wants to see the Twins and Athletics, to use two examples, duking it out in the ALCS.  If the MLB execs had it their way, it would be New York and Boston every single year.

The whole situation kind of reminds me of the infamous “You can’t handle the truth” speech from the movie A Few Good Men:

“My existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives…You don’t want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.”

While more parity would be great for baseball, it will never happen because admittedly it would weaken the short-term (until new rivalries are formed, at least) revenue stream of the league.

Thus, can the Twins even be expected to compete with the Yankees in any series?  They have Sabathia and Burnett, we have Baker and Blackburn.  They have the best middle of an order (Teixera, A-Rod, Matsui) since Ruth, Gehrig, and Lazzeri batted consecutively, while we have one stud (Mauer) and two others (Kubel, Cuddyer) that are by and large overmatched by quality pitching.  They have guys like Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano at the BOTTOM of the order, while we have Carlos Gomez, Nick Punto, and Jose Morales because they are all we can afford.  They can throw arms like Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes at us, while he have Matt Guerrier and Jose Mijares.  No comparison.

So, those are the two theories as to why our beloved Twins were brutalized by the hated Yanks.  Which one is more valid?  I think it is a mixture of both.  The Twins would need to play a perfect series to even give themselves a chance to beat the Yankees, and instead we choked in every big opportunity.

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.

Why Exactly Are We Moving Out Of Here Again?

b04c3acb-5040-499b-914d-21abe2ed58f7.jpgWell folks, here we go again!!  As common as .500 baseball has been for the Twins over the past two or three seasons, just as common has been incredibly inspired late-season play. 

After taking the first game in this playoff-like Dome series against the Tigers last night thanks to the brilliant pitching of Brian Duensing, the Twins needed to keep the momentum going this afternoon and did so in spectacular fashion.

For the first seven innings, this game was the tightest of pitchers duels, with Carl Pavano’s hex on the Tiger bats matching Justin Verlander’s 99 mph heater.  Both teams got a run early, and the Tigers scored again in the third to go up 2-1, a score that would hold until the bottom of the eighth inning.

Really, though, the momentum in this game began to shift in the top half of that inning.  With Pavano out of the game after having pitched incredibly well, the ball was given to the ever-shaky Jesse Crain…who proceeded to get three quick outs on just eleven pitches (I probably should heap the credit on Crain tonight, as somewhere along the line I will be quick to jump all over him a bit later).

Of course, things didn’t look all that bad for Verlander in that fateful eighth to begin with, as Punto struck out and Span hit one of his patented singles to land on first.  Orlando Cabrera then lifted a lazy fly ball to left field that Don Kelly, who had been put into the game as a defensive substition just an inning previous, easily had measured…until he didn’t, of course, and the ball dropped to put runners on second and third.  With opposing teams only having to deal with those kind of Dome Balls for five more contests, the baseball gods must be getting their money’s worth.

Joe Mauer was intentionally walked to load the bases, but Jason Kubel promptly doinked a single into left that scored both Span and Cabrera to give the Twins a lead.  That was the end of the night for Verlander, but the firemen didn’t do much better, as Brandon Lyon quickly served up a three-run jack to the suddenly red-hot Michael Cuddyer to give the Twins a 6-2 cushion, which would amount to the final score.

For the first time in quite awhile, I am seriously considering watching the Twins over the Vikings tomorrow afternoon.  I usually award that time-slot to the footballers due to their once-a-week status, but there is just too much excitement emanating from the Metrodome right now to turn away!  Since the Vikes start at noon and the Twins’ opening pitch is 1:10, I’ll at least have a bit of time to see how the Vikes game is going (maybe they’ll be beating the Lions so badly it won’t even be a decision!).

Preview (76-72, 2nd, 2.0 GB DET): Nate Robertson (1-2, 5.35) vs. Scott Baker (13-8, 4.35).  Basically, this game could decide the season.  A win pretty much evens things up, while a loss likely means that perfection will be needed down the stretch.

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)

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…

NathanRangers.jpg

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…

GiftRangers.jpg

-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.

Good Deal

Well, for the first time since Shannon Stewart was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays back in 2003, the Minnesota Twins finally pulled the trigger on a mid-season addition, this time in the form of A’s shortstop Orlando Cabrera:

130984_Athletics_Rangers_Baseball.jpgPersonally, I think this is a GREAT move for the Twins to have made, as Cabrera plays great defense and hits, at .280, rougly 70-80 points better than Nick Punto on any given day. Plus, he is on a terror with the bat (.377 this month) right now, so maybe we’re getting him just when he is starting to peak this year.

Back in ’03, when Stewart came on board, the Twins miraculously went from a team almost out of contention, to one that won the division almost going away. It’s amazing what a little excitement (from a big trade) can do for the players on a team. Shannon brought the leadoff presence that year, while now Cabrera brings offense out of the #2 hole in the lineup (exactly what we need).

What will be interesting is how Harris, Casilla, and Punto will be used now that Orlando is in town. Harris was terrible at the second sack last year, but can (and will) play third when (not if, unfortunately) Crede needs to be out of the lineup. That leaves Punto and Casilla at second, and assuming Gardy doesn’t stroke out in the near future, we all know what that means (although batting ninth, one is probably just as good as the other).

By the way, I attended the first two Twins/Sox games at the Dome earlier this week, and really, is there any better feeling than sweeping the Sox?! Hey, maybe we can give the Angels a little payback this time around now that Cabrera is on our side!

Other deadline deals:

-Victor Martinez is on the verge of going to the Red Sox.

-Halladay is still a Jay (two minutes to go!)

-Tigers acquired starter Jarrod Washburn

Preview (52-50, 2nd, 2.0 GB DET): Ervin Santana (3-6, 7.29) vs. Nick Blackburn (8-5, 3.75). No Cabrera yet tonight, but Blackie might not need him.

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).

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.

Payback

 

you_got_owned_yel.gif The last time the Twins and Yankees met, earlier this season in mid-May at Yankee Stadium, the Twins got owned, plain and simple.  We played tough in every game, yet the Yanks always found a way to come back and beat us in the late or extra innings.

However, things have always been a bit different at the Metrodome (save for the ’03 and ’04 ALDS series’) for the Yankees.  While they haven’t exactly struggled at the park, they also haven’t come in too many times and waltzed all over us, either.  If the Twins are on their “A” game, they can compete with anybody, but the difficult part is doing it for all nine innings against the Bronx Bombers.  With other teams you can have easy outs or innings, but against New York it is easy for things to spiral out of control at any time, what with the cavalcade of hitters they send up to the plate one after another (no Buscher-Punto-Gomez combination in that lineup).

As you can probably tell, I’m pumped for tonight’s contest.  Maybe we’ll even see some of this…

Mean?  Yeah.  Deserved?  Absolutely!

Preview (43-40, 2nd, 1.5 GB DET): C.C. Sabathia (7-5, 3.85) vs. Scott Baker (6-6, 4.99). All things considered, there really couldn’t be a more fitting way for this series to begin.  Baker is, rather mysteriously, a historic Yankee killer, while the Twins will be reacquainted with old nemesis C.C., who either owns us or gets rattled in the early innings.

“Getaway” Gardy

e9264050-de1e-40e2-9189-8b4ecf8f5c4e.jpgTruth be told, I think that Ron Gardenhire is a good manager for the Minnesota Twins.  For a team that is always developing young players because we don’t have enough money to spend on the big boys, Gardy also seems to have the right touch to bring the young guys along in the best possible manner.  He may play favorites (Nick Punto, Jesse Crain) and once you get in his doghouse (Delmon Young) it’s tough to get back in the main living quarters, but all in all he seems like a good guy who works hard and demands the same of his team.

That being said, there are some days that I just want to hate on him…and today is one of those days.  As is his custom, Gardy put out his “Getaway” lineup featuring a stretch of batters that included Brian Buscher, Young, Mike Redmond, Punto, Carlos Gomez, and Matt Tolbert.  Joe Crede (hit by pitch the day before), Joe Mauer (general day off), and Denard Span (flu-like symptoms) were all out of the lineup.  While I agree with the Span “benching”, why were BOTH Crede and Jo-Mo on the bench at the same time against arguably the best team in the American League right now?!  The Red Sox trot out the likes of Ellsbury, Pedroia, Bay, Youkilis, and Lowell, while the Twins counter with that above quintet of guys who will make more outs than hits and inspire little confidence.

I guess it just really hit home to me after Mauer hit the home run in the bottom of the ninth off Papelbon, thinking “what would have happened if Mauer (and Crede) had been in the lineup all game long?”.  Mauer would have probably gotten a couple of hits (he is so locked in right now), while Crede wouldn’t have let three balls by him in one inning (yes, they were tough plays, but Crede may have made them).

When playing the BoSox, one has to expect that many runs will need to be scored to win the contest, and Gardy just didn’t put out a viable lineup today to do that.  Of course, he can probably justify every move, and perhaps be correct in the long run, but I still just want to pout for awhile anyway at a loss that could have been a whole lot different.

Preview (22-24, 3rd, 4.5 GB DET): Jon Lester (3-4, 5.91) vs. Nick Blackburn (3-2, 3.83). Blackie has been carrying the pitching staff as of late, and I look for that streak to continue.

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