Monday, April 30, 2007

Another Crained End to April

With a day off today, the Twins are officially done with April. As Twins recall with great disgust, last year's April also ended with a series in Detroit that is best symbolized with the numbers 33 and 1. In Jesse Crain's last April outing last year, it was in a 18-1 blowout and Crain also gave up a run. He ended that April with a 7.50 ERA. This time around, he ends April with a 6.30 ERA.

Crain ended last year with a 3.52 after a vastly superior second-half, in which he went 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA. Thats compared to a first half 5.03 ERA, despite having a 2.03 ERA in June. The question, of course, is should we be worried about Crain struggling again when he looked like he got it together again at the end of last year. Much of the answer comes in Crain's April numbers from both this year and last year.

This year, despite the high ERA, Crain has allowed 10 hits in 10 innings compared to 20 in 12 April innings last year. Crain also allowed three home runs last year in April, though he did strike out 11 in those 12 innings. This year he has only struck out five, but he has given two home runs. Two doesn't sound like a lot, but in 10 innings, its quite significant. Granted, the home run he allowed to Juan Uribe in the April 8 game against Chicago was innocous because the Twins won, but yesterday's hurt a lot more.

With a chance to sweep the Tigers and close this April with the opposite result to a series in Detroit, Crain allowed a Brandon Inge walk-off home run in the ninth inning. I can't really compalin about winning a series in Detroit, considering that they are some of baseball's best competition. However, a 14-11 record April is not as good as it may seem.

Last year, the Twins had April series against Toronto, Cleveland, Oakland, New York, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Chicago, Kansas City, and Detroit. That team ended April with a 9-15 record. Though they won series against Oakland and New York, the only other series they won was against Kansas City. This year, the Twins have had series against Baltimore, Chicago, New York, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Seattle, Kansas City, and Detroit. The schedule certainly has been friendlier, but the result hasn't been a far and away great record.

May starts off easy enough for the Twins, with a series in Tampa Bay, but they will play Chicago six times along with series against Boston, Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto, and the surprising NL West-leading Milwaukee Brewers. The only other easy series will come against the Texas Rangers and the suddenly-speaks-English-against-Slammin' Sammy Sosa.

Somebody like Crain is going to be important in May. This coming month, the Twins will not only be challenged more, but they will certainly have lots of decisions on their hands. Sidney Ponson might be ok in another start against a mediocre team, but the sooner he goes, the better. Offenses like that of Boston, Cleveland, and Toronto will mercilessly tie off against him. Expect the home runs only to mount and the countdown to a Scott Baker or Kevin Slowey sighting to end.

Because Ponson will be in the rotation and likely not pitching many innings, the Twins need some of their bullpen members like Crain to step up. Crain hasn't been very good and I choose to talk about him because of what happened last year in April and because of the big homer he gave up, but Dennys Reyes has been far worse. Right now, Juan Rincon, Joe Nathan, Matt Guerrier, and Pat Neshek all have sub-3.00 ERAs, but they all have also pitched more innings than Crain or Reyes. Both these guys have to step up in big games in the next month to take pressure of the rest of the bullpen.

Of course, there is too much to complain about when the pitching staff has posted a 3.96 ERA in April. Last year at the end of April, the ERA was an unsightly 6.28. Its a big improvement thats due to Ramon Ortiz and Carlos Silva making big contributions next to Johan Santana instead of Scott Baker being the only Twins starter with a sub-4.00 ERA at the end of the month. The schedule as helps, but as we turn the calender to May, things will be getting harder for the Twins.

As for yesterday's game, the Twins offense performed better than expected against starter Mike Maroth, but still did not do quite enough. While Torii Hunter had another extra-base hit with a home run off of Maroth to tie the game in the sixth, the Twins only other run-scoring game on a two-run double off the bat of Jason Kubel. The Twins 3-4-5 hitters Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, and Justin Morneau went 0-for-10 with two walks, providing no offense from the hitters the Twins expect the most out of.

As for Hunter, he ends April with a torrid .326 average and .651 slugging percentage, due to his thirteen doubles and five home runs, but he walked only two times all month, leaving him with a .352 OBP. Last April was a entirely different story, as Hunter ended the month with a pathetic .189/.240/.378 line. Lets hope Hunter keeps it up and some other Twins hitters heat up a little more when better competition comes to town.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Shift of Power

After letting mediocre (or worse) starting pitchers like Jorge De La Rosa, Jeremy Sowers, Fausto Carmona, Odalis Perez and Zack Greinke pitch deep into games with dominating performances against them over the past week, the Twins jumped all over 2006 AL Rookie of the Year Justin Verlander yesterday, scoring five runs (three earned) on eight hits with a walk and no strikeouts before chasing the hard-throwing righthander after three innings. In all, the Twins scored 11 runs against the Tigers' staff, picking up their third straight victory and guaranteeing an important early-season series victory in Detroit.

The Twins' offensive outburst was unexpected to say the least, seeing as how they had struggled as of late and Verlander had entered the game with a 2.08 ERA and 1.04 WHIP on the season. Several Twins had encouraging days at the plate. Justin Morneau, who had struggled a bit in the past two series against Cleveland and Kansas City, went 3-for-4 with a double and his sixth home run. Joe Mauer, who put the Twins ahead on Friday night with a pinch-hit two-run single, also had three hits and hit his first homer of the season off of reliever Fernando Rodney in the ninth. Nick Punto raised his batting average above .200 with a pair of hits, while Jason Kubel went 2-for-5 with three RBI. Torii Hunter singled twice, extending his hitting streak to 13 games.

Meanwhile, Carlos Silva picked up his second victory. He was far from dominant, allowing 10 hits over six innings of work, but he gave up just three runs and was credited with another quality start. The bullpen was very solid, as Pat Neshek, Dennys Reyes and Glen Perkins allowed just one hit and needed only 32 pitches between them to work through the final three innings.

After losing five of seven games against the Royals and Indians over the past week, the Twins have come into Detroit and won their first two against the Tigers, and now they have a shot at the sweep with Johan Santana taking the mound against Mike Maroth tomorrow afternoon. I would say the Twins will have a hard time winning this game against a junk-throwing lefty like Maroth, but as unpredictable as they've been lately, who knows?

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Mauer Strikes Back

Maybe Joe Mauer wasn't happy with being held out of the lineup. Maybe he knew that the offense needed a swift kick in the butt. Whatever the case, Mauer delivered the game-winning two-run single last night off hard-throwing reliever Joel Zumaya. Michael Cuddyer said that when Mauer came up, second baseman Placido Polanco remarked, "Oh God, that guy's up."

The Twins surprised everyone by coming back from a 3-1 deficit against Zumaya. Looking at Zumaya's numbers so far, however, it isn't as surprising as last August's three-run home run by Justin Morneau off Zumaya in Detroit. Including last night, Zumaya has given up six runs in his last 14 innings. He's also shown some pretty bad control this year, walking nine in those 14 innings as well as four on Wednesday outing against the White Sox. He's also a guy who was very hard to hit last year (.187 OBA) and had an amazing ERA of 1.94.

Mauer's wasn't the only impressive hit though. Luis Rodriguez somehow managed to get a sacrifice bunt down on Zumaya's triple-digit fastball to move over Jason Bartlett and Nick Punto. Mike Redmond, misplaced in the third spot, managed a well-struck two-run single to tie the game. And Michael Cuddyer followed with a blast off the left-field wall for a double.

All this offensive output did take a while. The Twins made fans suffer through six innings of offensive ineptitude before Morneau homered off of starter Nate Robertson. (Problems with another soft-tossing lefty? Its getting a little annoying.) With that in mind, obviously fans have to hope that the eighth-inning Twins will show up this afternoon against the hard-throwing 2006 Rookie of the Year Justin Verlander.

However, with all the talk of offense, I have to mention that the Twins received another quality start from Ramon Ortiz. Ortiz only allowed two runs and five hits in six innings, though he did walk four batters. That gives him a 2.57 ERA so far. Ortiz was another part of a great effort by the Twins pitching staff, as the bullpen chipped in with three scoreless innings while Joe Nathan closed the door for his seventh save. With this year's other pitching surprise -- Carlos Silva -- on the mound today, let's hope for a similar effort. The Twins will undoubtedly need it.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Battle of Ineptitude

By the time Mike Redmond drove a single to right-center field in the bottom of the 11th inning yesterday afternoon to break a scoreless tie and push the Twins to their first victory in five games, most Twins fans were probably frustrated enough already that a narrow victory was of little consolation. The Twins had put together another feeble performance against an unspectacular starting pitcher in Zack Greinke (7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 1 K) and had been shut down for three innings by the Royals' bullpen before finally stringing together three straight singles against Todd Wellemyer in the 11th to bring home Justin Morneau with the winning run. Fortunately, the 1-0 victory was made possible by an excellent combined performance by the Twins' pitching staff, which kept the Royals off the board long enough for the astoundingly inept offense to produce a run.

Boof Bonser got the job done by allowing no runs and striking out eight over five innings of work. However, Bonser's lack of control in the game was rather perturbing; he issued seven walks and threw just 58 of his 108 pitches for strikes. Bonser has now issued 16 walks over 25 2/3 innings this year, which could be a bad sign. As a minor-leaguer, Bonser frequently struggled with his control, which was one of the main reasons he was never really viewed as an elite prospect. Over 885 2/3 innings in the minors, Bonser walked 398 batters -- a 4.05 BB/9 ratio. Then, when he came up to the majors last year, Bonser showed greatly improved control, walking just 24 batters in 100 1/3 innings of work. That was good for a 2.15 BB/9 ratio that was better than any he had posted at any level of the minor leagues, indicating that perhaps the "Rick Anderson Effect" had benefited him. Largely as a result of his ability to throw strikes, Bonser was a very solid pitcher for the Twins down the stretch. Now, after his outing yesterday, Bonser holds an unsightly 5.60 BB/9 ratio this season. Because of this, it is no surprise that, despite the fact that he's held opposing hitters to a .245 batting average, his ERA is still over 5 and his WHIP is a high 1.60. Simply put, Bonser needs to get back to where he was last year in terms of throwing the ball in the strike zone if he wants to be a consistently effective pitcher.

Fortunately, Bonser was able to work out of the jams that his walks created yesterday, and the bullpen was lights-out. Glen Perkins, Matt Guerrier, Joe Nathan and Juan Rincon combined to pitch six scoreless innings while allowing just two hits.

As horrifying as the Twins' offense was to watch in the late innings of the game, the scariest moment undoubtedly came in the second when Torii Hunter was hit in the face by a Zack Greinke fastball. Hunter's immediate reaction was anger, and indeed he took a few steps out toward the mound, but he quickly staggered and fell to the ground in pain. He was taken to the hospital where he received three stitches for a laceration on the inside of his lip, and he later returned to the Dome. He's being listed as day-to-day. From watching the play, it initially looked like it could have been a lot worse; Hunter is lucky the pitch didn't break his jaw. The Twins are lucky too -- he's really the only guy in the lineup that's been producing over the past week.

The rest of the Twins' lineup looked much the same as they have for the previous four games: awful. The top three hitters in the lineup -- Alexi Casilla, Nick Punto and Joe Mauer -- combined to draw four walks but also went hitless in 11 at-bats. Jason Kubel, who went 2-for-4 and continues to hit the ball hard almost every time up, provided the team's only extra-base hit when he doubled in the ninth but was stranded when Jason Bartlett struck out in the next at-bat.

Even though the Twins ended up winning, it's tough to put a positive spin on this game. They wound up scoring just four runs over 20 innings in this two-game series against the Royals' weak pitching staff, and now they'll be heading to Detroit to face Nate Robertson, Justin Verlander and Mike Maroth in a three-game series. It could be a brutal weekend, especially if Hunter is not in the lineup.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Four Straight

... Losses, that is. And that sadly includes two losses to the Royals. In their last six games (four against the Royals) the Twins are 2-6. Two of those losses against the Royals came with Sidney Ponson on the mound. When it comes to Ponson, there are so many ways to show how things have gone so far this year, yet the Twins are poised to give him another start because he wasn't a trainwreck against the Royals. Even that sentence felt like a joke.

Let's take a look at the numbers. So far this year, Ponson has allowed up 44 base-runners in 21 2/3 innings, a .361 OBA, six home runs, a 2.06 WHIP, 35 hits, only 12 Ks, and a 8.44 ERA. About the only good thing is his 2.19 GB/FB ratio. But who cares about getting ground balls if you're still serving up home runs left and right (he's on pace to give up 44 in only 155 innings) and have become more a batting practice pitcher than Carlos Silva was last year?

There isn't anything to be inspired by in Ponson's pitching and it's pointless to continue to hold back the Twins' youth for a guy with an 8.44 ERA. It would be difficult at this point to convince me that either Glen Perkins, Matt Garza, Kevin Slowey, or Scott Baker would be this bad now or over the course of the season. Even if they were, there would at least be a defense for their struggles considering their inexperience and need to adjust to the majors. Certainly it's better to take a 8.44 while a young, talented pitcher adjusts than having it from a washed-up veteran on the 13-step program. Therefore, I am going to once again suggest that the Twins call up Baker and hand the fifth spot in the rotation to him and at least give him the same leash they have given Ponson, if not a lot more.

However, once again, my patience remains lost on the Twins hitters. They faced hefty opposition in Odalis Perez last night and managed a pathetic six hits and got nothing against a young Royals bullpen that struggles with control. (It's true that Perez had a few good years with the Dodgers, but that is a pitcher's environment that many have had success in before struggling vastly in the American League. See Park, Chan Ho.)

Particularly bad were Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau, the only power sources for the team outside of Torii Hunter. Cuddyer and Morneau combined to go 0-for-8 and left five men on. In fact, Hunter was the only Twin really hitting last night, as ripped hit a home run and a double, scoring two of the team's three runs. Otherwise, Michael Cuddyer's double-play scored a run in the seventh, but that only serves up a little taste of irony by scoring despite or because of futility.

This afternoon the Twins face Zack Greinke and hopefully they can put on some runs against him like they did last Saturday. It is absolutely imperative that they get a victory here before heading to Detroit, where they were memorably outscored 33-1 over three games in their first visit last season.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Let's Talk About Something Else

Fausto Carmona entered last night's start for the Indians with a 5.61 ERA in 85 career innings. Opposing hitters had compiled a .299/.371/.456 hitting line against him during that span, and in 40 appearances (including nine starts) Carmona had picked up just one win and had never lasted more than six innings in a game. Of course, none of this stopped the 23-year-old righthander from tossing 7 2/3 innings of two-run ball against a once-again inept Twins lineup as he picked up his second career victory and pushed Cleveland to a two-game sweep at the Metrodome. Carmona allowed just six hits and two walks while striking out two. After allowing an RBI single to Justin Morneau in the fourth inning, Carmona retired 13 of the final 15 batters he faced and never allowed the Twins to put together anything resembling a rally. Johan Santana was solid, allowing just six hits and a walk while striking out seven over seven innings of work, but he gave up four runs and on this night the offense could give him no help. All of this equated to a 5-3 defeat, the Twins' fourth loss in their past five contests.

It was another terrible display by the Twins offense against a hittable pitcher, but rather than vent my frustrations I'm going to discuss something else today.

April 25 is too early to be considering specific trades, but it's never too early to take a look at some teams that may be potential trade partners down the line and to point out some players who might be worth keeping an eye on. With the Twins' LF/DH situation somewhat in limbo, there is a team that caught my attention, and that team is the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs seem committed to giving rookie Felix Pie a shot in center field, shifting Alfonso Soriano to left and creating a logjam in right field, with Jacque Jones, Matt Murton and Cliff Floyd all vying for playing time. There's no way I would condone bringing back Jones, but Murton and Floyd are both intriguing and each could be a valuable addition for the Twins if the price was right.

Murton is a 25-year-old righthanded hitter who can play both corner outfield spots well. He has a very nice career hitting line of .301/.367/.453 in 622 major-league at-bats. Murton possesses relatively little power and doesn't run particularly well, but he is a solid hitter with a good eye at the plate. Not only would Murton provide the Twins with a legitimate major-league to play in left field or at DH when Rondell White is injured, it would also be beneficial to the team's future. If Jason Kubel continues to develop into the player many (including myself) think he can be, acquiring Murton would potentially make Michael Cuddyer expendable, as Kubel could slide to right field and Murton could take over in left. That's not to say I want Cuddyer gone, but that might be the inevitable result once his arbitration years are up if the Twins intend to keep Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Johan Santana and Joe Nathan. The thought of losing Cuddyer is pretty scary at this point, because the Twins are lacking corner outfielders in the upper levels of their minor-league system. In this respect, Murton would be a solid addition.

Floyd is another guy worth looking at, and he might be a more realistic option if only for the fact that the Cubs would probably be more willing to deal him. The Cubs signed Floyd to a reasonable $3 million one-year deal in the off-season, with incentives and an option for 2008. In 15 major-league seasons, the 34-year-old lefty has amassed a .278/.358/.487 line with 214 homers and 787 RBI. If the Twins wanted to add a veteran power presence in their lineup, they could do a lot worse than Floyd. With White seemingly injured at all times, Floyd could be inserted into the lineup at DH, allowing Ron Gardenhire to trot out the following batting order:

1. Castillo - 2B
2. Punto - 3B
3. Mauer - C
4. Cuddyer - RF
5. Morneau - 1B
6. Hunter - CF
7. Floyd - DH
8. Bartlett - SS
9. Kubel - LF

That lineup has some good lefty-righty balance and it has power potential spread throughout the order, rather than the five consecutive singles-hitters we currently see some nights. I certainly like the look of that lineup better than the meager one the Twins trotted out last night with Jason Tyner at DH.

Murton and Floyd are both guys that are worth keeping an eye on for the next couple months. In order to get one of them, I'd imagine the Twins would have to part with a reliever (Jesse Crain or Juan Rincon most likely) and a pitching prospect, but at this point that seems worthwhile. Whether it would actually ever happen is debatable, considering Terry Ryan's hesitation to part with pitching. Hopefully he'll bring himself to make a move if this offense continues to be as frustratingly inconsistent as it has been so far.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Offense Woes Continue

Last night, the Twins once again got a decent pitching performance from their starter and great pitching from their bullpen, but largely lost the game because of their lack of hitting. Yes, Jesse Crain gave up four runs in the 12th inning to allow the Indians to win. But it was really the Twins offensive futility that stood out again, leading to another Twins loss.

Nine hits in 42 at-bats. That's not good, but it isn't horrible. What is horrible are these numbers: 140 and 236. One-hundred forty is the amount of pitches the Indians pitchers threw and 236 is how many the Twins pitchers threw. Twins pitchers threw nearly 100 more pitches. That tells you some pretty simple things about the failure of the Twins offense. Once again, they simply were not taking enough pitches at all.

If you watched any part of the game, the lack of patience was clear. The young Jeremy Sowers isn't a particularly great pitcher, but the Twins hitters flailed away for six innings before they finally got three runs in the bottom of the seventh on a Torii Hunter home run and an Alexi Casilla two-run double.

The one hitter whose struggles stood out was Justin Morneau. Morneau is homerless in his last 38 at-bats, though he is still slugging .507. However, last night, he was hitless in five at-bats. Morneau took a total of eight pitches in those at-bats and twice grounded into a double play. Of course, both Nick Punto and Mike Redmond also went 0-for-5, but at least they both took more than eight pitches.

What good news can be taken from the game? Joe Mauer continues to hit extremely well, going 2-for-4 to lift his average to .400, tying him with the incredible Alex Rodriguez. Torii Hunter went 2-for-5 with a home run and his league-leading 12th double, giving him a .621 slugging percentage. And both Casilla and Jason Bartlett had two hits, which is important since Bartlett had started off the season struggling and Casilla is taking over at second while Luis Castillo is out.

Today, the Twins face Fausto Carmona. Carmona struggled as the Cleveland closer last year and has not been very good so far this year. Unfortunately, its hard to know if that bides well for the Twins. They'll have to take a lot more pitches, try to work counts, and try to help their ace out in getting another win.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Don't Get Comfortable

Yesterday was one of those games for the Twins' offense that just makes you cringe. After mounting a threat by loading the bases with one out in the first inning, the Twins shut down and provided one of the more pathetic offensive displays in recent memory. After walking Michael Cuddyer to fill the bases in the first, Royals starter Jorge De La Rosa proceeded to retire 16 straight Twins hitters. Then, after allowing consecutive hits to Joe Mauer and Cuddyer in the sixth, De La Rosa went on to retire seven of the last eight batters he faced. His final line: 8 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K. Twins hitters swung at the first pitch of an at-bat eight times in the game, making me wonder if the players even bother looking at the scouting reports on opposing pitchers (De La Rosa has historically been haunted by horrible control, as evidenced by his career 6.08 BB/9 IP ratio). Not only was De La Rosa's eight innings pitched a career-high, the game marked the first time he's ever gone more than six innings in an outing without issuing multiple walks.

With all that said, I'm not going to bitch too much about the Twins' offense today. The fact is that they've generally hit the ball very well lately. The Twins pounded Royals pitching in the first two games of the series, scoring 14 runs on 28 hits. In the six games they've played since I wrote last Monday about their lack of run production, the Twins have averaged 6.17 runs per game and have raised its season average to a healthy 4.78 (even with yesterday's dud). Of course, it's important to note that the only above-average starting pitcher the Twins faced during that span was Felix Hernandez, who had to leave his start after recording just one out due to an injury. Nevertheless, the offense generally got the job done on their latest road trip.

On a broader scale, despite having hit just nine home runs in 18 games, the Twins are tied for first in the majors in doubles and are tied for fourth in the American League in runs scored. They have raised their team hitting line to .275/.331/.403 from .254/.310/.372 just a week ago. All in all, their record stands at 11-7 and they sit in first place atop the AL Central. With that in mind, it's fairly reasonable to be satisfied with the team's performance to this point. Or is it?

Keep this in mind: 13 of the 18 games the Twins have played so far have come against the four worst teams in the AL (Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Seattle, Baltimore). The Twins lost their series against the Royals and split at home with the Devil Rays, two highly disappointing outcomes that are made tolerable by the sweeps of the Orioles and Mariners. I think many would agree that the Twins have not played particularly good baseball so far, despite their winning record, and they could have easily lost several of the games they won if not for being bailed out by some bad mistakes that are characteristic of bad baseball teams (the late-inning base-running gaffes by Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre come to mind). In their other five games, against the White Sox and Yankees, the Twins went 2-3. That has been the extent of the challenge to their schedule so far. This is about to change.

The Twins open a two-game series tonight at home against the Indians. This weekend they head to Detroit for a three-game set with the Tigers. Then, in early May, they have a 12-game stretch against the Red Sox, White Sox, Tigers, and Indians. By this time next month, we will know a lot more about this Twins team than we do now. I can say this much with great certainty: if they continue to play the same type of sloppy and inconsistent baseball that they have up until this point, the Twins will not still be four games above .500 in a month.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

On Location in KC

KANSAS CITY, MO -- I couldn't have picked a better day for my first trip to Kauffman Stadium. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, with the Kansas City temperatures in the mid-70s and not a cloud in the sky. This was my first time out to Kauffman, and I came away impressed, as I expected to be. It's a relatively old ballpark, but it's extremely nice and there's not a bad seat in there.

Not surprisingly, the seats were packed with Twins fans. The section I was sitting in featured plenty of friendly spatting back-and-forth between Royals fans and Twins fans. The Twins faithful started numerous chants aimed at taunting the Royals for their impressive string of last-place finishes, while the Royals fans retorted with, really, their only possible ammunition: "At least we play in a stadium!" (Of course, it's worth noting that the Twins usually manage to draw considerably more fans in their crappy dome than the Royals do in their beautiful outdoor stadium.)

One particularly entertaining fan sitting in my vicinity was the gal just in front of me. It was pretty clear how she chose the players to whom she owed her allegiance. She was generally a fan of the Royals (particularly David DeJesus and Mark Teahen), but she also gave boisterous applause every time Joe Mauer stepped to the plate.

As for the game itself, it was highly satisfying. Luis Rodriguez (starting at second in place of Luis Castillo) put the Twins in an early hole in the first inning when he dropped a fly ball in shallow right field with the bases loaded, allowing two to score. Fortunately, the Twins offense was resilient in this game, scoring to tie the Royals in each of the fourth, fifth and sixth innings before before scoring twice in the seventh to take a 7-5 lead which would hold until the end of the game.

It was nice to see the Twins' entire lineup contribute in the victory, a refreshing change from the typical lack of production outside of the middle of the lineup. Every starter had at least one hit, with six players collecting multiple hits. To me, the stadium air smelled of hot dogs and beer, but clearly Mike Redmond was smelling RBIs. Getting the start at catcher while Mauer DHed, Redmond delivered clutch run-scoring singles in each of his first three at-bats to help the Twins stick with the Royals, who scored often against Boof Bonser early in the game. Meanwhile, Mauer and Justin Morneau delivered two doubles apiece and Nick Punto collected his first triple.

Beyond the solid offensive effort for the Twins, it was encouraging to see the bullpen get back on track after a rough night in the first game of the series. After surrendering five runs on five hits and four walks with just one strikeout on Friday night, the bullpen bounced back with four near-perfect innings yesterday. Pat Neshek, Dennys Reyes, Jesse Crain and Joe Nathan combined to hold the Royals scoreless after Bonser came out of the game following the fifth with the Twins trailing 5-4. The only damage during the final four innings came on a walk by Reyes, while Neshek and Nathan both struck out the side in their inning of work. This was an especially encouraging sign from Nathan, who had struggled in his past several outings.

So despite making a few ugly mistakes in the field and on the basepaths, the Twins came away with a 7-5 victory and will have a shot at taking the series with Cy Young contender Ramon Ortiz taking the mound.

It's always fun to watch the Twins play in a real baseball stadium, and my experience in Kansas City yesterday was no exception. If any readers were at the game (or one of the other games in the series), feel free to comment with your own impressions. For anyone considering making the trip in the future, I'd highly recommend it. It's a long drive from Minneapolis, but Kansas City is a great town with a lot of cool sights.


On a side note, later in the evening my family and I were walking down the crowded sidewalk of the Plaza in KC, and we walked past a group of Twins players who were out on the town doing some shopping. The group included Castillo, Alexi Casilla and Carlos Silva. We waved hello and congratulated them on a good game. Casilla seemed genuinely excited to be recognized. Gotta love that rookie enthusiasm. It seems Casilla is also starting to enjoy those major-league paychecks; I looked back as I walked away and saw him disappear into Armani Exchange.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Third Start Not a Charm For Sir Sid

Early this offseason, the Twins front office took a few chances. One of them clearly was with Sidney Ponson. So far, the deal has worked out terribly. In 15 1/3 innings this year after last night's disaster, Ponson has allowed 28 hits and 16 runs. He's struck out ten hitters, which isn't terrible, but he's also walked seven. Those add up to some stand-out awful numbers: 9.39 ERA, .384 opponent BA, 2.28 WHIP, and four home runs allowed so far. (That adds up to a predicted 38)

Sure, it has only been three starts and one of those against--against the Yankees--is at least somewhat forgivable. However, a mediocre start against Tampa Bay and last night's debacle against the Kansas City inspires absolutely no confidence in Ponson having a decent year. He's hittable, his control isn't there, and there is no way he going to do any better than our minor league options at this point.

The experiment must be ended. The good news is the one minor league starter the Twins aren't concerned about rushing--Scott Baker--had a very good start last night. In that start, Baker gave up only two runs in eight shutout innings while striking out eight and walking none. Baker has clearly mastered Triple-A hitters and has nothing to prove there. As soon as the Twins decide to end the Sir Sid experiment, its time to give Baker another shot.

As for the rest of the game, it was pretty miserable to watch the Twins bullpen give up five runs to relinquish the lead. And though there were no errors, the Twins defense last night was far from inspiring. At least the offense managed some runs, but the ninth inning felt typical up the Twins offense recently: a good at-bat by Joe Mauer ending in a strikeout, a Michael Cuddyer homerun, and then Justin Morneau and Torii Hunter getting out on the first pitch. Against Royal pitchers who often can't even find the strikezone, the need to be a little more patient. Lets hope for some improvement today, when Boof Bonser takes the mound.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Sweet Seattle Sweep

There was a time in which Johan Santana would have a slow April, walking a few too many batters, giving up a few too many hits, and not racking up strikeouts. However, this April continues to be a different story altogether. After last night's win, Santana has struck out 32 while walking only seven and has given up only 18 hits in 27 April innings. That amounts to a 0.93 WHIP and a .186 opponent batting average. Quite good numbers, considering recent April numbers for Santana.

Last night, Santana picked up his third win of the year, going seven innings against the Mariners while striking out seven, giving up four hits, walking one, and giving up two runs, with one unearned due to a Jason Bartlett throwing error. There are few better signs for the possibilities of the Twins season than having Santana start off well. No one will forget his post-All Star break runs anytime soon and Santana could be well on his way to a career year, if anyone can even imagine what that will look like.

However, the one thing that will remain in the way is the inconsistent offense. Last night, the Twins scored five of their six runs in the seventh inning, with their other run coming on a Jason Tyner RBI single in the second. While the seventh included many nice RBI hits, including Michael Cuddyer's two-run double that put the Twins ahead for good, it also exposed lineup issues.

Josh Rabe nearly ended the scoring with a double-play ball that was botched by Yuniesky Betancourt. Rabe is not much of a hitter, with little power (contrary to claims by Bert) or patience, and he certainly showed himself to be a hole in the lineup. And even though Mike Redmond went 2-for-5 with two RBI, it is slightly nerving when Redmond is in the sixth spot as "protection" for the MVP. Obviously, Torii Hunter's injury, as well as Rondell White's, has played into this, but there still isn't that much of an excuse for such limited depth. Redmond isn't a middle-of-the-order hitter and Rabe isn't a qualified major leaguer, so here is to hoping Hunter returns very soon.

However, just as Nick Punto returned last night to shore up the Twins' infield depth, Luis Castillo hurt himself in yesterday's game as he ran the bases on his fifth inning double. After the game, it was reported that he had a strained right quadriceps. No doubt that Twins fans are hoping Castillo doesn't go on the disabled list, but a trip seems likely at this point. I have to wonder, with Castillo out, if Ron Gardenhire will end his annoying habit of making the lineup more according to position than skills. Alexi Casilla is a talented player, but he isn't ready to bat leadoff.

At this point, I would actually be in favor putting Jason Bartlett in front of Nick Punto at the top of the order. Punto isn't much more patient and he strikes out a lot more. Not to mention, Punto is in a far worse slump. And Tyner does not have the skill-set to bat leadoff either. With injuries in mind, I'd like to see this lineup in tonight's game against the Royals:


White may come off disabled list today and if he does, I have to assume that he'll replace Jason Tyner as a starter. At least the Twins have had the luck so far of playing bad teams while they deal with injury problems. Lets hope that once the Twins face Cleveland and Detroit at the end of the month, they are in a better position health-wise.

On a final note, the Wild sadly lost their series to the Anaheim Ducks. At least they made the playoffs, unlike a certain other Minnesota team who played this winter.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Holding On

The Twins entered last night's contest with the Mariners faced with the daunting task of trying to defeat a young phenom who had been nearly perfect in his previous two starts. That phenom was Felix Hernandez, a supremely talented 21-year-old who had started his season by tossing 17 shutout innings. Last night, however, King Felix was not sharp. Luis Castillo and Jason Tyner started the game with back-to-back singles, and then Joe Mauer walked to load the bases with no outs. Castillo came in on a wild pitch, and then Michael Cuddyer scored Tyner on a groundout to second. Then, while pitching to Justin Morneau, Hernandez suddenly had to come out of the game. The Mariners described Hernandez's issue as elbow tightness and said that he was pulled from the game for precautionary reasons. I wish him the best, but I must admit that when he came off the mound the two words that came to my mind were "Francisco Liriano."

So the Twins had jumped off to a hot start and the Mariners' stud starting pitcher had left the game after recording just one out. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for the Twins' offense to put together a monster game against Seattle's relatively weak bullpen. Unfortunately, that would not be the case on this night. Lefthander Jake Woods came in to replace Hernandez, and he did allow Mauer to score on a Mike Redmond single. He then allowed a couple more runs in the second inning on a two-run single by Morneau, but after that the Twins' offense would flatline. After escaping the second inning on a pop-out by Redmond, Woods faced the minimum number of hitters for the next two innings, erasing a Castillo single by getting Tyner to ground into a double play. In the fifth, Woods pitched around a lead-off double by Cuddyer, getting Morneau, Redmond and Jason Kubel all to fly out. He then delivered a 1-2-3 sixth and finished with the following line: 5.2 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 1K. Not bad at all for a youngster making a spot appearance out of the 'pen. Woods was followed by George Sherrill and Julio Mateo, who combined for three perfect innings.

In summary, here's what the Twins' offense did in the first two innings: 5 R, 4 H, 4 BB, 0 K. Here's what they did in the last seven innings: 0 R, 2 H, 0 BB, 2 K. It was frustrating to watch the Twins hitters regress from the patient approach they showed over the first couple innings to the inept form they showed for the rest of the game, making easy out after easy out.

Since the Twins' offense disappeared after the first couple innings, it was up to Carlos Silva and the Twins' bullpen to fend off the Mariners for the remainder of the ballgame. Fortunately, they were up to the task. Silva pieced together another great start. He was phenomenal through the first five innings, allowing just three hits and a walk and keeping the Mariners off the scoreboard. He ran into some trouble in the sixth, when Ichiro and Adrian Beltre reached on singles and later scored on a three-run homer by Richie Sexson. Silva came out to pitch the seventh and again got himself into trouble, putting two runners aboard with one out. Once again, the Twins' bullpen came up big. After Dennys Reyes came in and gave up a single to Ichiro to load the bases, it was Matt Guerrier who entered the game and became the unlikely hero, striking out Beltre and then getting Jose Vidro to line out on a great play by Morneau at first to escape the inning unscathed and maintain a two-run lead.

After Juan Rincon tossed a scoreless eighth, Joe Nathan came in to pitch the ninth. And what a wild ninth it was. With two on and two outs, Vidro drove a single into right field, scoring Jose Lopez from second. Then, inexplicably, Beltre tried to come around and score from first. Cuddyer had bobbled the ball a bit when trying to scoop it up, but he still got it into the infield in plenty of time for Castillo to send the relay throw home and throw out Beltre by several steps for the game's final out. It was a horrible base-running mistake by the Mariners, reminiscent of Carl Crawford's doozy at the Metrodome last week.

The season is still young, but it's tough not to be perturbed by Nathan's lack of dominance early on. Since taking over as Twins' closer, Nathan has been pretty much the complete opposite of the guy he replaced, Eddie Guardado. While Guardado had a reputation for putting fans on edge by seemingly always getting himself into a jam when he came in for a save, Nathan has done a terrific job of keeping runners off the basepaths. In his past three seasons as Twins closer, Nathan compiled a miniscule WHIP of 0.92. In seven innings this season, however, he has allowed 13 hits and two walks in seven innings, good for a 2.14 WHIP. Like I said, the season is young and I am fully confident that Nathan will soon return to his dominant form of years past, but it's certainly odd to see him struggling like this as he's generally been pretty automatic for the Twins.

Thanks to Beltre's base-running guffaw, the Twins hung on for a series-clinching 5-4 victory. Today Johan Santana will be taking the hill against Jarrod Washburn as the Twins look for their second sweep of the season. You may be depending on Mr. Mosvick for the next several days, as I am taking off this afternoon for Kansas City. I'll be attending the Twins/Royals game at Kauffman Stadium on Saturday night; I'll try to blog about the experience but I'm not sure whether or not I'll have Internet access so the recap may have to wait until next week. If that ends up being the case, I'm sure Mosvick will take good care of the site while I'm gone.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Late Night Special

Last night, a starting pitcher who had allowed just three earned runs over 15 innings on the season went up against a starting pitcher who had allowed seven earned runs in two innings. The results were just as one might have expected.

The Twins jumped all over Jeff Weaver, tagging him for seven earned runs on 10 hits over six innings. Despite the ugly outing, Weaver actually managed cut his ERA for the season in half, lowering it from 31.50 to 15.75. That should tell you just how rough the season has been so far for the lanky righthander. Meanwhile, Ramon Ortiz delivered yet another masterful performance against the Mariners, delivering seven very strong innings, with the only damage coming on solo home runs by Ichiro Suzuki and Jose Lopez. Ortiz looked good, although I think it's fair to say that the stadium radar gun was giving him a little too much credit (his fastball was regularly clocked at 98-99 MPH, according to the FSN broadcast). He didn't strike anyone out, but also didn't issue a walk and managed to induce 15 groundball outs. He was once again surprisingly efficient, needing just 92 pitches to get through his seven innings of work. After three starts, Ortiz is 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA. I've got to admit, I never could have seen that coming.

It was a great night for the Jekyll-and-Hyde Twins' offense, which scored 11 runs on 15 hits and three walks. The Twins did most of their damage against Weaver in in the fifth, when they brought five runs across. The inning went pretty much exactly the way one would ideally draw things up for this offense, with the "piranhas" filling up the bases with scrappy singles and a member of the heart of the order delivering a big hit to bring them in. The inning started with a base hit by Jason Bartlett. Luis Castillo and Jason Tyner each followed with a single on a two-strike count, with Bartlett scoring on Tyner's. Joe Mauer then layed down a sacrifice bunt to move Castillo and Tyner into scoring position. After a K-ddyer strikeout, Weaver intentionally walked Justin Morneau, at which point Torii Hunter yanked a hanging breaking ball into the left field seats for a grand slam. That broke the game wide open and the Twins never looked back.

A few additional notes:

* Prior to last night's game, Mauer had driven in just two runs in 45 plate appearances. This had a lot less to do with a lack of production than a lack of opportunity, and Mauer took advantage of the chances he got last night, picking up three RBIs while going 3-for-4 with three doubles.

* Along with his grand slam, Hunter hit his league-leading ninth double of the season. Interestingly, Hunter has drawn just two walks in 50 plate appearances, which continues a trend of disturbingly low patience at the plate (even for him) stretching back to the second half of last season. Despite his outstanding numbers after the All-Star break last year, Hunter drew just seven free passes over 254 plate appearances. Of course, he batted .296 with a .551 slugging percentage during that span, and so far this season he's batted .292 and slugged .604, so you won't find me complaining.

* Speaking of Hunter, he had to leave the game last night after hurting his shoulder while diving for a sinking liner in center. He did stay in the game for a short while after the play, so there is reason to think that the injury is not overly serious. I certainly hope that is the case, because the always-streaky Hunter has a hot bat right now, and he can pretty much carry a lineup when he's in the zone.

* After hitting a pair of doubles last night, Tyner is now slugging .520. What. The. Hell.

* Luis Rodriguez had a couple nice games early on, but after going 1-for-5 last night his average has dropped to .238 and he still hasn't drawn a walk in 21 at-bats. I'm ready for Nick Punto to return. On the flip-side, Bartlett has seen his average rise nearly 200 points since he returned to he lineup after sitting a couple games out last week.


I hope the Twins had fun scoring so much last night, because they aren't likely to do it again tonight against Felix Hernandez. "King Felix" has been incredibly dominant so far, striking out 18 and allowing just four hits over 17 shutout innings in his first two starts. If he and Twins' starter Carlos Silva (0.77 ERA) both continue to pitch the way they have so far this season, we could have quite the pitchers' duel on our hands. Color me skeptical.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Trading For Cantu?

With an off-day, I could easily focus on the Twins' offensive ineptitude so far. They have, after all, hit a meager .254 so far after facing the notoriously difficult staffs of Baltimore, New York, and Tampa Bay. I will instead try to tackle this subject in a different light.

Many people have suggested that, in light of these offensive issues, the Twins should try and trade for the reportedly available second baseman Jorge Cantu, who is currently playing for Tampa Bay's Triple-A affiliate, the Durham Bulls. As many remember, Cantu surprised people with his 28 home runs and 117 RBI in 2005. His 117 RBI, after all, were good for seventh in the AL that year.

However, I would caution against this move. For one, as Dayn Perry mentioned in a recent article, the RBI is a highly overrated stat. It can be useful, obviously, and when you are like Justin Morneau, putting up 130 of them with high numbers with RISP, you certainly deserve them. But often RBI are more a product of a batter's number of RBI chances. Ryan Howard had 149 last year not because he was so great with men on--he in fact wasn't too good--but because he had so many chances with Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley in front of him.

This, however, is the biggest issue with Cantu. In that year, Cantu did have 40 doubles and 28 homers, which suggest some pretty good power, especially for a second baseman. He also walked a total of 19 times in 598 at-bats. That is simply awful. Such bad plate discipline combined with awful fielding reminds me of someone the Twins brought in last year: Tony Batista.

Cantu is only 25, but the two have awfully similar "skill sets." That is, one skill: power. No speed, no defense, no patience. Cantu probably wouldn't work on this Twins team as a result. Ron Gardenhire isn't a huge fan of guys with no fielding skills and with little or no fundamentals like Cantu. He played Batista last year, it would seem, more because Ryan had him on the roster than because he wanted him in the field. Plus, Batista had the all-important "veteran presence," which Cantu lacks.

Thus, for anyone wishing for a Cantu trade, even if it went down, it probably wouldn't work out. And it could possibly mean jettisoning some young talent.

On another note, Nick Punto appears to be staying off the DL, as there is no structural damage in his ankle. A DL trip is still possible, but it is far less likely with this news.

Today, the Twins will go against another terrible starter: Jeff Weaver. In his one start this year against the Red Sox, he gave up seven runs in two innings. Somehow, in the only starts he has made against the Twins in the last few years (2002 and last year), he has given up only seven runs in 19 2/3 innings. This is the guy who has was one of the worst pitchers in baseball last year, only getting a contract after his postseason heroics. Lets hope the Twins can do something against the Weaver who can't pitch.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Run Shortage

With a 6-4 loss yesterday, the Twins come away from their four-game home series against the Devil Rays with a disappointing series split. Boof Bonser surrendered a lead in the sixth inning when he allowed two homers, and after the Twins had come back to tie the game at four, Joe Nathan had an uncharacteristically horrible outing in the ninth when he gave up two runs on a pair of doubles and a single. With the exception of Saturday night, the Twins did not play well in this series, and if it hadn't been for a couple lucky breaks on Thursday night they might've only come away with one win.

More troubling than the Twins' overall play in this particular series is their persisting insufficiency on offense. Despite scoring seven runs twice in their opening series against Baltimore and bringing 12 runs across on Saturday night against Tampa, the Twins are averaging just 4.08 runs per game this year, nearly a full run less than the 4.94 they averaged last year. As a team, they've hit only seven homers, and four have come off the bat of Justin Morneau. These numbers might not seem all that troubling, but it's games like yesterday's that really give cause for alarm.

Through the first six innings against Rays starter Jae Seo, the Twins managed just two runs on six hits. During that span, they drew zero walks but struck out twice and grounded into two double plays. Keep in mind that Seo is a replacement-level pitcher who entered the game with a 9.64 ERA and 1.169 opponents' OPS on the season. The Twins did finally get to Seo in the seventh, when Jason Kubel doubled in Torii Hunter and Jason Bartlett scored Kubel on an infield single, but they never held a lead in the game and in the end the pitching could not hold up.

There is reason to hope for improvement in the near future though. For one thing, Alexi Casilla and Mike Redmond both started yesterday and combined to go 0-for-8; neither of these guys will be in the lineup regularly. The fact that Casilla and Redmond played meant that two of the teams more consistent hitters in Luis Castillo and Joe Mauer didn't. Meanwhile, the performances of Kubel and Bartlett were very encouraging. Kubel, who is still trying to prove that his knees are back in playing shape, went 2-for-3 with the aforementioned RBI double. Bartlett, who struggled horribly out of the gates, went a perfect 3-for-3 and his defense has looked worlds better since he returned to the lineup after sitting a couple games out. Rondell White is eligible to come off the disabled list in about a week, and his return would hopefully signal an end to the Elrod/Redmond/Tiny madness at DH. The middle of the lineup has looked good, with Morneau batting .289/.360/.622, Michael Cuddyer raking to the tune of .366/.396/.511, and Torii Hunter hitting .273/.304/.523. If Nick Punto can start to get things turned around, I'm hopeful this offense will start to look a lot better over the next couple weeks.

Today they have the day off and tomorrow they'll open a three-game series against the Mariners at Safeco Field.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Bats Finally Come Out

After the last two games against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, I was thinking about how the Twins almost lost two games a pretty bad team. They got lucky breaks due to bad Tampa Bay defense and baserunning and still managed a loss with Johan Santana on the mound Friday night. Facing a guy like Scott Kazmir gave them an excuse, but it was still just the Devil Rays. Some notes:

* Last night the Twins finally broke out in a big fashion against Edwin Jackson and the hapless Devil Ray bullpen. With 14 hits and 12 runs, the offense was filled with stars, with the 3-4-5-6 (Mauer, Cuddyer, Morneau, Hunter) going 9-for-17 with 8 RBI and 6 runs scored. Cuddyer was particularly impressive, going 4-for-4 with two RBIs and a double, hustling on every play and making an outstanding throw to catch B.J. Upton making another Tampa Bay baserunning mistake by trying to strech a double to a triple.

* Cuddyer is hitting .390 (16-for-41) so far this year and has 8 RBI, starting out much hotter than previous Aprils, as he has hit .227/.287/.377 in 154 April at-bats in the previous three seasons. He has historically been a better second-half hitter, so seeing him start off this hot is very encouraging. As much as Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are keys to the offense, Cuddyer having a great year is just as important to the Twins competing.

* Of course, Cuddyer won't be the most talked about story of last night. Jason Tyner went 3-for-5 and nearly hit the first home run of his career, but he was denied by the baggie, just as he was on a similar drive last year. Tyner managed two doubles, which is big power for him, in a start in center field while Torii Hunter rested in the DH spot. Maybe Tyner will hit .300 again, but I'll remain cautious about his use. If he can come in to give Hunter a rest and get a few hits, then he he'll be doing a good job. Tyner wasn't the only "piranha" hitting balls hard, though, as Luis Rodriguez took Ruddy Lugo deep.

* The other story is Sidney Ponson, who picked up his first Twins victory. Ponson once again had a very mixed outting. He managed to strike out six hitters in 5 1/3 innings, but he also walked three. His lack of control is frustrating and causes him to constantly tread a dangerous line, since he is hittable (he also gave up eight hits). However, Ponson gave up only two runs. A lot of that can be attributed to Juan Rincon, who came in with men on second and third with one out in the sixth inning and managed to get both hitters out. After some frustrating early outings, it was good to see Rincon get three strikeouts in 1 2/3 innings. Ponson also got some help from his defense, with good plays from Cuddyer and Jason Bartlett. Ponson hasn't looked terrible, but his control isn't great right now and he has given up too many hits. The good news is that, if you watch his post-game interview on FSN, Ponson is fully aware that throwing down the middle isn't a great idea.

* On a final note, I would expect Alexi Casilla's amazing play for the final out to be shown numerous times on SportsCenter and to get that all-important "Web-Gem" label.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


Johan Santana's string of wins at the Metrodome was bound to come to an end sometime. It's just a little disappointing that it ended up happening against the Devil Rays.

Santana had posted an amazing 17-0 record in his last 24 home starts prior to last night, and the Twins never lost one of those games -- a span that stretched back to August 1, 2005. Last night the streak finally came to an end, as Santana allowed four runs on six hits over seven innings and was out-dueled by Rays ace Scott Kazmir in a 4-2 loss.

It certainly wasn't a terrible outing for Santana, who struck out 10 and walked only one. He was screwed over by some horrible defense in left field by Josh Rabe which led to an inside-the-park homer for Carl Crawford and increased Tampa Bay's lead to 4-1 in the sixth. Crawford hit a line drive into left field, and Rabe totally mis-judged it, reaching down for it feebly and letting it roll past him to the wall. Crawford's speed allowed him to round the bases with relative ease while Rabe chased after the ball. The fact that a play like that can count as an earned run and a home run allowed against a pitcher strikes me as incredibly stupid; it should have been a single and a three-base error on Rabe.

Meanwhile, the Twins' offense was once again painfully inept. The only runs came on an RBI single from Luis Rodriguez (who mysteriously got the start at DH against the lefty Kazmir despite the fact that the switch-hitting Elrod has a career .241/.328/.278 hitting line against southpaws) and a solo homer from Justin Morneau. I can take some comfort in the fact that the Twins' hitters were at least struggling against a pretty good pitcher last night, but the continued futility of the top and bottom parts of the lineup is highly frustrating. Ubelmann posted a stat on SBG's site yesterday indicating that while Joe Mauer, Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Torii Hunter have combined to hit .300/.357/.520 so far this season, the rest of the lineup has delivered a paltry .203/.267/.238 line. This means that on a night like last night, where Mauer, Cuddyer and Hunter combined to go 1-for-12 with five strikeouts, the Twins' lineup isn't going to be capable of producing many runs. And they didn't.

Tonight, Sidney Ponson will have a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of many Twins fans, as he gets his second turn following a complete shellacking by the Yankees last Monday. If the Twins' offense can't start to get on track over the next couple games against the youngster Edwin Jackson and the punching-bag Jae Seo, you can expect to see me back in ranting form come Monday morning.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Morneau Comes Up a Hero Again

Before talking about the game and the heroics of Justin Morneau and Carlos Silva, I would like to mention that Torii Hunter has once again made a fool out of himself in public. In an interview on ESPN news following the game, Hunter said that there is "very little chance" of him re-signing and laughed about how the only way to keep him around would be if the Twins paid him what he needs.

Hunter said he wanted to be "politically correct" and not be a "distraction" during the season, but this is not a good way to start things. It is apparent that the Twins likely won't keep Hunter, but that's no reason for him to go off and say such things.

As for the game, a few things obviously stand out. For one, there was an unbelievably awful base-running error by two Devil Rays in the ninth that prevented them from taking the lead, as Ben Zobrist was keep at third on a Carl Crawford smash into the corner. However, Crawford thought he had a triple and run all the way to third. Seeing Crawford coming for the same base, Zobrist started to go home before getting caught in a run-down by Joe Mauer off a Luis Castillo throw. After Mauer tagged Zobrist out, he noticed that Crawford now had inexplicably decided to run back to second as Zobrist went home and Mauer threw Crawford out. It was so crazy that I couldn't stop laughing. But after laughing for minutes, one thing that was clear: the Twins got pretty lucky.

They didn't blow their opportunity and in the bottom of the ninth, when Morneau lead off with the score tied at 2-2. With a Brian Strokes offering right over the outer half of the plate, Morneau went with the pitch and drove a game-winning home run just into the arms of awaiting Twins fans in the Home Run Porch in left field. As huge as Morneau's blast was, it was hard to forget the other hero of the game, Carlos Silva.

Silva lasted 6 2/3 innings, giving up seven hits and no runs while striking out four and walking two. Having given up only the one run in 11 2/3 innings so far, Silva currently boasts a 0.77 ERA. Hard to think that through the first two weeks of the season, Ramon Ortiz and Silva would be boasting the best starter ERAs so far, but they are. And such a pleasant surprise is surely welcome. But, as with Ortiz, it has to be cautioned that Silva certainly isn't going to be better than Santana this year. Still, if he can continue to show a solid change-up and a good sinker, he certainly can have a good year and prove most of the Twins blogosphere (including us) wrong.

The other big hit came from Michael Cuddyer, who hit a two-run blast in the fourth to give the Twins the lead. So far, Cuddyer has looked impressive, hitting .364 with 6 RBI. Likewise, after two hits last night, Jason Kubel is now hitting .333 and may be hitting his stride. Kubel was mentioned as a breakout candidate for this season and it would be a safe bet to say that keeping him in the lineup is a good idea.

As for negatives, I will continue to point out that the "piranhas" are looking pathetic this year, as the two who started, Castillo and Nick Punto, went a combined 0-for-8 last night. So far this year, the piranhas (including Jason Tyner and Jason Bartlett) have gone a combined 17-for-101, or a horrendous .168 average. Horrendous because the name piranha implies that none of these guys have much power to speak of and are basically singles hitters. So, if they aren't hitting near .300, they aren't very useful. I won't rally too much against Castillo, since he will come around, and I think that Bartlett will as well, but Tyner already is a liability and Punto could become one at the plate again.

Lastly, Juan Rincon showed last night that he may not be over his problems that began at the end of last year, as he got knocked around in the eight inning and gave up the two runs Tampa needed to tie the game. Rincon was only saved by Pat Neshek, who came in and got the last two outs on strikeouts. Neshek should be in the set-up role regardless, as at this point he is clearly more dominant than Rincon.

Today, we will look forward to the battle of lefty ace starters between Johan Santana and Scott Kazmir. Should be good fun!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Win! (And Some Rants)

The Twins are a weird team.

After displaying an astonishing level of ineptitude over the first 25 innings of their series with the Yankees, scoring just four runs on 16 hits during that span, the Twins' bats suddenly came alive in the eighth inning of last night's game. During that frame, the Twins scored four runs on two singles, two doubles, and a walk. And they did it against a fairly decent pitcher in Kyle Farnsworth, who is arguably the Yankees' best reliever outside of Mariano Rivera. It was like the Twins' hitters finally realized, "Wait a minute, if we want to beat this team, we're going to have to outscore them." Novel concept, I know, but it's one that nobody in the Twins clubhouse seemed to realize over the first two games of this series.

The Twins' eighth-inning offensive outburst was unexpected, but it was not the most surprising story of this game. No, that honor would belong to Ramon Ortiz, who is apparently the new stopper in the Twins' rotation. After Sidney Ponson and Boof Bonser had combined to allow 14 earned runs on 16 hits and five walks over 10 innings in their starts against the Yankees, Ortiz delivered nothing short of a gem on Wednesday night. The 33-year-old righthander tossed eight innings of one run, three-hit ball against an extremely tough lineup which had simply clobbered Twins pitching over the first two games of the series. Ortiz struck out four (including the red-hot Alex Rodriguez, twice) while walking only one, and he was highly efficient, needing just 93 pitches to get through his eight innings of work. For all the criticism we've handed the Twins for signing Ortiz in the offseason, I have to admit I've been impressed with him so far. He looked damn good last night. The Twins needed a good start, and he came through with an outing that was better than I could've expected. Ortiz is now 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA. While I have a hard time imagining he'll continue anywhere close to this pace, he's looked nothing but solid so far.

There were some other points of interest in last night's game, one of which was the fact that Alexi Casilla got the start at shortstop. Mr. Mosvick noted in his post yesterday that Ron Gardenhire appears to be losing patience with the struggling Jason Bartlett to some extent, and this move would provide further evidence of that. His play over the first week-plus of this season has looked eerily similar to his sloppy play in the ALDS series against Oakland last year. With that said, I'm sure Bartlett will be back in the lineup tonight against Tampa Bay and I do expect him to start showing marked improvement within the next week. He's too good a player to be performing this poorly.

Another point of intrigue regarding last night's game was the presence of Luis Rodriguez in the DH spot. It's not often that you'll see a light-hitting utility infielder get a start at designated hitter for any team, but I guess that just speaks to the Twins' current lack of depth. To his credit, Elrod went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles.

In sum, it was nice to see the Twins salvage a win in this series with a 5-1 victory; hopefully they will be able to carry some momentum into their upcoming four-game series against an improved Devil Rays team. With all that positivity out of the way, I do have a few gripes I'd like to get off my chest.

Let me preface the next couple paragraphs with a disclaimer. The rest of this post is basically going to be a bunch of aimless ranting. If you are pregnant or have a heart condition, I recommend you proceed with caution.

First of all, what is up with this "Premium Game" scam? I went out to the Metrodome on Tuesday night and my tickets cost three bucks more than they usually do. Why? Because the Twins are playing the great Yankees, and that means tickets are at a premium. My question is this: why should I have to pay extra to watch my team get the crap kicked out of them? If anything, tickets for these games should cost LESS. Charge extra when the Twins are playing the Devil Rays or something, at least in that situation I am almost guaranteed to leave the stadium in a good mood. Instead I walk out of those revolving doors full of frustration over the fact that my beloved Twins just got absolutely dominated by an unspeakably superior team, AND over the fact that I just threw away an extra three dollars which could have been used on an extra frickin' hot dog.

Another thing: if I overhear one more fan asking the question "Where is Lew Ford?" at a game, I am going to dump my nachos in their lap. It seems like every time I have been at the Metrodome, or around Twins fans in other settings, I have heard someone ask this question. Then the person they are with typically gives some smug, overconfident, completely false response, stating that Ford was cut in spring training or he was traded for Jeff Cirillo. First of all, Ford is on the disabled list. Second of all, WHO CARES? Yes, I'm sure the team's offensive impotence over the past several days has been due in large part to the lack of Lew Ford's powerful bat in the middle of the lineup.

Bah. Sorry about all that. I guess I'm still a little crabby from the 18-3 bashing over the first two games of the Yankees series. Fortunately, the Twins have a history of dominance against the Devil Rays that is fairly similar to the Yankees' history of dominance against the Twins, so I'm hopeful that this weekend's slate of games can lift my spirits.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bombed Again

What better way to describe the series between the Twins and the Yankees so far then to look at some basic numbers:

18-3: Score by which the Yankees have outscored the Twins in two games.
4: Yankee home runs, compared to zero for the Twins.
11-for-62: Collective hitting for Twins batters, which amounts to a pitiful .177 batting average.

Clearly, it hasn't gone well so far. Last night's game included the Yankees' incredible lineup destroying Boof Bonser as well as Dennys Reyes while the Twins less-incredible lineup looked absolutely clueless for a second straight game. Bonser gave up seven runs, six earned, in 4 1/3 innings, while getting no help from Jason Bartlett. Bartlett has looked lost at the plate, going 1-for-20 so far this season, but even more concerning are his trouble on defense defense, as he his fourth error last night to help the Yankees build their lead.

Ron Gardenhire appeared to lose patience with Bartlett, having Jason Kubel pinch-hit for him (and deliver the Twins' only RBI on the night) then replacing him at shortstop with just-called-up Alexi Casilla. There is obviously no way of knowing if Gardy is making any permanent moves, but it is looking like Bartlett may have a short leash again with Casilla on the roster.

In terms of pitching, Bonser wasn't too great, but much like Ponson, he did quite well for three innings and was beat up in the first and the fifth. You can't be too harsh considering the lineup they are facing. However, I am definitely worried about Reyes. He looked like he had no control and left plenty of balls over the plate when he came in to pitch the ninth, giving up four hits and three runs. Reyes has already given up five earned runs in three innings this season, which is highly troubling considering that was the total number of earned runs he allowed last year.

It is awfully hard to replicate a 0.89 ERA, but if things keep up, Reyes is going to be a lot worse than even the most pessimistic fans could have expected. I hope he doesn't make the Twins look bad for giving him a two-year extension, as it seemed very smart when they did, but his lack of control and the way hitters have knocked him around so far is definitely alarming.

With the way things are going, its hard to imagine that Ramon Ortiz will be able to stop the Yankees' juggernaught lineup tonight. Mr. Nelson looks forward to ranting about it tomorrow if the Yankees sweep the Twins. Looking on the bright side, it won't be as bad as the 33-1 run differential in the Detroit sweep last April, but at least that debacle took place on the road.

On a separate note, despite last night's atrocity of a game, there is some good news for Twins fans. I want to make mention of the latest positive developments in the Twins' quest for a new stadium. In an early February post, I discussed what appeared to be a crisis for the Twins stadium regarding the land it was going to be built on. I suggested that the most likely option for the Twins to pursue to get the land was the use of eminent domain power by the government.

This is precisely what happened yesterday, after a 4-2 vote by the Hennepin County board approved the eminent domain process, with the site's purchase price being worked out at a later time. By doing this, the Twins and the state should be able to begin putting things into motion within a few weeks. It would appear that the biggest hurdle in the the way of the stadium has been bypassed. Twins fans should now be able to rest easy and look forward to a watching snowy outdoor baseball in April 2010.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bronx Bombed

The start of Sidney Ponson's career in Minnesota was unimpressive to say the least. He allowed five of the first six batters he faced to reach base en route to a three-run first inning, and then surrendered a two-run blast to Bobby Abreu in the second, putting his team in an early 5-0 hole. In the sixth inning, Ponson allowed an RBI single to Abreu and a two-run homer to Alex Rodriguez that singled the end of his night. The Twins would eventually lose their series opener against the Yankees by a score of 8-2.

Despite an ugly final line of 5.2 IP, 10 H, 8 ER, 3 BB, 2 K and 2 HR, there were some positives to be drawn from Ponson's outing. After that second inning, he settled in and starting getting some groundballs. After allowing the homer to Abreu, Ponson retired 12 of the next 15 Yankee batters he faced. There was some definite sinking action on his fastball and, in total, Ponson induced 14 groundballs in his 5 2/3 innings of work. Of course, the final results were extremely poor and by no means am I saying this was a good outing for Ponson, but I'm also not ready to stick a fork in him after a tough day against the best offense in all of baseball.

In truth, there are a couple things I find more distressing than a poor pitching performance against a great offense by a starter for whom I had low expectations to start with. One of those things is the way the Twins' offense performed. Carl Pavano, who is not a great pitcher by any stretch of the imagination, became the first Yankees' starter to pitch more than five innings in a game this season, as he delivered seven frames of two-run ball while allowing six hits and no walks. The most disturbing aspect of that performance is that he needed only 79 pitches in those seven innings, indicating that the Twins' hitters were utterly unable to make him work.

Another cause for alarm for the Twins is an increasingly serious injury situation. The Twins' heavily criticized decision to carry three catchers out of spring training has looked predictably stupid. Joe Mauer has started every game at catcher and has apparently been quite healthy, while Mike Redmond has appeared in just two games, both as a DH. This all means that Chris Heintz has not come anywhere close to being needed. Meanwhile, the bullpen has been a bit thin with Juan Rincon's recent unavailability due to a sore neck (are those things contagious?). As if that weren't bad enough, Rondell White's calf injury was apparently more serious than the club initially let on, as he was placed on the disabled list yesterday. Joining him on the DL will be utility man Jeff Cirillo, who informed the club yesterday that he will need surgery on his knee.

So now, this Twins team that flew out of the gates with an opening series sweep is sitting with a 4-2 record and a beat-up roster heading into Game 2 of a series against a team that looked far superior last night. A statement game from Boof Bonser and a re-awakening of the offense would be very helpful tonight.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Twin Killing

Yesterday's Easter Day match-up with the White Sox was certainly a better effort for the Twins than Saturday's moritorium of a game. With Johan Santana on the mound, the Twins obviously had a good chance, despite Ozzie Guillen's plan to load his lineup with lefties. Guillen's plan failed completely and the 2006 AL Cy Young got the help he needed from the 2006 AL MVP as the Twins cruised to a 3-1 victory and a series split with the Chicago South-Siders.

Santana started out looking a little off his game, as he walked three Chicago hitters early on to give the Sox a few scoring chances. Fortunately, he remained as unhittable as ever. Once he got in a groove, he never stopped, ending up with seven innings pitched, one hit allowed, the three walks, and nine strikeouts. Seeing a dominant Santana in his second start of the season is certainly exciting.

What is especially encouraging is how good his change-up looked. In his start against Baltimore, the Orioles lefties managed four doubles off mainly change-ups. It has been noted many times that one of Santana's problems at the beginning of the year is that he doesn't have a feel for his change right away. Yesterday, each one of his pitches looked crisp and devastating. No doubt Santana is ready to contend for another Cy Young.

As for the MVP, Justin Morneau provided the Twins' only offense, hitting a three-run home run off of rookie John Danks (his first career start, in fact) in the fourth inning to drive in Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer to give the Twins the lead for good. Interestingly enough, Minnesota's 3-4-5 made up for all of the Twins offense, aside from a Jason Tyner single, by going 5-for-11.

Out of all the Twins looking pathetic, Nick Punto and Torii Hunter stood out. Punto is 3-for-20 (.150) so far and has not shown much of what made him a good "piranta" last year. As for Hunter, as has been noted on SBG's boards lately, he looks absolutely lost. Minus the home run he had on opening day, Hunter hasn't done very much. When he gets to the plate, he's either swinging at the first pitch and failing to be productive or letting pitches go by before he strikes out.

However, Jason Bartlett only has one hit so far this year and Tyner continues to be a liability whenever he bats. Other than Luis Castillo, the "pirantas" have been highly unimpressive so far. I'm sure Bartlett will come out of it. As for Punto, it's hard to tell if he what we saw last year was merely a mirage or if he just needs to put in some more lessons with Rod Carew.

In Tyner's case, he really should be used as little as possible. Obviously, he's appeared recently due to Rondell White's strained right calf, but he has made it apparent that he offers almost nothing on offense. Anyone paying attention knew that Tyner's .312 average last year was empty and that his lack of power would make it problematic to trust him too much. Hopefully, the Twins will learn a lesson in watching him play early this season.

Overall, it was a great game to watch, with Joe Nathan getting his third save and Twins picking up win No. 4. Tomorrow, the Twins will start a three-game series with the Yankees at the Dome. Remember, tomorrow night is Sidney Ponson's Twins debut, which should make for some excitement, if not for a different kind of Twin killing.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Shut-Out in the Cold

I would've been pretty unhappy with yesterday's game had I not been watching it with a bunch of friendly blog luminaries and knowledgable Twins fans while getting buzzed off a couple tall beers. Thanks to those circumstances, I was only mildly bothered by a baseball game that was about as unappealing to a Twins fan as possible.

After starting the season 3-0, the Twins suffered their first loss as they came out flat and fell 3-0 to the White Sox on a very cold afternoon in Chicago. Carlos Silva was surprisingly solid, allowing just one run on five hits and a walk over five innings, but his hefty Latino counterpart on the pitching staff wasn't quite as effective and the Twins' offense was essentially non-existent. The Twins' bats could muster just three hits in the game, one coming on an infield single by Luis Castillo and the other two coming off the bat of Michael Cuddyer, and Dennys Reyes had the first ugly outing by a Twins reliever on the season. Reyes entered the game in the eighth inning with the Twins trailing 1-0 and served up a homer to the first batter he faced, Juan Uribe. Reyes then failed to scoop up a playable Scott Podsednik bunt, allowing Podsednik to reach first. After Darin Erstad had sacrificed Podsednik to second, Reyes tossed a pick-off throw into center field, and Podsednik was able to score all the way from second thank to a lazy effort by Luis Castillo.

It was that type of day for the Twins. Their best chance to score came in the second inning, when they loaded the bases with one out. At that point, Jason Tyner hit a relatively routine pop-up to shallow center, but Cuddyer -- who was at third -- inexplicably ran home and crossed the plate, realizing all-too-late that the ball been caught and being easily doubled off at third. The offense was able to draw four walks against Sox starter Javier Vazquez in his 6 2/3 innings of work, but they managed only one hit against him, which is disappointing considering that Vazquez is generally quite hittable.

This all made for a tough game to watch, but fortunately the company made it worthwhile. Whether I was sending snarky anti-Cuddyer comments down to the other end of the table where SBG and Gleeman sat, or watching Corey Ettinger knock his chair to the ground in disgust at a Nick Punto strikeout, I enjoyed the afternoon and hope we can do something like it again soon. Kudos to Star Trib blogger Howard Sinker for putting the event together.

Missing Silva?

Last night was crazy, but unfortunately, it wasn't the kind of interesting crazy that can be so fun to post about the next day. Instead, freezing weather in Chicago got the game called off. And the Twins and White Sox game wasn't the only game affected, as the Indians and Mariners got within one out of an official game before the third delay led to the game getting called. Needless to say, this winter storm stuff is getting in the way of the Twins so-far exciting season.

Am I upset that we all got to miss Carlos Silva's debut last night? Nope, because if the Twins do play today, everyone at the great blogger get-together will get to watch Silva pitch. I propose a beer for every hit Silva gives up.

Because of the change in starts, the much anticipated first start of Sidney Ponson will have to wait until Monday. Anyways, hopefully the Twins play on today and the get-together goes well. Hope to see everyone there, including those who have been on this site to support the great Silva.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Series Preview: Twins/White Sox

We've never written a series preview on this blog before (with the exception of the playoffs), but with the off-day yesterday and a fun series taking place this weekend in Chicago, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at our long-time rivals and what they're bringing to the table this season (and specifically, in this series).

The Twins opened their season by sweeping the Orioles at home. This has probably induced too much excitement among some fans. In my mind, the Twins just took care of business this week. It was a well-played series and I'm happy about it, but I don't think the Orioles are a good team. In fact, when doing my American League predictions a couple weeks ago, I picked them to finish last in the AL East, behind even the Devil Rays. I think all three pitching match-ups in the Baltimore series were advantageous for the Twins, and the Orioles were missing one of their better players in Ramon Hernandez. With all that in mind, I think that playing the White Sox in Chicago this weekend will be a much better test for the Twins.

That's not to say I think the White Sox are a spectacular team. I've ranked them as the fourth-best team in the AL Central, which of course is far from an insult. The Sox still have some guys in their lineup that can hit, but their pitching staff isn't overly impressive. With that said, the middle of the Chicago lineup could cause major trouble for the back-end of the Twins' rotation.

Here's a breakdown of the three pitching match-ups for the series:

Tonight: RH Carlos Silva vs. RH Javier Vazquez
Who knows what to expect from Silva. He was generally terrible in spring training, but he finished on a high note with a good outing. I don't expect big things from Carlos this year, but he could really help change my outlook with a solid outing against this tough White Sox lineup. If he can handle guys like Jim Thome and Paul Konerko without too much damage, I'll be impressed. Vazquez is fairly mediocre, and last year he went 0-4 with a 6.83 ERA in five starts against the Twins. This looks like a winnable game, but of course much will depend on Silva.

Saturday: RH Sidney Ponson vs. LH John Danks
Ponson will make his Twins debut against a player making his major-league debut. Danks was the centerpiece prospect in an offseason trade that sent Brandon McCarthy to the Rangers. It's interesting that Chicago is already slotting Danks in their major-league rotation, as he's just 22 years old and pitched poorly in spring training (5.91 ERA in 21 1/3 IP). The reason is that Gavin Floyd and Charlie Haeger, who were the other two starters competing for the final spot in the Sox' rotation, were considerably worse this spring. To his credit, Danks pitched fairly well in a half-season at Triple-A last year, averaging over a strikeout per inning, and he's a left-hander with good stuff (his curveball is apparently quite nasty) who could cause the Twins' southpaw-heavy lineup some trouble. Ponson has a lot to prove, and unfortunately this is not an ideal opposing lineup or ballpark to try and accomplish that.

Sunday: LH Johan Santana vs. RH Jose Contreras
Contreras was absolutely hammered by the Indians in his first start, giving up eight runs (seven earned) on seven hits in just one inning of work. His ERA after that outing sits at 63.00. While I certainly don't expect him to be that bad going forward, I also don't expect him to pitch anywhere close to his 2005 form. He was quite awful in the second half last year and I would not be surprised if that carried over into this season -- so far, it looks like it as. As for Santana, he has dominated the White Sox throughout his career. Ozzie Guillen has hinted that he may load his lineup with lefties on Sunday after seeing the success some of the Orioles' left-handed hitters had against Santana on Monday. There might be something to that idea. Last year, opposing left-handed hitters posted a .738 OPS against Santana, as opposed to .618 for righties. In addition, Santana struck out just 22 percent of opposing lefties while he struck out 30 percent of opposing righties. Those numbers seem backwards for a left-handed pitcher, but there is little doubt that Santana's changeup is more effective against right-handed hitters. If Guillen follows through on his plan, look for Santana to rely more on his fastball and slider on Sunday.


As a final reminder, tomorrow afternoon is the Twins fan/blogger get-together at Buffalo Wild Wings in Crystal. The specific address is 5590 West Broadway (here's a map) and game-time is 2:55 pm. Popular bloggers in attendance will include Aaron Gleeman, Howard Sinker, John Bonnes, Will Young, Trevor Born, and SBG. It should be a great afternoon of baseball, beer, socializing and saucy chicken wings. Plus you can meet me, and my much more attractive girlfriend.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Polar Opposites

Remember how the beginning of last season felt? The Twins went 1-5 in their first two series, the beginning of a poor April followed by a poor May. They lacked energy out of the gate and a lot of the decisions made in spring training looked bad pretty quickly. This year? The bats are on fire and the pitching has been quite good so far. Even a questionable decision looks good so far.

Ramon Ortiz, one of two new pitchers in the Twins rotation, hasn't been very good since 2002, as we've been adamant on this site, but he was pretty good last night. In seven innings of pitching, Ortiz gave up four hits and two runs while walking one and striking out four. It was an impressive debut, though it came against a fairly weak Baltimore lineup. He'll be tested by vastly superior lineups soon enough, but it was a nice start and Ortiz certainly looked better than he did last year and appeared excited to be a Twin. Not to mention, he's apparently learned a change-up from Johan Santana.

As for the hitting, the Twins looked a little more like they did Monday night, with a good deal of hard-hit balls off Orioles starter Jaret Wright and reliever Jeremy Guthrie. In addition to the hits, the Twins walked plenty, getting six total and five from Wright alone. The took advantage of Wright's bad control, hittable pitches, and the Orioles defense, which made three errors.

Most notably, Luis Castillo, Joe Mauer, and Michael Cuddyer had impressive games. Castillo continues to hit well, going 7-for-14 so far and showing that his hot bat in Spring Training wasn't a mirage. Mauer, meanwhile, is hitting .455 so far and has shown great patience and that same great swing from the on-set. Anyone care to take back their predictions that he wouldn't win another batting title? (Ok, it's a little early, but Mauer looks pretty great).

As for Cuddyer, we would bring back the K-ddyer meter after his first two starts if he didn't redeem himself last night by not only avoiding a strikeout, but by also going 3-for-3 with two RBI. In other words, let's not panic and let's just assume that Cuddyer will be fine. If in a month, he's struck out 30 or 40 times already, there will be no question about bringing the K-ddyer back.

Overall, the Twins have given the fans a reason to be optimistic about the season with a nice sweep of the O's. This weekend, however, will pose more of a challenge, as the Twins head to Chicago to take on the White Sox. Who is all looking forward to Sidney Ponson's great first start on Saturday? I know I am.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

B-E Aggressive!

I made the trip out to the Dome to take in last night's Twins game, as fellow blogger and frequent commenter Corey Ettinger was kind enough to bring me along with his season tickets. Corey runs the promising new blog Minnesota's Sports Guys, which is dedicated to all Minnesota sports. They've got a great cast of writers over there and I'm really excited about the site's potential.

Anyway, the game was a lot of fun. The Twins clinched an opening series victory by beating the Orioles 3-2. It was a classic Twins victory, as they fell behind early but scraped together enough one-run innings to retake the lead, and the bullpen was lights-out as usual. Boof Bonser picked up right where he left off in '06, delivering six innings of two-run ball while striking out six and walking three. He struggled to throw strikes at times, as just 59 of his 100 pitches were in the zone, but in the end it was a quality start and he put the team in position to win. After Bonser came out, five relievers combined to deliver three scoreless innings, ending with Joe Nathan pitching a hitless ninth to record his second save.

Daniel Cabrera had a nice outing for the Orioles, allowing three runs on six hits over seven innings while striking out nine. His lack of control haunted him though, as he walked four batters and two of them came around to score.

The big story for the Twins last night was aggressiveness on the basepaths. With seven singles and four walks, the hitters weren't able to move themselves past first base, but the Twins took advantage of Baltimore catcher Alberto Castillo's arm by stealing five times, successful on each try. Torii Hunter drew a walk in the fifth inning, then stole second. He would later score from second on a Luis Castillo single. In the seventh inning, Rondell White drew a walk. Jason Tyner pinch-ran for him and stole second, then came around to score on a Jason Bartlett single.

Aggressiveness on the basepaths is something that I have been preaching for the Twins. They have a lot of singles hitters, but most of those guys have great speed and can move around the bases in many different ways. This is something the Twins should take advantage of. Being aggressive on the bases can hurt you, like it did on Monday night with Justin Morneau being thrown out twice trying to advance, but it can also be a huge help, and it was probably the biggest reason the Twins won last night's game.

The Twins are 2-0 and have looked very impressive in their first couple games. Of course, I've never been overly concerned with the team's ability to win games started by Bonser or Johan Santana. Tonight will be the team's first real test, as they look for a series sweep with Ramon Ortiz taking the hill.

Oh, one last thing. Michael Cuddyer was fanned twice last night, and has now struck out five times in eight at-bats. That puts him on pace for roughly 325 strikeouts on the season. Good ol' K-ddyer.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Out of the Gate and Running

Well, Opening Day finally arrived and there were plenty of reasons to feel excited about the season. The Twins got out of the gate the right way, beating the Orioles at the Metrodome 7-4 last night. Johan Santana started the game with a strike and struck out the first batter of the day, Brian Roberts. Justin Morneau's first swing of the bat smacked an opposite-field homer off of lefty Erik Bedard to give the Twins a 1-0 lead in the second. Torii followed, swinging at the first pitch, and hitting it over the right-field wall.

Overall, it wasn't the greatest pitching day, but the offense was impressive. The Twins lineup went 12-for-35 and produced seven runs, doing better than expected against the often-impressive Bedard. Most of the Twins' production came from Morneau and Hunter, as Morneau went 3-for-4 with two RBI and Hunter went 2-for-4 with two RBI.

Otherwise, Luis Castillo had a three-hit night, Joe Mauer was his usual self, picking up a hit and a walk, and Jeff Cirillo had a good debut, going 1-for-2 with a walk and an RBI single. Rondell White looked more like an alternate-universe version of himself, failing to get a hit but walking and making a great diving catch in the field. Strange.

As for Santana, he was just as he has been the last few opening starts: mediocre. He struck out six in six innings, but walked two, gave up four runs, and allowed seven hits. Those hoping he would immediately be in Cy Young form may be disappointed, but it is only one start and it's not as if there is reason to be worried.

Otherwise, the one noticeable problem in the game was Morneau's baserunning. Twice he got caught trying to take an extra base, as he was thrown out at the plate and at second base, both by right fielder Nick Markakis. Last year, Morneau had similar problems, which probably prevented him from scoring over 100 times. It isn't the biggest fault obviously, but Morneau might need a few lessons from Joe Mauer on baserunning fundamentals. And, as Gleeman mentions, some of it may not have been Morneau's fault.

There isn't much, however, to complain about when you've got Joe Nathan back on the screen, pumping 96-mph fastballs to get his first save of the year. Here's to another great season!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Opening Day Notes

After a long winter of waiting, baseball will finally get underway tonight, as the Twins open their regular-season schedule at the Metrodome against Baltimore. Your pitching matchups for the opening series:

Tonight: LH Johan Santana vs. LH Erik Bedard
Tuesday: RH Boof Bonser vs. RH Daniel Cabrera
Wednesday: RH Ramon Ortiz vs. RH Jaret Wright

It's pretty much equally easy to envision the Twins sweeping this series as it is to envision them getting swept. I'm not at all high on the Orioles this year, but these pitching matchups are tough to predict. They Twins have been known to struggle against Bedard and Cabrera in the past, but overall neither one of those pitchers is spectacular. Who knows what to expect from Wright now that he has been reunited with pitching coach Leo Mazzone, who helped push the 31-year-old right-hander to a highly successful season in Atlanta back in 2004. For the Twins' part, Ortiz and Bonser pitched well this spring but both are far from sure things this season. Meanwhile, Santana always seems to struggle a bit in his first outing of the season.

Now, some notes to get you prepped for the meaningful baseball that is finally about to ensue:

* Herb Carneal, who has been a radio broadcaster for the Twins almost as long as the team has been in Minnesota, passed away at the age of 83 yesterday. I don't often listen to games on the radio, but there's no denying that Carneal is a significant figure in the franchise's history. Flipping on the radio to take in an untelevised afternoon game will not be quite the same without hearing his soft and deliberate voice. Our condolences go out to his friends and family. This will be the third consecutive season to open on a somber note shortly after the Twins' family lost an important member. Last year it was Hall-of-Famer Kirby Puckett, and the year before it was long-time PA announcer Bob Casey.

* Joe Christensen made a promising observation in his MLB notebook in yesterday's Star Tribune, noting that Bedard, who the Twins will face tonight, was able to make a successful comeback after undergoing Tommy John surgery back in 2002 and has now returned to form as the Orioles' ace. If Francisco Liriano follows a similar path, I think all Twins fans would be happy.

* In that same notebook, Christensen also has the following humorous piece about the latest installment of the Twins/Red Sox spring training rivalry:

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire sent the Mayor's Cup trophy to Boston's clubhouse immediately after the Red Sox won Wednesday's showdown, giving them a 3-1-1 edge in the annual battle of Fort Myers.

The Red Sox hadn't claimed the cup since 2004, the year they won the World Series. Boston's Eric Hinske made the catch for Wednesday's final out, and sure enough, the ball's whereabouts were unknown.

"[Doug] Mientkiewicz probably has it," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.

* Left-handed reliever Mike Venafro, who did not allow a run over 10 spring innings, has accepted his assignment to Class-AAA Rochester. This means that if Dennys Reyes goes down or for some reason Ron Gardenhire feels he needs an additional lefty in the bullpen early in the season, there will be a reasonable option waiting in the wings.

* As you may or may not have heard elsewhere, there is going to be a get-together for Twins bloggers, readers and other miscellaneous fans at the Buffalo Wild Wings in Crystal this Saturday at 3 p.m., to watch the Twins take on the rival White Sox. Both myself and Mr. Mosvick are planning to attend, and we hope that everyone who is able to come out will do so. We'll be posting again later in the week with further details.

* For those of you heading out to the Dome for a game in this opening series, make sure you pick up a copy of GameDay Magazine, the team's unofficial program. Aside from the fact that it is a cheap and stellar mag brought to you by the Twins Geek himself, John Bonnes, the April issue will be featuring an article written by yours truly.


With all that said, I've grown tired of talking about spring training, and offseason moves, and projections and predictions. I'm ready to get this season started. Game No. 1 of 162 takes place tonight at 6 o'clock, rain or shine.