Denard Span


Depending on who you ask, the Twins did themselves no good by not making any trades before the deadline. Some wanted a shutdown reliever and were willing to get rid of above-average center fielder Denard Span in the process. Others wanted to move one of Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, or Delmon Young and try to get the best selection of prospects in return. The problem lies in the team’s position to make a late playoff run. They are in limbo of sorts, not far enough back to sell everyone but not close enough to buy a big name guy. Either way, GM Bill Smith is right by not making a move unless it makes sense. No trades at the deadline is better than making the wrong trade(s) at the deadline; anyone remember Ramos for Matt Capps? Yeah, that.

 

The team is now in California to face the Angels, and their first starter will be ace Ervin Santana, who threw a no-hitter in his last start.

Span is also back with the team, with Luke Hughes being sent down again. Lineups have not been posted yet but I would suspect that Span will lead off and Ben Revere would get the day off.

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…)

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.

The Twins got the scoring started early, in the second inning with back-to-back doubles. Justin Morneau hit a liner off the left field wall and Jason Kubel followed with a drive to the gap in right-center to drive him in.

Also in that second inning, Denard Span got walked with the bases loaded for an RBI, and for what it’s worth I’m pretty positive that Carlos Gomez swung at would-be ball four with the bases loaded, when he popped out to the infield. Joe Mauer hit a very key two-run single that forced Oakland to make a move to their bullpen, knocking their starter out after just 1 and 2/3 innings.

Mauer would finish with a 5-for-6 night at the plate, scoring once and driving in four.

 

Kubel, Brendan Harris, Carlos Gomez, Alexi Casilla, and Morneau all had at least two hits. Morneau had four actually, two of them doubles, but he only drove in one. Casilla and Gomez each scored twice with one RBI and Harris had a run scored and an RBI.

 

Kevin Slowey pitched his heart out, allowing two runs through six innings of work. He allowed six hits and both of the runs came off a homer in the 4th inning. He struck out ten and walked one. I personally would’ve liked to see him go out for the 7th inning. He finished with 96 pitches but two of the outs he got in the 6th came via a strikeout, so I’m guessing he was still feeling pretty good.

 

Craig Breslow pitched amazing, not allowing a runner in the final three innings of the game. He struck out three and needed just 27 pitches en route to his first career save.

 

Tonight’s game is an “early” game, starting at 8:05 central time. Francisco Liriano will start for Minnesota. The key for Liriano will be to go deep into the game, something he hasn’t really been able to do since coming back to the team. Although by using just two pitchers yesterday, the bullpen should be plenty fresh.

Dennys Reyes and Boof Bonser combined for 2 and 1/3 innings of hitless baseball, needing a total of 23 pitches while both struck out two.

Craig Breslow came into the 9th inning with the game tied 2-2 and gave up a single and a sacrifice bunt. Jesse Crain came in to replace him and promptly walks the first batter he faces. With a pinch-hitter announced, a meeting was held on the mound…but it didn’t work. A double would score the winning run, and thus end the game. Breslow was charged with the run and the loss (his second on the year).

 

Although, the offense was pretty horrible. Only five hits were collected, two of them doubles and the rest singles. Alexi Casilla, Denard Span, and Nick Punto all had a stolen base.

 

Nick Blackburn again couldn’t finish an inning that he started. On the year, he’s got ten starts where he only recorded one or two outs in his final inning.

 

Don’t be surprised to see Jason Kubel basically limited to pinch-hitting duties in the Oakland series, because all the starters he’d face are lefties and Ron Gardenhire has a fear of putting Kubel in against lefties. Well, maybe it’s his .216 batting average against them this season. As much as I’d like to see Kubel in there, hopefully Randy Ruiz can show that he’s worth something and put up some decent numbers in California.

Some notes from the Mariners series:

  • Minnesota was only able to win one game out of the three they played against one of the worst teams in baseball, and even that game almost got out of hand.
  • Joe Nathan had his fourth blown save of the year, but long-time Twin Eddie Guardado is back with the club. He pitched the 8th inning twice against Seattle, his first outing being spectacular while his second outing left a little to be desired. He nearly gave up the 2-run lead by giving up back-to-back doubles and then a single. If it weren’t for Denard Span‘s game-saving bullet to home plate to nab the runner, the lead would’ve been gone.
  • Glen Perkins picked up his 12th win of the season and is now 12-3 on the year with a 3.96 ERA. I honestly think that both he and Span will get at least one vote for ROY nominations. Span’s impact has been phenomenal, both as a leadoff hitter and a RF. And Perkins, despite his unspectacular ERA and WHIP numbers, continues to keep the Twins in the ballgame and that’s seen by his W-L record.
  • A 4-game series against Oakland, the worst team since the All-Star Break, is next on the schedule. It’s very vital that Minnesota takes at least 3 out of the 4 games. I’m continually amazed at how this team can split a series with the Angels, the team with the second-best record in all of baseball, and then lose two of three to virtually the worst team in baseball.
  • The A’s will be sending four consecutive lefties to the mound against us, while we have Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, Francisco Liriano, and Scott Baker, in that order, trying to give us a win. Game times are (Central) 9:05, 9:05, 8:05, and 3:05. I don’t quite know why they can’t just start right on the hour.

I have to admit, I quit watching after the 4th or 5th inning. Not that the Twins were playing poorly, but it got so late that I decided to go to bed. But I continued to get the text updates, saying that all the innings had ended in a tie. Until the 12th. I get a message saying that the Twins had scored a run in the 12th, and I assumed Joe Nathan would come in later in the bottom of the inning…which he did, and he successfully recorded his 35th save of the year. In fact, look at this interesting note about closers, ERA, saves, and the last 50 years of baseball.

Lowest ERA and 35+ Saves Last 50 Seasons:

 

Year Player ERA Saves
1990 Dennis Eckersley 0.61 48
2006 Jonathan Papelbon 0.92 35
2008 Joe Nathan 0.98 35
2003 John Smoltz 1.12 35

 

 

I only hope Joe can keep up this pace and move into second all-time. I have a feeling that a 0.61 is impossible to surpass.

 

Nick Punto hit a triple in the 12th inning, and the ball apparently went off Torii Hunter‘s gold glove. “I expect to catch that ball. I’ve got to catch that,” said Hunter, of Punto’s deep drive. It proved to be the winning run when Denard Span hit a liner down the right-field line for an RBI single.

 

Scott Baker pitched outstanding, going eight innings and allowing just four hits with one run. He walked two and struck out six, but Jesse Crain was the pitcher of record for Minnesota, notching his 5th win of the year.

 

Matt Guerrier pitched in a clutch situation, going two innings and only giving up one hit. Although he did walk two and only struck out one, the important thing is that he didn’t give up any runs that would’ve lost the game. He needs to do anything to improve his confidence at this point of the season.

 

Carlos Gomez had a key RBI single in the 5th inning that tied the game. He, like Guerrier, needs anything to boost his confidence. And Gomez was all smiles when he got the hit, hopefully that means he will start playing a little looser and be able to just have fun out there.

 

Tonight’s game starts at 9 PM again so expect a later blog post tomorrow.

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