Sure it’s a cliché title but after Joe Mauer‘s first home run of the season that came in the 1st inning with 2 outs, the Twins never looked back and sailed to a relatively stress-free victory. (more…)
July 28, 2011
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July 26, 2011
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It was another high-scoring game, this time with more suspense, that thankfully ended with the Twins on top. For a minute there I thought we were headed for another snoozer in which the Rangers of Texas (no relation to Walker, the Texas Ranger) would rack up a giant score against our fragile pitching staff.
Luckily, the Twins clawed back and slowly but surely gained the victory to remain 7 games back of Detroit. Minnesota actually led Texas 3-2 going into the bottom of the 4th, but the Rangers put up a 5-spot in the frame to take a 7-3 lead. (more…)
July 26, 2011
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Umm would be a good way to describe that picture, as in “Umm…why is #5 throwing from the mound?” Umm is also used in place of an actual title, because it’s tough to find words to describe the Twins game from last night. The end result: 27 hits and 20 runs for the Rangers. 11 hits and 6 runs for your hometown team. The Twins committed 3 errors if you look at the boxscore, but one can make an argument that there was actually 4 or even 5.
Offensive highlights for the Twins would be Jason Kubel‘s homer in the 8th inning. He absolutely crushed it, and also had a solid single up the middle. It’s no secret he’s my favorite Twin and he continues to be a consistent hitter in the middle of the order. Jason Repko, Delmon Young, and Danny Valencia each added two hits as well, with Young and Valencia getting a double and a single. Although Tsuyoshi Nishioka went hitless, he didn’t strike out! You can see I’m grasping for something here.
Pitching highlights for the Twins: ________________
You can see I left that space blank, because there really isn’t a highlight. At all. The bright spot of the game only happened because the team was looking at a 15-run deficit with one inning to go. So the manager did the only sensible thing and turned to super utility player Michael Cuddyer to pitch. And, quite frankly, he pitched well…for an All-Star right fielder/first baseman. Sure he walked a guy and gave up two hits, but nobody scored (one of just two innings in which the Rangers failed to score). But the leadoff batter hit a double to the gap, and if Alexi Casilla could have fielded the throw cleanly, the runner probably would have been tagged out at second. The next batter “singled” into shallow left center, even though the ball only dropped due to a communication error by Nishi and Repko. Unfortunately there were no swing-and-misses, at all, by the Rangers, which is surprising considering that Cuddyer’s sinker/cutter/fastball had more movement on them than most of the other pitches thrown by our professional pitchers. I think the best part of it all is that Cuddyer came to bat in the top of the 9th, as a pitcher, and reached on an error.
The simple fact is, Carl Pavano needs to go deep in the ballgame tonight for our Twins to even have a chance. I’m sure long reliever Anthony Swarzak may be available this time around, but we can’t keep relying on a bullpen that boasts the league’s second-worst ERA.
View Cuddyer’s entire pitching performance here, if you’d like.
July 25, 2011
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After ending the first half of the season with a 9-3 record, getting a rejuvenated Joe Nathan as the team’s closer, and looking forward to Delmon Young and Jason Kubel to make a return, it was easy for Minnesota Twins fans to be positive after the All-Star Break. And by starting the second half with 12 straight games at home and against division rivals, it was an especially appealing way to continue the surge towards first place. But instead of gaining ground, the team went 5-6 and actually lost some ground on the Detroit Tigers. The starting pitching has been inconsistent, our relievers have actually been acceptable, but some of the spark that the team once had seems to have vanished.
Before yesterday’s game, in which he went 0-for-3 with a walk, leadoff man Ben Revere had only reached base three times in his last 28 at-bats. He currently sports a .249 batting average, which truthfully could be very acceptable for a CF that plays good defense and can steal some bases, except…to go along with that he has an on-base percentage of just .287. I do believe that he gets quite a bit of slack for being a rookie, and can only imagine that his plate discipline and ability to get on base will improve with more experience. With his current pace, he’d draw between 20-25 walks in a full season (close to Delmon’s numbers). And that is not acceptable for a leadoff hitter. I still think Denard Span is our leadoff hitter upon his return, and could see Revere going down to the 9-hole because that keeps the speed at top and bottom of the lineup, like Gardy likes, but also allows him to generally be in less-important situations and can give him some time to keep improving. Speaking of the 9-hole…
Tsuyoshi Nishioka had a career year last season in Japan, but I was still very excited for his arrival. Playing in just 6 games before the middle of June due to a broken leg, he didn’t get the chance to start out slow like a lot of Twins players typically do each season. When he came back from injury is when the Twins started winning more games and his production both on offense and defense became vital, especially with his infield counterpart Alexi Casilla tearing it up. Instead, Nishioka has been a major disappointment, both offensively and defensively. Some have questioned whether he should even be playing shortstop, opting for the more casual second base instead. Nishi is hitting a respectable .270 in the month of July, but like Revere has struggles getting on base with his .293 OBP for the season. But the alarming statistic is that after yesterday’s hitless performance, Tsuyoshi now has struck out 31 times on the year while amassing just 30 hits. This is a very alarming number that suggests Nishi hasn’t been able to get solid reads on MLB pitchers yet. But the question becomes, How long will Gardy stick with him? Earlier indications pointed to a very long leash, but with Trevor Plouffe performing superbly in AAA and getting the call up, does he deserve a chance to start again? His possible talent goes mostly wasted by sitting on the bench. It’s a tough situation for Twins fans to deal with, as well. He hasn’t been very solid defensively like he was supposed to be. I understand that Ichiro and Nishi are very different players, but the whole “coming to play MLB from Japan transitional phase” thing can’t apply to our 2B. Ichiro had a .350 batting average in his first year stateside, and although that was his average while playing in Japan, Nishioka’s past certainly indicates that he would be a better hitter than he has been thus far.
One of the reasons it was important to get off to a good start in the second half, other than the obvious AL Central matchups, is that now they head west for a 10-game road trip in which they take on the Rangers, Athletics, and Angels. Although the Twins have beaten the Rangers 3 out of 4 times this season, Texas sports a 14-3 record dating back to before the All-Star Break and have some absolute mashers for hitters. The Angels have a fantastic pitching staff that I feel could cause some big issues for our lineup, and Oakland is…well, Oakland.
At any rate, I predict a split in the series against Texas. I think Nick Blackburn will give us a good performance tonight and that Brian Duensing will rebound and get a W on Wednesday night. Carl Pavano could be outpitched by All Star C.J. Wilson and Scott Baker may struggle pitching outside of Target Field. Only time will tell.
July 19, 2011
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After the Twins won the last two games against KC, they laid an egg against Cleveland in the first two games of that series. Highlights from the first game, which ended with a score of 5-2:
Anthony Swarzak turning in a quality start, going 6 innings and giving up 4 total runs, but only 3 were earned.
Jose Mijares went two innings without giving up any hits. That is a very encouraging performance based on a few of the stats, but when you dig down deeper he threw 35 total pitches and just 19 were balls. He has struggled with control this year and pitching coach Rick Anderson really needs to work with Jose to get him back to his effective self.
Michael Cuddyer hit his team-leading 14th homer of the year, although it came in the bottom of the ninth inning when the Twins were already down 5-0. I still think he’s above his career averages for hitting, and will come back down to earth at some point this season. If that ends up being the case, the team’s win/loss record during his hot streak will be crucial for their final standing in the Central division.
Probably the only lowlight would be Matt Capps coming into the 9th (again, with the Twins down by 5 runs), and giving up a homerun to a pinch-hitter who has a .331 slugging percentage for the season. He really needs to start having outings where he is effective, to prove he can come back to be a successful reliever for us at some point.
The second game was a little more exciting, with the two teams actually tied at 2 runs apiece after the 6th inning. But Cleveland scored 2 runs in both the 7th and 9th innings to win 6-3.
Ben Revere had a forgettable day at the plate, combining to go 0-for-9 with no walks but also no strikeouts. He is still a very exciting player on the basepaths as well as in the field, so days like that at the plate just have to be accepted. Not everyone can go 3-for-4 in both games of a doubleheader like catcher/1B Joe Mauer did. He had a run-saving defensive play at first base in the first game, and also threw out a runner from behind the plate in the second game. I really like his defense at first but it’s obvious he’s the team’s catcher. I’m just happy he was able to play both games in full.
Scott Diamond, who got called up just yesterday, made his first Major League start in the second game of the doubleheader. He actually pitched pretty well I think. His breaking balls had good movement and although his fastball seemed to top out at 89 or 90 mph, he walked 2 and struck out 1 but most important is that he went 6 and 1/3 innings and gave up just 3 earned runs. He kept the team in the game and that’s what mattered most.
A lot of bloggers and fans have been clamoring to get pitcher Chuck James back up with the Major League club, and they all got his wish yesterday when he pitched the final inning in the second game. He showed fans why the Twins were possibly hesitant to recall him, as he threw 30 pitches to record all 3 outs and allowed 3 hits, 2 runs, and also committed a balk in the process. He doesn’t throw faster than 88 or 89 mph, has little to no movement on his breaking pitches, and really has no reason to be on the team in the first place. He’s been out of the Majors since he gave up 30 runs in 29 and 2/3 innings in 2008 with the Braves. At this point the bullpen is in such shambles that another bad pitcher coming into relief hardly even matters at this point.
Francisco Liriano tries to right the ship tonight in the third game against Cleveland.
July 17, 2011
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Of course I time the re-boot of my blog to match up with me going on vacation for a week with very spotty internet service. I’ll do my best to watch most of the games and get some decent feedback but I can’t make any guarantees.
The Twins were able to win the third and fourth games of the KC series, escaping with two 4-3 wins with their “new” closer Joe Nathan. It was announced before the game on Saturday that Nathan had replaced Matt Capps as the team’s closer. I support the decision, trying to make it well-known that I was not a fan of Capps anymore. However I wanted to see Glen Perkins get a shot at the role instead. Some people are saying that Perkins can’t be the closer because that would leave only Jose Mijares as the team’s lefty specialist. The problem with that, is I feel like Gardenhire doesn’t properly use “lefty specialists” anyway. But Perk was solid in relief again in today’s game, using 15 pitches to retire the side with a strikeout. Joe Nathan picked up his second save in as many days, using just 9 pitches for his 5th save of the year. Alex Burnett came into the game in the 7th to relieve Brian Duensing. Burnett recorded two outs; using just two pitches in the process.
Jim Thome‘s 596th dinger of the year was the savior for Minnesota, a 3-run shot that put the team up by a 4-1 score at the time. The top of the lineup did the team a big solid as well, with Ben Revere, Alexi Casilla, and Joe Mauer combining to go 6-for-10 with a walk and an RBI, and each of the three guys scored a run too.
The team plays a doubleheader Monday against Cleveland, with Anthony Swarzak and Scott Diamond getting the starts.
July 15, 2011
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It was a game of stumbles this evening, as the Twins fell to the Royals 2-1. Things were slow going, if you’re a fan of high-scoring games, or they were perfect, if you’re an old-fashioned baseball fan, for the first three and a half innings. Then the flashiness of Ben Revere came to the plate and knocked the team’s first hit, a single. After a few pitches to Alexi Casilla, Revere successfully stole second. Casilla grounded out but advanced Revere to third in the process. With Joe Mauer at the plate, the Royals’ pitcher bounced a pitch in the dirt that ricocheted off the catcher’s gear and allowed Revere an easy chance to score the first run of the game. Revere has been a fantastic call-up, providing a much-needed spark at the top of the lineup. Revere owned both of the Twins’ hits, in fact, until bottom of the 7th inning. Revere’s second hit was a line-drive into the right field corner and Ben rocketed around the bases, eventually ending up on third base for a triple. The best part, though, is that Revere did a full somersault halfway between second and third base, but he got up immediately and kept trucking to slide into third.
If anyone saw Gardy’s postgame press conference, you would have seen him talk about how the loss isn’t placed on Matt Capps, and the offense was more to blame. In Capps’ defense, the team mustered a whopping three hits before the 9th inning came around. The offense also had opportunities in the 9th, with a runner on third base and only one out, but they failed to get pinch-runner Matt Tolbert home. I guess technically Tolbert has himself to blame for not scoring, since he ran home on contact from a half-bunt by Luke Hughes and got thrown out by a distance most likely similar to his height. Regardless of all that, though, the fact of the matter remains: the team had a lead in the 9th inning and failed to come away with a win. The inning tipped to the negative side of the scale right from the start, when Capps walked the leadoff batter on four pitches. Capps then recorded two outs (the second one being a very hard-hit linedrive) but surrendered a go-ahead, two-run dinger to fresh big leaguer Eric Hosmer. It’s Capps’ 7th blown save of the season and frankly should not close for this ballclub any more. He can’t be trusted when it matters the most. Whether something may be physically wrong with him (refer to the 2 strikeouts in the last month stat from yesterday’s post) or mentally wrong with him (the fact that he cannot seem to close a game to save his job), he can’t be relied on anymore. Joe Nathan has shown a lot of improvement as of late, and although I know some fans may want to see him close again, I’d prefer to see Glen Perkins get the spot instead. He has been dominant in his newfound role as a reliever and he seems to have accepted that role with a confidence that would work in late-game situations. Listening to 1500 ESPN radio after the game, I got some great information regarding starting pitcher Nick Blackburn. He pitched very well, going 7 innings and only giving up 4 hits. However, in his final inning pitched, it was a 1-2-3 inning in which he threw a measly 6 pitches. It was an interesting move by the manager, because he certainly earned a chance at throwing in the 8th as well. Regardless of how he performed there, it was still almost a certainty that Capps would have pitched the 9th, but it’s an interesting scenario anyway. On to some positives, other than Revere’s good night at the plate:
Danny Valencia had a nice diving stop at third base in the first inning to record the final out of the frame. He is a very solid defender at the hot corner, even with his 7 throwing errors on the year.
Delmon Young continued his good hitting with a solid double to left center as one of his two hits on the night. When he hit the ball, his swing made such good contact that I thought the ball would travel to the outfielders very quickly and Delmon wouldn’t be able to advance, but he trotted into second base without needing to slide. He saw just 8 pitches throughout his 4 at-bats, but I’ve come to accept that Delmon simply will not be patient at the plate. And as fans, we have to deal with it because it does not seem like he will change his approach at this point. I can’t fault him, as long as the approach continues to be successful for him.
Carl Pavano looks to get his 7th win of the year tonight in the 3rd game of 4 against the Royals.
July 15, 2011
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It was a rocky start to the second half of the season for Francisco Liriano and batterymate Joe Mauer. In the first inning, a wild pitch got away from Mauer, allowing a run to score. In Mauer’s attempt to dish the ball back to Liriano, it skipped away and allowed another run to score. In Liriano’s defense, Mauer’s throw was absolutely terrible and he honestly had no reason to even toss the ball back home. Luckily it would prove to be a non-factor.
The Royals actually held a 3-0 lead heading into the bottom of the 5th, but the two-out Twins just happened to show up at that point. After a pop up and ground out by Alexi Casilla and Mauer, Mr. All-Star Michael Cuddyer drew a walk. Danny Valencia then added on to his team-leading RBI number with a double to score Cuddy. Delmon Young, in his first game back from a DL stint, smacked his second double of the game (en route to a 3-for-4 evening) to score Valencia. Then it was Trevor Plouffe‘s turn, a born-again utility man who has found his love for baseball again. He launched a home run to left field and frankly picked up where he left off at AAA. He would also single and walk during the game, hopefully giving us Twins fans some hope that he can be a solid offensive contributor down the stretch.
Thanks need to go out to the atrocious KC Royals pitching staff. Their starter, Bruce Chen, never threw faster than 84 mph. He also threw over to first base a total of 14 times – just when it was Casilla on first. In the Twins’ other scoring inning, the 7th, they scored two runs via a bases loaded walk and a bases loaded hit-by-pitch. Kudos to Ben Revere and Casilla for being troopers at the plate during that time.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka, our wonderful Japanese import, committed his seventh error of the season last night. I think I’m part of a small group that frankly isn’t too concerned with his poor defense. I feel like things will come around for him in time, and I think people forget that this is basically just his second month playing in the Major Leagues. He will adjust, and be a solid player. Already in July he’s posting a .324 batting average paired with a .425 on-base percentage. I don’t believe that he will be close to those numbers all season, but it is still encouraging to see him hitting the ball well when the team is trying to make a run at first place.
I leave you with a couple of interesting tidbits, found on Twitter (which is a fantastic invention, by the way. Follow me @tntryan for awesome baseball updates.)
From Nick, at Nick’s Twins Blog (@nnelson9) - “Since June 17th — about one calendar month — Matt Capps has struck out two hitters. Unbelievable.”
And from Parker Hageman at Over The Baggy (@overthebaggy) – “Liriano held a 13.00 K/BB ratio against lefties last year (52/4). That’s down to 1.50 K/BB this year (18/12).”
Very late edit: Plouffe is starting in RF tonight, further proving his willingness to be the best super-utility player this side of the Mississippi.
July 13, 2011
We all know the numbers. On June 1st, the Twins were a whopping 16.5 games behind Cleveland in the AL Central division. Now, about a month and a half and 35 games later, the Twins have advanced past the Royals (no shock there) to sit 4th in the division, just 6.5 games behind Detroit.
The issue with the team, other than injuries which cannot be controlled, has to be their bullpen. While trotting out names like Hughes, Hacker, and Hoey (alliteration not intended), the Twins have racked up a 5.01 ERA on the season for relief situations. That’s good for…well, it’s good for absolute last in all of the Majors, and nearly half a run higher than the second-to-last team (which happens to be the Tigers, by the way.) In fact, the team doesn’t even have two relievers with sub-4.00 ERAs. Glen Perkins has shined in his newly-acquired relief role, posting a 1.87 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 33 and 2/3 IP. And although Joe Nathan has come around lately, he still has a little bit to go to prove that he is back to his old, dominant self. Jose Mijares’ walk rate has ballooned much like his weight and he is now our second-best option as a lefty reliever. If Capps can get his head on straight, and return to his form from last year when he had as many blown saves (6) in 48 chances as he does this year in just 21 chances, we have a great shot at winning the division.
And let me remind you that if the Twins win the division, it’s more of a testament to how weak the Central is this year rather than how great the Twins are. The next 12 games for your hometown team are all at the sophomore stadium, Target Field. The best part about that is all 12 games are also games within the Central division – four against Kansas City, four against Cleveland, and four against Detroit. It will be a very important stretch for the club this season and should give us some serious ideas as to how the team will turn out come the end of September.
July 11, 2011
Exciting news coming your way very soon, TNT fans.