Friday, August 31, 2007

Month in Review: August

There are still two August games left with the double-header taking place today, but with the off-day yesterday and an unexciting series against the Royals set to kick off, it felt like a good time to go ahead with the August installment of my monthly review series. The numbers will exclude the final games of the month obviously, but that shouldn't be too big of a deal. Without further ado...

August Record: 12-15
Overall Record: 67-66 (Third Place in AL Central)

It was a miserable month for the Twins, as they failed to capitalize on the nondescript play of the Indians and Tigers. Rather than making up ground, the Twins fell further behind and effectively eliminated their playoff chances. The dagger was their latest sweep at the hands of the division-leading Tribe. The Twins scored some runs in their series sweep against the Orioles, but still averaged just 3.9 runs per game for the month. If you take away the Baltimore series, the Twins averaged just 3.3 runs per game, which is exactly the same number they averaged in July if you subtract the 32-run double-header outburst. So, basically, if you take away a few flukishly high-scoring games, the Twins have averaged 3.3 runs per game over the past two months solid, which is utterly awful.

A look at three players whose performances were outstanding over the past month, and three who fell bellow expectations.

Three Up:
1. Jason Bartlett: .363/.416/.625, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 12 R, 1/2 SB
This is the type of month we've been waiting for out of Bartlett. With the way he has been spraying line drives all season long, he simply couldn't continue to hit for such a low average. His big month of August brings his season line to .280/.346/.390 with five home runs and 38 RBI. With a decent September, he should finish with a line very close to the .295/.350/.390 with 7 HR and 50 RBI that Mr. Mosvick predicted back in March.

2. Torii Hunter: .330/.368/.547, 4 HR, 20 RBI, 18 R, 3/5 SB
Hunter continues to chug along in his career year. For people that have followed Hunter in the past, the truly surprising thing is that he has been so consistent. Hunter is a notoriously streaky player who tends to fall into major slumps from to seemingly offset every hot streak, but this year he just hasn't dropped off. His worst month was July, and even then he managed a respectable .769 OPS.

3. Carlos Silva: 31.2 IP, 1-2, 3.13 ERA, 17 K / 4 BB, 1.01 WHIP
A very ugly outing in his last start of the month kept Silva's August numbers from looking as impressive as they could have been, but he still had a very solid month. The 1.01 WHIP is extremely low for him. Naturally, his trend of receiving absurdly low run support continued.

Three Down:
1. Justin Morneau: .233/.292/.350, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 11 R, 0/0 SB
Last month, Morneau topped the "Three Up" list by hitting .347 with eight homers and 28 RBI. For whatever season, he fell off a cliff in August. One home run? Six RBI? The numbers are so uncharacteristically bad that I don't even know what to say. Morneau has still had a good season overall, but he chose to tank at the absolute worst time possible.

2. Michael Cuddyer: .232/.287/.414, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 13 R, 0/0 SB
Cuddyer collected 11 extra-base hits in 99 August at-bats, but hit just .232 and saw his OBP drop off a cliff. After posting nearly even K/BB ratios in each of the past three months, Cuddyer struck out 18 times in August while drawing just seven walks.

3. Nick Punto: .119/.208/.149, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 6 R, 2/3 SB
At this point, it's like staring at a car wreck. The truly sad part is that he still started 20 games and got 80 plate appearances while hitting like this.

Brock Peterson - New Britain Rock Cats
I really believe that Peterson is the single most underrated prospect in the Twins' organization. He was a 49th-round pick in the 2002 draft, and he doesn't get talked about a whole lot, but he's really developed into one of the best hitters in the upper levels of the Twins' minor league system. After posting a .306/.457/.514 line in August, the 23-year-old first baseman is now hitting .281/.380/.470 with 14 home runs and 54 RBI on the season. He has clearly made adjustments to the pitching in Double-A; after posting a 66/12 strikeout-to-walk ratio through the first three months of the season, he drew 30 walks while striking out only 21 times between July and August. Plus, he's a right-handed hitter. Keep an eye on Peterson, he may be a candidate to fill that DH spot somewhere down the line.

No furious playoff chase down the stretch this year. Instead, it will be about checking out some of the young players and looking toward next year. Should be interesting to see who the September call-ups are.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Managing to Lose

I'm really getting frustrated with Ron Gardenhire and his moronic lineups. His obsession with starting Nick Punto on a daily basis has moved from annoying to completely ridiculous. Punto is hitting a historically bad .196/.285/.254, and yet somehow he is still finding his way into the starting lineup every night. He's a nice defender, that's great -- this team is not struggling to win because of their defense. It's because they can't score runs. It is Gardenhire's responsibility to put the best hitters in the lineup, and he is not doing it.

In Tuesday's game, Buscher went 3-for-4 with a home run, and yet he still could not find his way into the starting lineup the following night. Gardenhire instead opted to start Punto at third base, no doubt reasoning that he should keep lefties out of the lineup against Cleveland's southpaw starter C.C. Sabathia. There's just one problem with that:


It's something I've written about before, and it's something that is very obvious when you take five minutes to look up Buscher's minor-league splits, but it's something that Gardenhire seems absolutely clueless about. In Double-A this year, Buscher hit an excellent .357/.419/.554 against left-handers. In Triple-A, he hit a respectable .269/.367/.346 against them. At both levels, his K/BB rates were fairly consistent against lefties and righties. And yet, Buscher has been given a total of THREE at-bats against left-handed pitching since joining the Twins, because Gardenhire seems determined to shield him from every single left-handed arm that the Twins face. Punto can't hit lefties or righties, we know this by now. Why not give Buscher a chance and see if the kid can translate the success he had against southpaws in the minors this year to the majors?

Gardenhire's love for Punto yielded another hideous managerial decision in the ninth inning. The Twins entered the inning trailing 4-3, and Tyner delivered a leadoff single against the Indians' crappy closer, Joe Borowski. With Punto scheduled to bat next, there was close to no doubt in my mind that Buscher -- who had hit his first major-league home run against Borowski the previous night -- would be stepping in as a pinch-hitter. Instead, up walked Punto, who got the sign to lay down a sacrifice bunt and -- not surprisingly -- failed to execute. Punto popped a bunt straight up, and it was caught by the catcher Victor Martinez. Leaving Punto in the game was a bad idea, and doing so just so he could bunt was especially stupid. Not only has Punto proven generally incapable of laying down a decent bunt this season, it made no sense to waste an out in that situation solely to move a runner up with the Alexi Casilla (or a pinch-hitter from the Twins' weakened bench) on deck.

In general, I have been unimpressed with the job Gardenhire has done this year. This isn't the first time his lineup construction has made me scratch my head, and his in-game management hasn't been great. I wrote yesterday that this team just isn't good enough to make the playoffs, and the numerous players who underperformed are responsible for that first and foremost. Still, the team hasn't gotten much help from the manager or the front office.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Just Looking

As reigning MVP Justin Morneau watched a Joe Borowski fastball sail over the outside corner of the plate for a called third strike with two outs and the tying run on second base in the ninth inning of last night's game, the Twins watched any realistic hopes of getting back into the postseason race sail away.

La Velle E. Neal III wrote on his blog before the game yesterday that Ron Gardenhire was counting on Boof Bonser to step up and pitch deep into the game, giving some rest to the Twins' worn-down bullpen. Bonser did give the Twins seven innings, and he made it a Quality Start by allowing just three earned runs, but he gave up two big home runs. The struggles of Carmen Cali and Pat Neshek in the eighth inning pushed the Indians' lead from one to three, which turned out to be pretty huge when the Twins scored a couple runs in the ninth inning.

It wouldn't have taken a ninth-inning comeback effort if the Twins' offense had been able to capitalize in the earlier innings. Against Cleveland starter Jake Westbrook, the Twins racked up 10 hits and two walks, but managed to convert all those baserunners into just three runs. The Twins stranded eight baserunners and lost by one. That hurts.

In the grand scheme of things, though, the Twins did not deserve to win the game. And they don't deserve to make the playoffs -- they just aren't good enough. We keep holding out hope for another miraculous comeback, but at some point we have to come to terms with the fact that this Twins team is not good enough to put together a big winning streak. It's great that they can beat the crap out of the hapless Orioles, but when they come up against a good team in a must-win situation, they fold under the pressure. That has pretty much been their M.O. all season.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Rough One in Cleveland

Entering a series against the team they trailed by 5 1/2 games in the division, the Twins needed a big-time effort from Carlos Silva last night. Silva had been excellent in his first four August starts, having posted a 1.61 ERA. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to step up with the solid outing the Twins needed last night. In fact, he was crushed by a Cleveland team that, for some reason, always seems to have his number. The Tribe notched an unearned run against Silva in the first inning, and then proceeded to knock him out of the game by scoring six times against him in the fourth inning. In total, Silva allowed seven runs (six earned) on seven hits and two walks over 3 2/3 innings. He did not record a strikeout.

Once Silva had given up the seven runs, the game was pretty much over. While the Twins chipped away at the big lead by scoring twice in the fifth and once in the sixth, they were ultimately no match for Paul Byrd and the stellar Cleveland bullpen. Every potential rally seemed to hit a wall, with the most notable example being the seventh inning when Mike Redmond grounded into a 5-4-3 triple play.

Jason Bartlett continued his hot August hitting by going 2-for-4 with his fifth home run, but his partner in the middle infield has been supremely disappointing. When the Twins traded Luis Castillo in late July, I expected the team to be able to insert Alexi Casilla at second base without losing a whole lot. That hasn't been the case; Casilla has been utterly horrible. After going 1-for-4 last night, he is now hitting just .228/.269/.265 on the season. Those offensive struggles have been exacerbated by his countless mistakes in the field and on the base-paths. He has already committed seven errors in 36 games at second base; he has also had numerous other miscues that don't show up on the scorecard, like when he froze on the base-paths with two outs in a game in the Baltimore series, or last night when he failed to put his foot on second base when handling a toss from Bartlett that would have been a force-out. I'm not advocating that the Twins remove Casilla from the lineup, because the only way he'll stop making these mistakes is through experience, but his inability to produce at the top of the lineup has really hindered this offense since the All-Star break, and that's just something I didn't expect.

There is one other thing that is really irking me. When Brian Buscher returned from the disabled list last Thursday, Terry Ryan said that the team would be playing the rookie third baseman a lot down the stretch to get a good look at him going into next year. Since that point, Buscher has started a total of one game. Holding him out of the lineup against a tough lefty like Erik Bedard makes sense, but there is no defending Ron Gardenhire's decision to bench him in favor of Nick Punto last night. Left-handed hitters have batted .320 against Byrd this year. Buscher mashed right-handed pitchers in the minors this season; Punto hasn't hit well against anyone all year. Gardenhire's reasoning was probably that he wanted to have his best defenders on the field with Silva pitching, but the fact of the matter is that this was a big game and the best hitters needed to be in the lineup.

It was a rough loss, and together with Detroit's victory over the Yankees it leaves the Twins in pretty bad shape. They basically need to win these last two games in Cleveland if they want to have any hope of hanging in the division race. Let's see if the boys can step up.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Race Is On

First of all, let me say thank you to Corey Ettinger for chipping in with a post yesterday. With Mr. Mosvick off doing that unimportant law school thing in Virginia, I have been responsible for keeping this site updated daily. While I can handle that for the most part, I just can't put something together every single night; weekends are especially tough. Upon hearing of my dilemma, Mr. Ettinger offered to contribute every now and then to take the load off my shoulders a bit, so you'll probably be seeing him around here every so often, especially on weekends. He's a capable writer and he knows the team well, so I'm fully confident in his ability to step in and provide content without any decline in the quality of analysis. Hopefully you'll all enjoy the things he has to say, and be nice to him!

With that out of the way, let's dig into the Twins' four-game sweep in Baltimore. This was an excellent series. It started inauspiciously enough, with an unconvincing victory on Thursday night aided by some abhorrent defense from the Orioles, but the three victories that followed were much better confidence builders. In those three games, the Twins scored a total of 26 runs, and they did it with legitimate rallies filled with line drives and extra-base hits. On top of that, the Twins also pitched pretty darn well throughout the entire series.

One might pass off the Twins' offensive fireworks in this series as the result of a very shoddy Baltimore pitching staff, which had just surrendered a record-setting 30 runs against the Rangers. That's a fair point, and indeed the Twins did put up 13 earned runs in the series against the Orioles' pathetic bullpen. Yet, yesterday's offensive showing was a truly impressive one for the Twins, as they worked Baltimore starter Erik Bedard for six earned runs on six hits and five walks over six innings. Bedard, who entered the game tied with Johan Santana for third in the American League in ERA (2.97) and leading Santana for the major-league strikeout lead with 212, has arguably been the best starting pitcher in the AL this season. For whatever reason, the Twins seem to have his number and that trend continued yesterday as they handed him his fifth loss of the season.

The KSTP 1500 crew named Torii Hunter as the Twins' player of the game, but I'd give my vote to Jason Bartlett, who continued his torrid August with two triples in the ballgame yesterday. The first of the two drove in a couple of key early runs. Bartlett is now slugging an extremely impressive .586 this month; he has collected 10 extra-base hits in 80 August at-bats after collecting a total of 18 in 335 at-bats prior this season. Bartlett ranks among the league leaders with a terrific line-drive percentage of 21.7, and when combined with his excellent speed, that was bound to start showing results in the form of doubles and triples at some point.

To give due credit, Michael Cuddyer had a great day at the plate, going 2-for-3 with a double and two walks. Jason Tyner's presence in the starting lineup was frustrating, but he managed a hit against the tough lefty Bedard and singled twice against the Orioles bullpen.

And now, things get interesting as the Twins head to Cleveland to open a three-game series against the Indians tomorrow night. The Indians squeaked by the Royals with an 11-inning victory yesterday, which is the only thing that kept the Twins from moving within five games of first place. As it stands, the Twins trail Cleveland by 5 1/2 games and play them six times in the next 10 games.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The New Guy/Sunday Delight

Salutations loyal readers of Nick and Nick, or as I like to call it, N squared, two scoops (should that be capitalized as a proper noun?), the Nicks, etc... My name, in case you've somehow failed to guess, is Corey and I hail from a long defunct blog called Minnesota Sports Guys. While you'll certainly find that my writing skills are not of the caliber of Mr. Nelson (N1), nor my analytical knowledge of the game on par with Mr. Mosvick(N2), I hope I can bring my own bit of flavor to this fine site. In speaking with N1, he asked me to do a few things;

1) To avoid blatant speling eroors.
2) To make sure to post-date my pieces.
3) Introduce myself and let people know that I'll be dropping in from time to time.

Well, I'll try to avoid number one, but I'm no journalism/English major, and I think I can manage the post-dating. As for the final bit, I'm hoping that I can become a bit of a regular here on the weekends, offering my insight, and imparting knowledge (or at least crude opinions), upon this amazing audience.

With that, lets dive into post #1.

With our beloved Twins squabbling along offensively, manager Ron Gardenhire reportedly called his family physician who advised that the Twins take 3 doses of Baltimore relievers and call him after the series. Well, it would appear they've proven to be the perfect medicine as the team has scored 20 runs in the first three games of this four game set. By comparison, the Twins had scored 118 runs in the previous 37 games. So, essentially in 3 games, this team recorded 14.5% of its post All-Star break runs. Obviously thats fantastic in one sense, and terribly pathetic in another.

But, we've certainly seen some very good things other than just the string of run support. Hunter is getting hot, and when he does he has the ability to carry a team. Kubel has continued his hot August streak with his average on the month now at .385. Since June he's hitting .275 and has hit 8 of his 10 homeruns; hopefully Gardenhire will eventually get the message and stop platooning him with Tyner/White, as his batting average against lefties isn't significantly worse than it is against righties this season. While his slugging percentage is far worse, I'm convinced its more a symptom of limited at-bats than it is a problem with his approach. The only real concern I have is his strikeout rate which is alarmingly high against lefties, 30.3% vs 15.6% against righties.

Bartlett too is in the midst of a huge revival as he's hitting .311 this month and .282 since June. What's more, he's clearly benefited from the move up to the two-spot in the order, hitting .292 in that position, once again begging the question, "If so many fans knew this was such a logical move, why did it take Gardenhire so long?"

Obviously the biggest question though is why does Gardenhire, despite other healthy options which have at least shown promise, insists on continuing to play Nick Punto. Last night was yet another of so many examples -- with Buscher at third and Bartlett at short, it's like Gardenhire was just begging and pleading for some reason to use Punto over Casilla. I'm not certain what his rationale was, Casilla has been worse against righties than lefties, but seriously, how much worse can he be than Punto? Seriously.

Other than those rants though, the big news of tonight's game was Mauer's limping into third base. From my apartment here in St. Paul I think I could hear the collective groan of Twins Nation as Dick Bremer called out what is now becoming an all too familiar refrain, "and Mauer is hurt..." Watching the play it doesn't look like anything too serious, and Ms. Thesier, our friendly local beat writer, said it was just hamstring tightness, so I doubt he'll miss serious time.

Today our guys have an afternoon contest against Mr. Eric Bedard who will be countered by our very own (and very impressive) Scott Baker. With a good game from Baker that keeps us in the contest, winning a fourth game could be possible against this beaten, battered, and embarrassed bullpen. That would be just what the doctor ordered indeed.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Late Bloomers

We've seen it all too often this season. The Twins fell behind early and sputtered their way through inning after inning without pushing a run across. The starter stumbled a bit early, and it looked like it would be his undoing as the Twins' bats snoozed. With his team trailing 4-0 heading into the seventh inning, it looked like Johan Santana was headed toward his 10th loss on the season.

Suddenly, the bats awakened. Justin Morneau broke out of his home run slump with his first dinger in over a month, and Jason Kubel followed up with a two-run homer of his own just a few minutes later. The Twins manufactured two more runs in the eighth, and added two more on a two-run shot from Torii Hunter in the ninth. In total, they scored seven runs on 10 hits (six for extra bases) in the final three innings of the game, taking advantage of a weak and depleted Baltimore bullpen. To quote Diamond Joe Quimby, "that was unexpected."

It was the Twins' second come-from-behind victory in as many days, but this one was much different from Thursday night's sampling. Last night, the Twins' bats were resilient. They came to life and started driving balls all over the place, as opposed to Thursday night where the Orioles basically handed them the game on a silver platter. This one was a victory that was earned. And it was especially sweet that the Twins were able to take the lead in time to get a win for Santana, who was owed a favor or two by this offense.

Coming off perhaps the best outing of his career, Santana wasn't overly sharp last night. He gave up four runs on three homers, but to his credit he hung in there and pitched seven innings, keeping the Twins in the game and leaving the door open for their eventual comeback. He also struck out seven while walking just one. With his 14th win, Santana moves into a tie for third place in the AL in victories. He's not on top of the list of Cy Young contenders at this point, but he's at least keeping his name in the conversation.

Tonight, the Orioles will be starting right-hander Radhames Liz, who will be making his major-league debut. Liz makes the jump directly from Double-A, where he had gone 11-4 with a 3.22 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. Liz has posted good strikeout rates throughout his minor-league career and was allowing an opponents' batting average of .204 this season. Those are good numbers to be sure, but at 24, he is somewhat old for Double-A, and his control is suspect. If the Twins' hitters show some patience, they should be able to have success against the kid. Meanwhile, it would be nice to see Matt Garza bounce back after getting roughed up in his last outing.

A win could actually be meaningful. As much as the Twins should be out of the playoff race at this point, they're now only 5 1/2 games out of first place after Cleveland's loss in Kansas City last night, and the Twins play the Indians six times in their next 11 games. The Twins are still a real long-shot at this point, but at least they control their own destiny to some extent.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Cuddyer's Struggles (And Other Notes)

After tying last night's game 1-1 in the eighth inning, the Twins loaded the bases with two outs for Michael Cuddyer. Fox Sports Net immediately played a clip of Cuddyer's grand slam from Wednesday afternoon's ballgame. The Twins' right fielder proceeded to tap a weak grounder to short, which Miguel Tejada mishandled, allowing Cuddyer to reach and a run to score. Immediately afterward, Jason Kubel came through with a legitimate run-scoring hit, driving a two-run double to the gap in left-center.

One inning later, Cuddyer came up once again with the bases loaded and two outs. Again, FSN played a clip of his Wednesday slam, and again Cuddyer failed to deliver a hit, as he was retired on a weak fly ball to left field. For the night, Cuddyer went 0-for-4, dropping his season hitting line to .274/.353/.436.

Last night, Cuddyer was living off of his success from the previous day. And in general, I think Cuddyer's success last season has allowed his poor play this year to go largely unnoticed. While a .274 average with 13 homers and 71 RBI might not look bad when compared to the rest of the Twins' offense, the numbers are decidedly sub par when you place them in the context of his piers around the league. Among 12 qualifying AL right fielders, Cuddyer ranks ninth in batting average and OPS, eighth in home runs, and sixth in RBI.

Cuddyer has long frustrated me with his inability to translate his hitting ability from the minors to the majors. Coming into the 2006 season, his career highs in batting average and slugging percentage were .263 and .440, respectively. Last season, it seemed like he had finally figured things out, hitting .284/.362/.507 with 24 HR and 41 doubles. While his average and on-base percentage are currently down from last year, they still aren't bad. It's the drop-off in power that has been extremely disappointing. Cuddyer has collected just 13 home runs and 21 doubles this year, putting him on pace to finish well below the career marks he set last season. You don't like to see that type of decline from a guy who is 28 and should be in the middle of his prime.

Some notes on last night's game and other Twins-related stuff:

* The Twins beat the Orioles 5-2 in last night's series opener in Baltimore, but it wasn't exactly an inspiring victory. The Twins' lineup failed to score for seven innings against Steve Trachsel (who is fairly lousy), and managed just three hits and a walk during that span. In the eighth, the Twins finally got on the board, and in fact scored four runs, but they did it with only two actual hits (one coming on a leadoff bunt single by Nick Punto and the other coming on the aforementioned Kubel double). The Orioles helped out immensely in the inning by issuing three walks, committing two errors, and throwing a wild pitch. Not exactly a convincing offensive outpouring for the Twins, but I guess you take what you can get at this point. Despite scoring five runs in the game, the Twins went 2-for-12 in scoring opportunities and stranded 10 baserunners.

* Glen Perkins struggled in a rehab start for Class-AA New Britain last night, allowing four walks and two home runs in three innings of work. I'd consider anything the Twins get out of Perkins for the rest of this season a bonus, but I hope he can come back strong next year and contribute to the big-league club in one way or another.

* After picking up 10 hits in his first 28 major-league at-bats, Tommy Watkins was placed on the disabled list yesterday with an abdominal muscle strain. The move opened a roster spot for Brian Buscher's return from the DL. I'm intrigued by Buscher, and I'm hoping he gets regular at-bats at third base for the rest of the season so the Twins can get a look at what they have in him going into 2008.

* Jason Bartlett returned to the lineup last night after missing several games with a sore hamstring. He went 2-for-4 with an RBI triple and a walk in the game. In the month of August, Bartlett is hitting .321/.344/.536.

* Torii Hunter is tied with Baltimore's Brian Roberts for fourth in the AL in doubles with 37.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Early Explosion

After scoring a total of seven runs in their previous four games, the Twins' offense busted out for seven runs in the first inning of yesterday's series finale against the Mariners. They added another run in the second and wound up defeating Seattle 8-4 to salvage a game in the series. The Twins' noteworthy first inning was trumped several hours later when the Rangers had a nine-run inning and a 10-run inning in the same game against the Orioles, en route to a ridiculous 30-3 victory. In that game, the Rangers' 7-9 hitters went 13-for-19 with 16 RBI. Think about the effect a game like that would have had on our "Bottom of the Barrel" meter!

Of course, as you've probably noticed, the Bottom of the Barrel feature has disappeared from our sidebar. I kind of figured it was pointless to track the ineptitude of one-third of the lineup when the entire team was hitting so poorly. While I don't recall completely, I'm pretty sure that the Twins' 7-9 hitters hadn't racked up a total of 16 RBI in the 20-some games I was tracking their performance on the sidebar.

Anyway, yesterday's victory pushed the Twins back up to .500, where they've been hanging for most of the season. The team's record has never been more than six games above .500, and never more than two games below. All season long, it has seemed like every winning streak has been countered by a similarly long losing streak, and vice versa. In short, the Twins are a pretty mediocre team.

Michael Cuddyer's grand slam was the highlight of yesterday's victory, but it was also nice to see Alexi Casilla pick up his first major-league triple. Jason Kubel had a three-hit day and seems to have shaken off the effects of a strained oblique. Tommy Watkins went 2-for-5 to raise his average to .357; I'm happy to see him experiencing some unexpected success here in his big-league debut. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Nick Punto went 0-for-2 and saw his batting average drop below the Mendoza line to .199. Since July 27, Punto has batted .090/.196/.109. Holy cow. There's really no defense for Punto's continued presence in the lineup. Even if he was Ozzie Smith with the glove, he'd still be hurting the team overall with his putrid hitting.

After going 3-3 on their home stand, the Twins now get to head to Baltimore for a four-game series against the same Orioles team that gave up 30 runs to Texas yesterday. Can the mighty Twins repeat -- or perhaps even surpass -- the Rangers' amazing feat? I'm going to be cautiously optimistic and say yes.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Missing the Boat

Given the poor state of the Twins' offense, I'm rather amazed by how many cheaply available hitters Terry Ryan has failed to take a flyer on this year. Many argue that Ryan has been right to hold onto his pitching prospects, waiting for the right deal to arise before parting with the organization's valuable young arms. While that's a defensible position, there is really no defending the fact that Ryan has missed out on several players this year that were obtained for peanuts by other teams.

Example A: Jack Cust. Cust is a guy who has been posting good power numbers in Triple-A for six years, but for various reasons he never got more than a cup of tea in the majors. When Mike Piazza got hurt earlier in the season, the Athletics were in need of a DH, so Billy Beane nabbed Cust from the Padres for a player to be named later. Since joining the A's, Cust has been a power machine in the DH spot, batting .272/.408/.541 with 20 home runs and 63 RBI in 280 at-bats. Here's a guy that would have been a massive upgrade for the Twins at a position of extreme weakness, and Ryan could have had him for essentially nothing if he had been a little more proactive in trying to improve the team.

Example B: Wily Mo Pena. The Nationals brought in the 25-year-old less than a week ago after he had been waived by the Red Sox. All the Nats had to give up for Pena was -- you guessed it -- a player to be named later. (The PTBNL ended up being Emiliano Fruto, a nondescript pitching prospect). Pena isn't much of a fielder, but he has a big power swing and many scouts believe that he has 30-40 home run potential. Plus, he's right-handed. Pena has played only three games since joining the Nationals, but he's already ripped a double and two homers.

Example C: Jack Hannahan. Hannahan's situation is similar to Cust's in that he was stuck in Triple-A despite posting good numbers there. This season, Hannahan was hitting .295/.422/.476 with Detroit's Triple-A affiliate, but the infielder was blocked by the likes of Brandon Inge and Placido Polanco. The Athletics acquired Hannahan from the Tigers, giving up a 27-year-old minor-league outfielder named Jason Perry in the deal. Hannahan's prime position is third base, and he's even a Minnesota boy (he attended high school at Cretin Derham Hall, same as Joe Mauer). Hannahan might have been a little tougher to acquire than the two I previously mentioned, but it's another guy that the Twins probably could have gotten without needing to give up a whole lot. In his first eight games with Oakland, Hannahan has posted an .825 OPS. He's collected four extra-base hits in 25 at-bats, which is the same number Nick Punto has in his last 35 games.

The important thing to note about all of this is that neither Washington nor Oakland are really involved in a playoff race. The Nats are 15 games out of first place in the NL East, and the A's are 12 games behind the Angels in the AL West. Yet, Bowden and Beane are still trying to improve their clubs, both now and in the future. They recognize that picking up cheap, talented players like Cust and Pena and Hannahan without giving up much value are low-risk moves, and good bets to help their team now and in the future. Why don't we ever see Ryan making a move like this? The best he can do is trade for veteran retreads like Phil Nevin and Bret Boone, who have little chance of helping the club in the present and almost no chance of helping in the future.

Ryan has done nothing to improve the Twins' miserable offense this season, and as these other general managers are proving, it's not because there aren't viable options available.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Garza's Gopherballs

Entering last night's game, Matt Garza had allowed just one home run in 44 innings since joining the Twins this season. Fly balls hit against him had been turning into home runs at a rate of just 2.4 percent, which was pretty clearly unsustainable (the AL average HR/FB rate is 10 percent). Because of this, I had a feeling that his home run rate would catch up with him, but I didn't realize it would happen as quickly as it did last night.

Garza surrendered a pair of two-run homers in the first inning, a solo shot in the second inning, and another two-run blast in the third, at which point he was pulled from the game. Garza's final line for the night -- 2.1 IP, 9 H, 7 ER, 0 BB, 2 K -- was very similar to the brutal one he posted in his major-league debut last year (2.2 IP, 8 H, 7 ER, 2 BB, 2K). After last night's shelling, Garza's ERA is up from 2.05 to 3.30, and his BAA is up from .255 to .285. A rough outing, to be sure, but let's hope he can bounce back his next time out.

The offense came up mostly empty as usual, scoring just two runs over the first seven innings against the hapless Horacio Ramirez before adding a couple meaningless runs in the eighth. As I mentioned the last time the Twins faced Ramirez less than a week ago, he is one of the worst pitchers in the league. Last night's game marked the first time this season that he pitched into the eighth inning; in fact, he had pitched into the seventh only three times in 14 starts. The Twins failed to draw a single walk against him, and when they actually got runners aboard they let Ramirez off the hook with bad baserunning and a typical lack of situational hitting. Twins hitters went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position, and are a ghastly 4-for-43 in such situations over their past five games.

Tonight's pitching match-up is a rematch of the one that took place last Thursday, when the Twins won 6-1 to take the series in Seattle. Jarrod Washburn, who will start for the Mariners, is very much a fly ball pitcher, as he's induced ground balls at just a 38.8 percent rate this year. He also leads the league with an infield fly ball percentage of 15.7. Baker does not have enough innings to qualify for the leaderboard, but if he did, he would have the lowest GB% in the league at 33.2, and he would rank second behind Washburn in IF/F with his 14.6. In other words, don't expect a lot of balls to be smashed into the Metrodome turf tonight.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Santana's Sweet Seventeen

Even in a lost season, which this one very much appears to be, sometimes events take place that lift our spirits and remind us why we still watch the games. Johan Santana's performance in yesterday's game at the Metrodome was one of those events.

Santana was dominant in every sense of the word, setting a franchise record with 17 strikeouts over eight innings. He also allowed no runs and just two hits, propelling the Twins to a 1-0 victory over the Rangers. Santana had a chance to tie the major-league record for strikeouts in a game; if he had gone back out to pitch the ninth and struck out the side he would have finished with 20. Yet, with Santana's pitch count at 115 and the Twins leading by just one run, Ron Gardenhire made the decision to go with Joe Nathan for the ninth. It wasn't a popular decision in the Metrodome stands, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't interested in seeing what Santana could do with one more inning, but I can't argue with Gardy's choice. Since the beginning of July, Nathan had a 0.96 ERA and a 0.59 WHIP over 18 2/3 innings, so he was a good bet to deliver. And, after an error and a stolen base put a runner on second with one out, the Twins' closer slammed the door with back-to-back strikeouts to end the game.

It's a good thing for the Twins that Santana was so amazing, because it will divert the criticism of their offense, which capped off an atrocious series with a brutally bad effort against a pitcher they should have hit (and have hit in the past). Kevin Millwood combined with reliever C.J. Wilson to hold the Twins scoreless outside of a solo homer from Michael Cuddyer in the second. The Twins drew six walks in the game, but were unable to push a single one across the plate. They were extremely fortunate to come away with two victories in a series in which they scored a total of three runs and went 0-for-19 with runners in scoring position. These hitters have been completely rotten and they are showing no signs of improvement, which is pretty depressing.

The Indians and Tigers both lost yesterday, continuing both teams' stretches of unimpressive play since the All-Star break. Unfortunately, even with the losses, the Twins still sit 6 games out in the AL Central. The offense's continued ineptitude has prevented the Twins from being able to make up any significant ground in the standings. Because of that, yesterday's magnificient performance by Santana ends up being a brilliant moment in the great career of one of the best pitchers of our era, and a frustrating reminder of how good this team could be if they could score runs.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Zambrano's Deal Bodes Well

Yesterday, the Cubs handed Carlos Zambrano a contract extension worth about $90 million over five years, with a vesting option for 2013. Zambrano, who has been the club's ace for the past few years, was due to become a free agent at season's end. It's a big contract worth a lot of money, but it's good news for the Twins and their chances of re-signing Johan Santana beyond his current contract, which expires after the 2008 season. Why? Let's take a look.

As most people are probably aware, Barry Zito signed a 7 yr/$126M deal with the Giants during the offseason. That averages out to $18M per year, which is roughly the same average annual salary as Zambrano's. However, Zambrano has posted a better ERA and strikeout rate than Zito over the course of his career, and he's also only 26, whereas Zito was 28 when he signed his monster deal. In the three seasons before he signed with the Giants, Zito posted earned run averages of 4.48, 3.86 and 3.83. Zambrano's ERA numbers over the past three seasons are 2.75, 3.26 and 3.41.

Basically, when looking at his age and the more reasonable length of the contract, the Zambrano deal looks like a much better bargain than the Zito contract. It brings some sanity back to the marketplace. Using Zambrano's $18M/yr as a starting point with Santana is much more beneficial from the Twins' standpoint than using Zito's $18M/yr as a starting point. Zambrano is a better pitcher, and he's more comparable to Santana from a statistical standpoint. Plus, the Zambrano situation is more similar because the Cubs were extending their pitcher's contract while he was still with the team, which is what the Twins will be looking to do during the offseason or into next season.

[Note: I'll be in Madison tonight so there won't be a new post tomorrow (Sunday). We'll be back to regularly scheduled blogging on Monday, and hopefully I'll be writing about a series victory over the Rangers.]

Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday Notes

With 120 games in the books, the Twins find themselves with the same winning percentage they had on Opening Day, sitting at 60-60. Unfortunately, they are considerably further away from first place than they were that day, as they sit 6 1/2 games behind the Tigers in the AL Central.

In the grand scheme of things, I suppose we should be happy that the Twins are even at .500, and that the gap between their current standing and a playoff spot is still in the single digits. The team's play since the All-Star break has been highly uninspiring, and it is a shame that they have been unable to take advantage of the recent poor play from both teams ahead of them in the division. Whatever happens, no one can say that the Twins were not given a pretty nice opportunity to get back into the race this year. They have sealed their own fate with the way they've hit over the past month. But, so it goes.

A few notes to round out the week.

* As was noted on Wednesday, one half of the Nick & Nick's duo will not be around much for the rest of this season, as Mr. Mosvick has moved out to Virginia, where he will begin taking classes for law school in a few weeks. As such, the responsibility for daily posting falls almost entirely on me. I'll do my best to keep up, but there may be an occasional off-day mixed in here and there (especially on weekends), whereas for the most part we have never gone a day during the season without a post up on this blog.

Anyway, hopefully you all don't get sick of me. I'm sure the other Nick will still pop up from time to time to drop his two cents from afar.

* I mentioned this briefly yesterday, but I'll take a bit of a deeper look at it today: the Twins traded Ramon Ortiz to the Rockies on Wednesday for minor-league infielder Matt Macri. As far as prospects go, Macri is nothing special, but dumping the rest of Ortiz's salary while getting anything of potential value in return for the sub par right-hander has got to be seen as a positive.

The Rockies drafted Macri in 2004, grabbing the Notre Dame shortstop in the fifth round of the draft. In his last year in college, Macri batted .367/.465/.667 with 14 home runs and 56 RBI in 61 games. He hit well in his first couple years of pro ball, but stalled a bit in 2006, where he hit .232/.293/.370 as a 24-year-old in Double-A. This season Macri started in Double-A once again and showed marked improvement, posting a .298/.349/.502 line with 11 homers and 23 doubles in 275 at-bats. He was promoted to Triple-A just a few days before being dealt to the Twins.

Macri is a utility infielder with experience at second base, third base and shortstop. On the surface, that seems to be just about the last thing the Twins need, as they already have three utility infielders on their major-league roster as it is. However, when you consider the sorry state of the Twins' farm system from an offensive standpoint, along with the fact that Macri could easily be a better hitter than anyone from the group of Nick Punto, Luis Rodriguez and Tommy Watkins, he definitely has to be looked at as a solid addition. Especially when all it took to get him was Ortiz, who had no real value to this club.

* To fill Ortiz's spot on the 25-man roster, the Twins recalled Garrett Jones. As La Velle notes, Jones has hit just .228/.313/.351 since the end of July. The Twins also claimed Chris Basak, another banjo-hitting utility infielder, off waivers from the Yankees. Basak, 28, just recently made his major-league debut, and is a career .264/.332/.394 hitter in the minors.

All of this is a long way of saying that no help is in store for this offense, unless the players already in the lineup start to turn things around.

* Many players from the Twins' 1987 team are in town this weekend to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of their World Series victory. I was only two years old when that team defeated the Cardinals in seven games, but I've seen plenty of highlight tapes and heard plenty of first-hand accounts from those who saw the games live, either in person or on TV. What a fun team that was. Having all the guys out at the Dome this weekend should bring back a lot of fond memories for those who were actually cognisant for that magical run; of course, it is a sad fact that No. 34 won't be around to regale with his former teammates.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


There haven't been many positive things to write about the Twins lately. And frankly, it gets a little dreary writing about slumps and losing streaks and ineptitude day in and day out. So I'm very happy to report that the Twins have won a series for the first time this month, taking back-to-back games from the Mariners after losing the series opener in a heart-breaker. In the last two games of the series, the Twins scored a total of 17 runs, which matched their total from the previous week. Scott Baker delivered yet another excellent performance, but since the Twins' scoring came late in the game, it was Pat Neshek who was credited with the win.

Rondell White hit his first homer of the year. Torii Hunter gave the Twins a lead with an RBI single in the eighth, and then he added some insurance in the ninth with a grand slam. It's definitely pleasant to see Hunter stepping up with some run production in that cleanup spot. Meanwhile, Tommy Watkins got his first major-league hit (he had two hits, in fact), Nick Punto actually managed to execute a sacrifice bunt, and Jason Bartlett went 2-for-3 with a double (he's now hitting .314 with a .510 SLG for the month of August). On top of all that, the Twins managed to trade Ramon Ortiz for a prospect that might actually fill a need in the organization.

Of course, to concentrate on all of these niceties would be to overlook the facts that the Twins went just 2-for-14 in scoring opportunities yesterday, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer combined to strand nine runners while going 2-for-9 with five strikeouts, and the red-hot Bartlett is likely headed to the disabled list with a strained hamstring. Whatever. For today, I'm just going to ignore the negatives and focus on the positives. The Twins have won a couple games in a row, and now they're headed back home to take on a soft Texas team with a weak pitching staff. Hopefully we have some watchable baseball ahead of us this weekend.

By the way, if you're heading out the Metrodome for any of the games this weekend, do me a favor and pick up a copy of GameDay Magazine. I will be contributing to the fine publication for a second time this year, writing up the "Dugout Splinters" insert on the Twins.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Leave of Absence

Normally, we try not to write too many personal blurbs on this site keep things, generally keeping things limited to baseball. Occasionally, however, events come up that manage to get in the way. Such an event has arisen for me. I will be gone for at least a short time before returning to my duties, and when I return I will likely be less active. What is the reason for this absence? You could call it my big news of the year.

Today, I will be moving to Charlottesville to begin law school at the University of Virginia. Being a top school, I am both nervous and excited about the amount of work I will be facing over the next three years. Because of that, for obvious reasons I will not be able to contribute to this blog as much. However, I won't be leaving permanently, as over the two and a half years we've had this website, I've grown quite found of blogging and interacting with the readers on not only this site, but the other sites I tend to read daily, such as Gleeman, SBG, and Seth.

This news probably will surprise everyone who reads this site. I wanted to wait because I didn't feel like this blog was a place to air personal news or to gloat, so I figured I'd wait until it actually mattered. The good news is that Nick Nelson is more of the brainchild behind this blog and he's actually a journalism student, whereas I was a History and Political Science major who always had ambitions of going to graduate school and becoming a professional student.

The better news is that I see others in the Twins blogosphere, like Ubelmann, who manage to be graduate students in far more difficult areas of study (such as Physics, which is an endlessly interesting subject that I would have studied if I had just a tad more interest in math), and still are able to make major contributions as well as guys like SBG and Seth who manage to balance work, blogging, and the full-time job of parenting.

With that, I hope to be back soon and I plan to write more general analysis, as I'll have trouble catching Twins games for the rest of the year (I probably won't bother getting MLB.TV until next year). I'm sure there will be many Braves games to watch, as I'm living with an Braves fans.

Anyway, this blog should continue to run as normal, just with more of one Nick and less of the other. Thank you all of supporting the site, and hopefully you'll hear from me again soon.

-Nick Mosvick

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Status Quo in Seattle

August has been a very, very rough month for the Twins. In 12 games, they have scored more than three runs just once (averaging 2.5 runs per game), and they have won just three games during that span. In doing so, they have catastrophically failed to take advantage of the slides experienced by the Tigers (4-8 this month) and the Indians (5-7 this month).

The Twins lost last night's series opener against the Mariners when Richie Sexson ripped a solo homer off of Matt Guerrier to start the bottom of the ninth inning. It was frustrating, especially since Sexson has been one of the worst hitters in baseball this year, but what more can I say about this game that wouldn't sound like a broken record? It's an equation we've seen all too often since the All-Star break: good pitching + no offense = loss. If you want an idea of how bad the Twins' offense has been since the break, take a look at this quote from Ubelmann prior to last night's game:
A lot of the Twins’ offensive suckitude this season has come in the second half of the season, where the Twins have “hit” .253/.308/.377 as a team. For comparison, Luis Rivas, in his career, has hit .262/.307/.383. Perhaps that best describes what it’s been like to watch this team’s offense since the All-Star break-it’s like watching Luis Rivas hit over and over and over again. Sure, maybe he’ll have a good night in KC, but mainly he’s a waste of time.
I don't know if there's a more damning statement possible.

No one has been hitting lately. Justin Morneau has been absolutely awful in August, collecting just seven hits in 47 at-bats for a .149 average with no RBI. He has drawn one unintentional walk in his last 27 games, and has not homered since July 23. Michael Cuddyer is hitting .159 this month, with 11 strikeouts and no walks. After going 0-for-4 last night, Rondell White is batting .149/.216/.170 on the season. Nick Punto has collected a total of 14 hits in 28 games since the All-Star break, yet continues to find his name in the lineup on a semi-regular basis.

The run support for the Twins' starting pitchers has been brutal. Johan Santana, who did his part last night by delivering seven innings of three-run ball, is 12-9 with a 3.03 ERA. Meanwhile, Roy Halladay of the Blue Jays is 13-5 with a 4.17 ERA. Tim Wakefield has 13 wins and a 4.81 ERA. Santana has collected just one win in the past month, despite delivering five Quality Starts during that span. And then there is Boof Bonser, who hasn't picked up a W since June 10. Carlos Silva has racked up 13 Quality Starts this year, but holds a 9-12 record. He ranks 25th in the American League in ERA, but only one pitcher (Jose Contreras, with a 6.24 ERA) has lost more games.

The Twins are playing really, really bad baseball right now -- to the point that it's actually pretty hard to watch. I'm really hoping this team can find a way to turn things around and start putting some runs on the board, if only to give the fans something to cheer about once again. I can't even remember the last time the Twins held a lead in a game.

Tonight, it will be the young stud Matt Garza going against Horacio Ramirez, who is one of the worst starting pitchers you will find in this league right now. Ramirez has a 7.12 ERA and opponents are hitting .337/.403/.507 against him. Seems like a good night to break out of this ridiculously prolonged slump.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Flipside of .500

It's hard to believe, but the Twins are approaching rock bottom and have now slid beneath the .500 mark. The Twins were unable to hit any of the Angels' top pitchers -- from Kelvim Escobar to John Lackey to Jered Weaver yesterday -- and in doing so the Twins have utterly wasted their one big opportunity to squirm back into the playoff race. While the Twins lost five of six to the Angels and Royals, the top two teams in the AL Central standings -- the Indians and Tigers -- were having skids of their own, as both teams have gone 4-6 in their last ten games.

By not taking advantage of the poor play from the teams ahead of them, the Twins are essentially out of the playoff picture. They're not going to get the Wild Card, as either the streaking Yankees, one of the Central teams, Seattle, or maybe even Boston will be taking it. The Twins are seven games out in the Central lead and eight out in the Wild Card standings. Neither of those are necessarily insurmountable leads, but this team is not fooling anyone with their recent play.

Yesterday's game was only the most recent addition to a list of embarrassing losses for the Twins. Thankfully, the Twins didn't waste another great start, as Boof Bonser was just as miserable on the mound as the Twins hitters were at the plate. Bonser gave up nine hits, five runs, and four walks over 5 2/3 innings while striking out just three Angels, increasing his ERA to 4.77. The offense did score two runs, but most of the hitters were staggeringly bad, as five Twins went hitless, including Justin Morneau, Torii Hunter, and Michael Cuddyer, who went a combined 0-for-12. The few positives came with Joe Mauer going 2-for-4 with a double, Alexi Casilla collecting two hits, two stolen bases, and two runs scored (though he did commit his sixth error), and Jason Bartlett picking up both RBI with a sac fly and his third triple of the season.

Though any lingering postseason dreams for the Twins may have died with the Angels sweep, tonight's match-up should provide some great entertainment for any baseball fan, as Johan Santana faces off against Seattle's young ace Felix Hernandez. I'd like to keep some hope for the team to turn the season around, but with each loss like yesterday's, the Twins inch closer and closer toward avoiding the playoffs.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

No Relief

Carlos Silva pitched a terrific game last night, handing a 2-0 lead to the bullpen after seven innings, only to watch Pat Neshek and Dennys Reyes give up four runs in the eighth inning in an eventual 4-3 loss to the Angels. While it was a rough night for the bullpen, the blame must once again be placed on the Twins' offense, which scored three or fewer runs for the eighth time in nine August games.

Despite facing a very tough starting pitcher in John Lackey, the Twins had a ton of opportunities to score runs in this game and they repeatedly failed. Whether it was Torii Hunter wasting a lead-off double with a stupid baserunning mistake or Nick Punto failing to execute even a simple sacrifice bunt, the Twins' hitters humiliated themselves time and time again, much like they have all month. This team is in really bad shape right now.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Abyss

After what was one of the worst games of their season Thursday, the Twins followed it up last night with what could be considered a worse game. Not only could they not do anything offensively, but the pitching wasn't particularly great either. Many thought that Thursday's loss might have been the season, but its' just as well possible that last night's was the killer blow. The sad thing is that once again the Twins lost on a night in which both Cleveland and Detroit lost. A recent comment on this site said things perfectly: Cleveland and Detroit can't keep losing like this. And if the Twins are even thinking about the Wild Card, watch out for the streaking Yankees.

The worst part about the last night's game wasn't the standard offensive ineptitude, but the end of Scott Baker's streak of quality starts. Baker did all the things he hasn't done for what seems months: he walked too many (three), he gave up way too many hits (9) in only 5 1/3 innings, and he did very poorly with men on, as he gave up a grand slam to "slugger" Maicer Izturis. While it seems like he's been good for a while, its been just over a month since Chicago knocked Baker around in the 20-14 slugfest on July 6. It didn't help matters for the Twins that Juan Rincon came in and displayed abysmal control by walking three to help add to the Angels lead, displaying yet another "skill" that has led to this year's embarrassing 6.35 ERA.

It would also seem that the move to send Lew Ford down for Carmen Cali for bullpen help wasn't all that useful, as Cali has an 8.22 ERA so far in 7 2/3 innings, with an awful 5/8 strikeout-to-walk ratio and nine hits allowed for an ugly 2.22 WHIP. All this is in line with the short stints he had with St. Louis in 2004 and 2005, as he has a 18/20 K/BB ratio in just 21 career innings with 32 hits allowed to go along with a 9.00 career ERA. Needless to say, Cali isn't doing much good in the bullpen either. Fortunately, the outings of the two worst bullpen members (worst than Ramon Ortiz, who was the only Twins pitcher not to allow any runs) came in a blowout, because the Twins still aren't doing very much scoring.

Granted, last night's opposing pitcher was a pretty good one in Kelvim Escobar. However, one run with a total of 10 baserunners is particularly ugly, as evidenced by the five runners left in scoring position with two outs. It's just as bad that the Twins did nothing against Darren Oliver and Greg Jones, two of the less formidable members of the Angels bullpen. But the worst aspect of the Twins offensive ineptitude of last night was the 3-4-5-6 hitters of the lineup going 1-for-14 with two walks. Good thing that there is some hope for today, as they face off against Cy Young candidate John Lackey, whom they've surprisingly scored nine runs against in 12 innings this year.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday Notebook

While Wednesday night's 11-run outburst for the Twins was a pleasant sight, one got the feeling that it didn't necessarily signal an "awakening" for the offense. Unfortunately, those fears were confirmed yesterday afternoon, when the Twins' lineup came out with an absolutely horrendous performance in a 1-0 loss to the Royals. With the Tigers dropping yet another game against the Devil Rays, the Twins had an opportunity to gain a valuable game in the wild-card standings, but they were unable to take advantage of a lop-sided pitching match-up and ended up throwing away another fantastic start from Matt Garza, who dropped to 1-3 on the year despite holding a 1.70 ERA.

The opposing pitcher in yesterday's game was Kyle Davies, who entered the contest with a 6.26 career ERA and a 1.72 WHIP, including 6.07 and 1.63 this season. In 89 innings this year, Davies had allowed 98 hits, 60 earned runs, 47 walks and 13 homers. Still, he proceeded to shut down the Twins' hitters for 6 2/3 innings, allowing just three hits and two walks while striking out five. When Jason Kubel doubled with two outs in the fifth inning, it was the first hit the Twins managed in the game. Davies walked Alexi Casilla to start the game, and then proceeded to retire 14 Twins in a row before allowing the Kubel double. It was Davies' first start since July of 2005 in which he did not allow a single run.

The Twins were absolutely pitiful yesterday, with six batters going hitless in the game against Davies and the Royals' pathetic bullpen. But, if you ask Torii Hunter, the Twins didn't struggle... they just ran into some great pitching.

I'm sorry if I seem overly disgruntled today, but I am confounded that a lineup with this much talent can be so inept at scoring runs, particularly against a pitcher like Davies. I realize there is some dead weight on the offense, but there are good hitters here who need to step up and hit the ball. Having the team's 2-5 hitters go a combined 0-for-15 in a game like this is completely unacceptable. Michael Cuddyer had one of the worst games of his career, striking out four times, including a key late-game situation with two outs and two runners aboard. What makes matters especially frustrating is that the Twins continue to hang on the fringe of contention, and it seems that the teams in front of them are just begging them to get back into the race. The Twins' repeated inability to capitalize on the numerous opportunities that they have been handed over the past few weeks is frustrating beyond belief.
Anyway, enough about that debacle. Some notes:

* Brian Buscher was placed on the disabled list on Wednesday because of an infection in his leg. This is a shame, because I was enjoying watching Buscher play. He was hitting only .227 with just two talks and no extra-base hits in eight games, but there was a lot to like about his performance in his first short stint in the big leagues. For one thing, he struck out only once in 24 plate appearances, a sign that he wasn't overwhelmed by the transition to major-league pitching. Another good sign was that, according to The Hardball Times, Buscher had a line-drive percentage of 23.8. The sample size is very limited, of course, but it's certainly encouraging that he was making good solid contact during his first smattering of big-league at-bats. For reference, Joe Mauer's line drive percentage this year is 21.1; Nick Punto's is 14.2. Limiting strikeouts and hitting lots of line drives are two things that will generally lead to a good batting average, so I am hopeful that Buscher can put up some reasonably decent offensive numbers if and when he returns this season. Hopefully he can recover quickly from his current ailment, because the alternative options at third base are not overly enticing.

One of those options will be Tommy Watkins, a utility infielder who was called up from Rochester to replace Buscher on the roster. My associate, Mr. Mosvick, was highly critical of this move, going so far as to call it "ridiculous." I think that might be a bit over-the-top, but the move is a curious one. The obvious choice would seemingly be Matt Tolbert, a 25-year-old infielder who is having a breakout year in Triple-A, having posted a .304/.362/.448 line as a 25-year-old with the Red Wings. According to La Velle, the Twins' reasoning is that Tolbert is "not mentally ready" for the big leagues. That's pretty vague and I don't really know what it means, but from an outside standpoint, it would seemingly make much more sense to give Tolbert a shot, seeing as how he may actually have a future with the big league club. By all accounts though, Watkins is an incredibly nice guy, so I'll be cheering for him regardless of my feelings about whether or not he really belongs on the roster.

Interestingly, the Twins filled Watkins' spot on Rochester's roster with Luis Ugueto, a 28-year-old shortstop who had been hitting .228/.297/.300 with Class-A Ft. Myers. Trevor Plouffe, who I recently named my Prospect of the Month for July, would have seemed to be a better candidate, but seeing as how he's only 21 I suppose there's really no need to rush him to the next level. I guess I just feel sorry for Rochester, a team that is in a playoff race and is now forced to replace a decent Triple-A hitter in Watkins with an awful Single-A hitter in Ugueto.

* Back in late July, when the Twins first called up Buscher, I predicted that his replacing Punto in the lineup -- along with the installment of Rondell White at DH -- would cause a gradual increase in the numbers on our "Bottom of the Barrel" sidebar feature, which tracks the performance of the Twnis' 7-9 hitters since the All-Star break. At the time, those hitters had posted a .195 batting average and .263 slugging percentage with 10 runs and seven RBI in 13 post-break games. In the 12 games since I wrote the article, the 7-9 spots have gone 32-for-125 (.256) with a .352 slugging percentage along with 11 runs and eight RBI. Technically, my prediction that things would improve was correct, although not for the reasons I had in mind. Buscher wasn't able to make a huge impact, and White has been horrible. Instead, the contributions have come in other unexpected forms: home runs from Jason Tyner and Lew Ford, a four-hit night from Mike Redmond, and so on. Mostly, I think this is just regression toward the mean; three lineup spots could not possibly continue producing at such a low rate forever. As you can see on the sidebar, the Bottom of the Barrel has still produced just a .224 average and .306 slugging percentage overall since the break, which is quite bad, but it's a lot better than where things were a couple weeks ago.

* Speaking of White, I'm not a professional scout, but isn't it pretty obvious that this guy cannot hit major-league pitching anymore? I don't know if it's injuries or age, but from watching him it seems clear to me that White's bat is way too slow for him to be playing in the majors anymore. Since returning to the team from a long hiatus, White has collected a total of four hits in 26 at-bats (at least a couple of which were groundball singles) for a .157 average. He has struck out six times while drawing zero walks during that span.

I had high hopes for White when the Twins signed him prior to the 2006 season, and even this year I had some optimism that he could have a nice little rebound year, but it is becoming increasingly evident that he has nothing left in the tank. The fact that he continues to start as a designated hitter is fairly ludacrous, as he brings absolutely nothing to the table at this point.

* The mailbag feature over at the Twins' official site can be a great source for unintentional comedy. As an example, here is one letter that someone sent in that was published in the most recent installment:
Kelly, what is wrong with Johan Santana this year? Does it have something to do with the makeup of the rotation (i.e., no Brad Radke) or has the league figured him out?-- Steve M., Salt Lake City, Utah
This question is so ridiculous that I would not be at all surprised if someone sent in as a joke and was gleefully shocked to actually see it get published. Whatever the case,'s Twins beat writer Kelly Thesier answered the query in serious fashion, but rightfully downplayed the notion.

Naturally, there is nothing "wrong" with Santana. He posted a 2.73 ERA in May and a 1.98 ERA in June. His July ERA was 3.44, but if you take away the ugly start in Toronto where he allowed six runs on four homers, that number drops to 2.17. Obviously, Santana has surrendered an unusually high number of homers this year (the 24 he's given up already matches a career high), and that also accounts for the 2.98 ERA which is slightly higher than we're used to. The spike in home run rate is slightly alarming, but I'm inclined to let it slide because the rest of his peripherals are generally just fine. He's holding opposing hitters to a .218 batting average (2006=.216; 2005=.210), and his K/9 IP rate is 9.56 (2006=9.44; 2005=9.25). The fact that he has only 12 wins is solely a result of the miserable run support he has received. It's a feeling that Mr. Garza is starting to become well acquainted with himself.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Wakeup Call?

It's been an awful long wait it seems, but the Twins finally broke out of their offensive funk in the last night's game, winning 11-4 and managing two home runs, their first since the end of July. Of course, it's good news that the offense broke out, but it's unfortunate that the "breakout" game had to come against such a pathetic batch of pitchers. Instead of being a breakout game, it seems that the offense did precisely what it was supposed to do: beating up on bad Kansas City pitching and giving Johan Santana his first victory in some time.

The best thing about last night's victory, offense-wise, was that the Twins 3-through-6 hitters, who had been struggling, had a much better game. Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau and Torii Hunter went a combined 10-for-20 with eight RBI, six runs scored and five extra-base hits, including home runs from Cuddyer and Hunter (and one from Morneau that was incorrectly called back). Considering the recent struggles of the Twins' most important bats, it's good to see them come alive even if it is against the soft-tossing Odalis Perez.

The lowlight in the victory was no surprise: Nick Punto. He did have a double, a walk and a much-touted sacrifice, but he also made two poor plays in the field, including an embarrassingly bad throwing error. Considering his average is still at .210, there isn't much of an excuse to put him in the second spot in the lineup. While Ron Gardenhire made a good move in putting Jason Bartlett in the leadoff spot instead of Jason Tyner, he followed it with a boneheaded move by not leaving Punto at the bottom of the order. Alexi Casilla is still pretty raw, but I'd rather see Casilla in front of Mauer if need be. Of course, it would be smarter just to move Mauer, Cuddyer, Morneau, and Hunter up a spot and leave the 7-9 spots as weak as they have been before. If Punto is going to be an atrocious hitter, the least he can do is field and be left in a position where he gets the least at-bats possible. It's the fault of his manager for not making that so.

As for the pitching, Santana surprisingly lacked dominant stuff against the Royals offense, going six innings and allowing eight hits, two walks, and two runs while striking out six. The six strikeouts aren't a bad number, but allowing ten baserunners is very unlike the typical second-half Santana. Hopefully, he starts to be his thoroughly dominant self very soon, but even last night's Santana is still pretty great.

While last night's victory wasn't exactly a convincing wakeup game for the offense, it may have gotten some important bats going and it was another needed victory against a weak opponent. Today, Matt Garza takes on recently acquired right-hander Kyle Davies in the series finale. Davies wasn't particularly great in Atlanta, as evidenced by his 5.76 ERA in the NL, and his first start in the AL wasn't great either, as he allowed five runs in three innings to the Yankees. Davies is homer-prone, as he has allowed 13 home runs in 89 innings, and he walks way too many, as evidenced by his ugly 61/47 strikeout-to-walk ratio. This is another starter the Twins should have success against, if they are patient enough. If they do, then maybe last night really was a rallying cry. Too bad for Twins fans that once there are reasons for optimism, the team goes and makes a ridiculous move like this.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Wasting Time

Timberwolves general manager Kevin McHale has taken a lot of heat from sports fans around these parts over the years. Under his watch, the Wolves have sputtered for over a decade despite featuring one of the league's best players in Kevin Garnett. For many fans, the frustration with McHale wasn't just because of his failure to build a championship-caliber team, it was the fact that he was wasting the prime years of a transcendent star's career by failing to surround that player with the proper talent. Since Garnett was drafted back in 1995, the Timberwolves have gotten past the first round of the playoffs just once, and they have never reached the Finals. McHale's resume is plagued by poor free agent signings, horrible trades, wasted draft picks and silly contract extensions. Garnett was at the top of his game for many years here in Minnesota, but McHale's failure to make the necessary moves ultimately made Garnett's pursuit of a championship in a Timberwolves uniform a waste.

And then there is Terry Ryan, the general manager of the Minnesota Twins. Ryan and McHale are very different, in terms of their personalities and in terms of the way they go about their business. Yet, the Twins have suffered from many of the same issues under Ryan's watch as the Wolves have under McHale's. Ryan has been widely acclaimed for his ability to orchestrate excellent trades, and rightfully so -- he has certainly been better than McHale in this regard. But the Twins' GM has shown heavy flaws in other areas. The poor free agent signings? Where to begin... Ramon Ortiz, Sidney Ponson, Rondell White, Tony Batista, and so forth. The wasted draft picks? The Twins haven't drafted an impact hitter since 2001. The silly contract extensions? Certainly nothing to the extent of Marco Jaric or Troy Hudson, but Joe Mays does come to mind.

As is the case with McHale and the Wolves, the Twins have moved past the first round of the playoffs just once during Ryan's tenure. And, most distressingly, by failing to make the moves necessary for the Twins to succeed, Ryan is effectively wasting the prime years of many of his superstars.

Johan Santana is the best pitcher -- and arguably the best player -- in all of baseball, and has been for three years running. His pitching has been largely responsible for propelling the Twins to the playoffs in two of the past three years, yet neither of those teams was strong enough to win a postseason series. There is a strong possibility that Santana will be gone after next year, closing his window of opportunity to win a championship as a Minnesota Twin. Also likely to be gone after this year is Joe Nathan, an elite closer who can essentially shorten every game to eight innings. With the Twins' playoff possibilities fading this season, it would seem that next year will be Ryan's last chance to find the proper complementary pieces that can take this team to the next level.

It may already be too late for Torii Hunter, who is likely to be gone after this year. Hunter has been one of the better center-fielders in baseball over the past several years, but he may move out of the Twins' price range after his current contract expires following this season.

And then there are the younger guys, like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. The Twins are not in danger of losing either of these players anytime soon, but both already seem to be in their prime and have been incredibly productive for the last couple seasons. Along with Hunter, Mauer and Morneau make up part of what is a highly talented core for the Twins lineup. Unfortunately, Ryan has failed to surround this core with even replacement-level players, and so the lineup as a whole is streaky and sub par overall.

Ryan assembled the core of the Twins' roster, and for that he deserves plenty of credit. It is a team filled with blossoming young superstars. This, however, makes the Twins' underwhelming performance all the more frustrating. Basketball is a team sport, and Garnett could not carry the load on his own despite his immense talent and determination on the court. He needed the proper role players around him in order to succeed, which we saw when McHale finally made a splash in one offseason and added Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell. Similarly, three or four players cannot carry a lineup in baseball, particularly if the bottom third of the lineup is totally devoid of production.

Over the past year, Ryan has done nothing to meaningfully improve the Twins as a ballclub. To me, that seems unacceptable. The fact that he is working on a relatively small budget is no excuse -- no one is asking him to sign Alfonso Soriano or trade for Mark Teixeira. The main pieces are in place on this team, but there needs to be some semblance of talent around them, and that's been pretty clear for some time now. That Ryan entered the season with White and Nick Punto as starting position players is not inexcusable; after all, last season did give reason for hope with both of those two. That he entered the season with no backup plan in place for either of them, and that he has done nothing to fix the problems that they have created, are major mistakes that have crippled the team's chances.

For many fans, Ryan seems to be above criticism because of his success in the past. People will point to the A.J. Pierzynski trade and the Eric Milton trade, among others, to remind us of how good he is at what he does. Those were excellent moves, but how long can a GM live off of past success while not being held accountable for current failures? By that philosophy, we should still be applauding McHale for drafting Garnett in the first place.

To be clear, I don't think Ryan is a bad GM, and I don't think he should be fired. I do think that he has done an extremely poor job this year, and prevented the Twins from being anything more than a mediocre baseball team. With the stars that they have on their roster right now, they should be better than mediocre.

Garnett's pursuit of a championship in Minnesota officially came to an end last week when McHale traded the 31-year-old to Boston for a package of young players. Wolves fans can now only look back sadly that things had to end the way they did, and that the team could not have done more with Garnett's talent. If Hunter leaves after this season, and Santana and Nathan leave the following year, how will Twins fans look back at their time in Minnesota? These are the years where the Twins are built to compete, and when the stars start dropping from this team, reaching for that World Series ring will only become more difficult. If Ryan continues to do nothing but plan for the future, then in the present all he is doing is wasting the time of the fans and the players. I don't think that's a very good approach. But then, what do I know? I'm not a GM.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


The Twins' Standard Operating Procedure is starting to become very grating. For some, I'm sure, it makes the team awful difficult to watch. For over a week, the Twins have been walking a very fine line, as they failed to score any runs on a regular basis while getting wins on the coattails of great pitching performances. The Twins have scored more than three runs just once in the past week and naturally, that came against the Kansas City Royals and not the team's current playoff competitors.

Of course, anyone who watches the Twins (let alone reads this site) knows what this year's S.O.P. is for the Twins. It includes a good (or great) starting pitching performance combined with little or no offense against a very hittable pitcher. Last night, the Twins' starter was Carlos Silva, who went seven good innings, giving up six hits and two runs while walking one and striking out six. His hittable opponent on the mound was Paul Byrd, who came into the game with a 4.57 ERA and ended with a 4.13 ERA.

The best thing Byrd has going for him on the season is that he has given up as many home runs (16) as he has walks, producing a good 64/16 K/BB ratio and displaying excellent control. However, he has also allowed a .295 BAA, which includes last night's shutout of the Twins. At least the last time out the Twins managed a few runs and 10 hits off of Byrd instead of the absolutely pathetic four hits and one walk they managed last night.

The deeper reasoning for the struggles include having Jason Tyner -- who went 0-for-4 last night -- continue to bat leadoff, while putting rookie Alexi Casilla (who also went hitless) behind him in the second spot. Obviously, that was done last night because Nick Punto was playing shortstop for Jason Bartlett, but as many fans know, it would be a less embarrassing 1-2 "punch" if Joe Mauer was moved into the second spot when necessary, while moving Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, and Torii Hunter up a spot. However, it's even worse that Morneau is stuck in a 1-for-22 slump after a great July while Hunter's struggles have carried over from July and Cuddyer has one hit in his last 10 at-bats. The best news the Twins have offensive-wise is that Jason Kubel is showing a better bat in his past few games, picking up his 18th double last night and going 5-for-14 with two walks in his last five games, but you have to wonder if he'll go into a multi-game slump now as has been his M.O. this season.

It's truly unfortunate that fans have to look harder to find positives outside of the continued good pitching of the Twins, which is continuously wasted by the lack of offense. It's good news that Kubel is doing better and that Joe Mauer's bat appears to be heating up, but it's far worse that the Twins have to rely on largely one half of their team to pick up victories.

Monday, August 06, 2007


That's really the only word I can come up with to describe Scott Baker's outing yesterday. Going up against one of the better pitchers in the American League in Fausto Carmona, who has absolutely manhandled the Twins offense this season, Baker knew that he would likely have to be nearly perfect on the mound in order to win yesterday's game. He stepped up to the challenge.

Taking on one of the league's top offenses, Baker pitched eight shutout innings, nursing a one-run lead provided by an RBI ground-rule double off the bat of Alexi Casilla in the fourth inning. Baker was locked in. He got a few strikeouts (four), limited opposing baserunners (seven in eight innings), and even made a great defensive play, springing off the mound in the eighth to catch a bunt in the air and converting it into a double play.

Baker's success should not be overly surprising, considering his recent history. Since June 20, he has made nine starts. He has allowed three or fewer runs in seven of those starts, and he has lasted seven or more innings in five of them. He has a 2.56 ERA over his past five starts. Baker has gone from being one bad start away from losing his spot in the rotation to pitching like an ace, delivering dominating performances almost every time out. At this point, I don't think it would be a major stretch to compare his contributions to what Francisco Liriano was able to do last year in terms of providing a major unexpected boost to the rotation. As a guy who was coming off a horrendous 2006 season and was mostly an afterthought in Spring Training this year, Baker's emergence has been a hugely uplifting sight for Twins fans.

To his credit, Carmona pitched a heck of a game in his own right. The only run-scoring hit he gave up (Casilla's double) probably would have been caught if the outfielders weren't playing so shallow. Carmona did his thing, getting 14 groundball outs and striking out five while allowing just the one run over seven innings of work. He shut down the heart of the Twins order, as Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau and Torii Hunter combined to go 0-for-12 with four strikeouts. Unfortunately for Carmona, he was out-dueled on this day by Baker, who just happened to be a little better.

With the way the Twins have been hitting lately, the starting pitchers have been under tremendous pressure. You've got to give them a lot of credit for the way they've responded. In their last eight games, the Twins scored five runs once and four runs once -- outside of that they have not scored more than three runs in a game. Yet, the team has still managed a 6-2 record during that span. Why? Because Twins starters have allowed two or fewer earned runs in all but one of those games, with the only exception being Johan Santana's start on Friday night in which he allowed three earned runs over six innings (still a Quality Start). During that eight-game span, the rotation has posted a collective 2.17 ERA.

That's some downright amazing pitching, but it's not sustainable. Which is another way of saying that the Twins are going to need to start scoring some runs if they want to keep winning and closing the gap in the standings. With their win yesterday, the Twins are now just 4 1/2 games behind the Indians for the lead in the AL Central, and 4 games behind the slumping Tigers for the Wild Card lead. I still think the Twins are going to have a real hard time making the playoffs this year, but at the very least they've put themselves in position to make things interesting over the last eight weeks of the season. And that will just make it all the more frustrating that Terry Ryan could not add any offensive help at the deadline.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Winning Without Hitting

It's hard to be overly enthusiastic about a victory like yesterday's. Matt Garza was relatively effective, but needed 93 pitches to get through four innings, forcing Ron Gardenhire to go to his bullpen very early. There was a lot of pressure on the bullpen to be perfect too, because the Twins offense could muster only three runs against Aaron Laffey, a 22-year-old making his major-league debut. Fortunately, the bullpen was up to the task, delivering five innings of scoreless ball against one of the league's better offenses.

Perhaps the most impressive performance surprisingly came from Ramon Ortiz, who bridged the gap to the late innings by entering in the fifth inning with the game tied and tossing a pair of scoreless frames. As bad as he was as a starter, Ortiz has been fairly solid since joining the bullpen, posting a 3.86 ERA in 30 1/3 innings of relief. He has also struck out 17 while issuing just three walks in that role. It's good that he's been able to step up, because Gardenhire has been forced to use him in increasingly important situations lately with Juan Rincon's plummeting performance.

Of course, the reason I said it was tough to be too enthusiastic about the game is that the offense continued with its maddening slump. Yesterday's game marked the 11th time in 20 games since the All-Star break where the Twins have scored three runs or less. By scoring two runs in the fourth yesterday, the Twins broke a 27-inning streak of failing to score multiple runs in a single inning. This team seems incapable of putting together a rally right now, and I keep wondering when it's going to find its way out of this slump. It's not happening. When one guy is hitting, three other guys aren't. When one part of the lineup is having success, another part is struggling mightily. Yesterday the 1-4 spots in the batting order went 6-for-15 with three runs and three RBI; the 5-9 spots went 2-for-15 with zero runs and zero batted in.

Today the Twins have their work cut out for them, with Fausto Carmona taking the hill for the Indians. When the Twins first faced Carmona back on April 24, the young right-hander was 0-1 with a 6.97 ERA. Since that point (including his win against the Twins that day), Carmona has gone 13-4 with a 2.97 ERA.

I'll leave you with this food for thought: over the last two weeks, the Twins averaged 2.62 runs per game. The Yankees, one of the three teams the Twins are chasing in the Wild Card race, averaged 8.46 runs per game during that span.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Grady Sizemore Show

Somehow, someway, Cleveland Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore isn't a superstar with national buzz surrounding. Maybe it's that commentators, so-called ESPN "analysts", and other writers simply don't know or aren't willing to deep dig into statistics to figure out this guy's amazing talent. After all, he did become the only player since Chuck Klein in 1930 to have 50 or more doubles, 10 or more triples, and 25 or more home runs last year. Those 53 doubles, 11 triples, and 28 home runs added up to a very impressive 92 extra-base hits.

Although his .284/.390/.479 doesn't seem quite as impressive as hitting .290/.375/.533, Sizemore has improved in two significant categories: OBP and stolen bases, as he's sixth in the AL with 28. Sizemore is not only a great overall hitter, but he's probably the best defensive center fielder around. Of course, many of you who read this blog probably already know that I'm a big fan of Sizemore, as I've lauded his talents before and I also (along with my fellow blogger Nick Nelson) predicted him to win the AL MVP this year, which would be a realistic possibility if Alex Rodriguez wasn't so good.

With that in mind, Sizemore only added another notch to his belt last night by essentially providing all the Indians offense, as Casey Blake was not credited with the fifth RBI of the game after a baserunning gaffe (not a Twin, but a former Twin -- interesting trend) caused an inning-ending double-play after the fifth run scored. Otherwise, Sizemore was a machine against Johan Santana, smacking a two-run home run to go along with two RBI singles, giving him three hits against the best pitcher in the league.

For Twins fans hoping for a good win to take their mind of recent events, it was probably unfortunate that the enigmatic Sizemore decided to show up at the park. It's also unfortunate that Santana -- known for his second-half magic -- is now 1-3 since the break and already has a career-high nine losses on the season. Santana's peripherals continue to look good and his 2.98 ERA is obviously nothing to scoff at, but he hasn't been quite the Santana we are used to in recent starts and that most assuredly has something to do with the Twins pathetic offense.

I'd love to rant more about the Twins offense, but the fact is that C.C. Sabathia is a good pitcher who was helped by Sizemore's bat and Alexi Casilla's inexperienced glove. However, Sabathia gave up eight hits in six innings with two walks for a total of 10 baserunners and only two runs scored, which means the Twins hitters obviously didn't do their jobs well. That's evidenced by the five runners left in scoring position, including two by the increasingly terrible Nick Punto. I hope Matt Garza doesn't get the same shaft, but if the offense isn't there and Sizemore is, he might run into some troubles today, even if he continues to be great on the mound.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Update: Cirillo To Arizona

According to La Velle, the Twins have traded Jeff Cirillo to the Diamondbacks for a minor-leaguer, whose identity is unknown at this time. (Update: La Velle is now reporting that the D-Backs actually claimed Cirillo off waivers, meaning that the Twins will get nothing in return.)

Why? Beats me. They needed to clear a spot on the roster for Michael Cuddyer's return from the DL, but Cirillo is certainly more valuable than, say, Luis Rodriguez.

Month in Review: July

The Twins pretty much just treaded water in July. After July 1, they were four games above .500 and 6.5 games out of first place in the AL Central. After July 31, they were four games above .500 and 6 games out of first place in the AL Central. They should consider themselves lucky to be in such a position with the way they played for much of the month. They suffered a devastating home sweep at the hands of the division-leading Tigers in the middle of July, and the next week they were swept in Toronto by the Blue Jays. Fortunately, the Twins stayed afloat thanks to a four-game sweep over the Athletics coming out of the All-Star break, and another four-game winning streak to finish the month.

July Record: 13-14
Overall Record (through 7/31): 55-51 (3rd Place in AL Central)


It was an ugly month for the Twins offense. They averaged 4.27 runs per game over the course of the month, but that number is skewed by the 32-run outbreak in their double-header against the White Sox on July 6. Take those two games out of the equation and the Twins averaged a miserable 3.29 runs over 24 games. General Manager Terry Ryan responded to this offensive ineptitude by doing nothing except dump one of the team's better hitters around the trading deadline. Sweet.

The Twins were kept afloat by their pitching staff, which was very good for the most part and downright phenomenal toward the end of the month.

A look at three players whose performances were outstanding over the past month, and three who fell bellow expectations.

Three Up:
1. Justin Morneau: .347/.391/.644, 8 HR, 28 RBI, 14 R, 1/1 SB
Somewhat quietly, Morneau had an absolutely monstrous month of July. He posted season highs for average and on-base percentage, and his .644 slugging percentage falls short only of the .667 he posted in May. The one negative with Morneau was that he struck out 16 times while drawing just six walks over the course of the month, but as long as he keeps putting up numbers like these, you won't find me complaining.

2. Scott Baker: 40.1 IP, 3-2, 4.02 ERA, 27 K/5 BB, 0.99 WHIP
The 3-2 record and 4.02 ERA may not look overly impressive, but make no mistake: Baker had a very encouraging month in July. He allowed less than a baserunner per inning and his strikeout-to-walk ratio was over 5:1, which are both excellent signs for a young pitcher. And while 4.02 may not seem like a terrific ERA, keep in mind that his May ERA was 5.94 and his June ERA was 5.64. Plus, if you take away the game in Chicago in which he allowed seven runs over five innings (a game he won anyway, thanks to some nice run support), Baker's July ERA was just 2.80.

3. Joe Nathan: 13.2 IP, 8 SV, 1.32 ERA, 11 K/1 BB, 0.68 WHIP
It's nice to see Nathan back in the form we're used to. July was Nathan's best month in almost every statistical category. He gave up only two runs, one of which was an ultimately meaningless solo homer in the last game of the month. Nathan's month-by-month walk totals since April: 4, 3, 2, 1. I like that trend.

Three Down:
1. Juan Rincon: 8 IP, 12.38 ERA, 9 K/6 BB, 2.38 WHIP
Just brutal. Rincon has been awful as of late. On the one hand, I kind of wonder whether some injury is bothering him, like what was happening with Jesse Crain earlier in the season. On the other hand, Rincon has pretty much been steadily regressing for almost three years now, so maybe this is just what he is now.

2. Carlos Silva: 37 IP, 3-3, 5.84 ERA, 12 K/7 BB, 1.43 WHIP
Silva pieced together a very nice outing in his last start of the month, but his overall numbers were still very ugly. He surrendered six home runs over 37 July innings, which, combined with the poor ERA, had him resembling Silva v. 2006.

3. Torii Hunter: .239/.297/.477, 5 HR, 11 RBI, 14 R, 0/0 SB
It's tough to be considered productive when you're getting on base less than 30 percent of the time. The power was still there for Hunter in July, as he collected 11 extra-base hits in 88 at-bats, but the run production was missing. After averaging 21 RBI over the first three months of the season, Hunter drove in just 11 in July. He's always been streaky, so this is probably nothing to worry about, but with the way this offense has been slumping, they could really use another signature hot streak from their center-fielder.

Trevor Plouffe - New Britain Rock Cats
From 2002-2004, the Twins drafted a high school position player in the first round of each draft. Those players were, in order: Denard Span, Matt Moses and Trevor Plouffe. Entering this season, it was looking like all three of those players were on the road to becoming flops, but finally there is some reason for hope. While Moses has turned things around a bit after being demoted from Rochester, the player who is really starting to draw some intrigue is Plouffe. Last year, in Ft. Myers, Plouffe hit just .244/.315/.344 with four homers, 26 doubles and eight stolen bases. In New Britain this year, he has surpassed all those numbers already in about 60 fewer at-bats. The 21-year-old shortstop prospect is currently hitting .290/.344/.440 with eight home runs, 31 doubles and 10 stolen bases. In July, Plouffe hit .310/.375/.450 with a homer, two stolen bases and 11 doubles. Good to see this promising young athlete finally catching on at the pro level.


The Twins have a chance to make up some ground in the Wild Card race this month, with six games against the current leader, Cleveland, and six more against another team ahead of the Twins in the WC standings, Seattle. Of course, to have a shot in that race, the Twins will also have to hope the Yankees falter a bit, which seems somewhat unlikely at this point. The Twins will need to take advantage of the series against lesser teams like Kansas City, Baltimore and Texas this month. Most of all, they need to start hitting!