Ron Gardenhire


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…)

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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.

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.

Nick Blackburn allowed a solo homer on the very first pitch of the game, and the A’s never really looked back. Blackburn would also allow a two-run single in the 4th inning, but he still pitched a very good game. He was able to last eight innings, something that’s very welcomed by the bullpen. Four of the six hits he allowed were singles, but he had some control issues in that 4th inning and finished with two walks and two strikeouts, all while throwing 66 of his 99 pitches for strikes. Apparently he “locked in” after giving up the two-run single and retired eleven of the final fifteen batters he faced.

 

Offensively for the Twins, nothing happened until the 8th inning. You could blame it on being unprepared; Oakland’s starter left after just 2 and 2/3 innings pitched, with pain in his right hip. Fresh call-up Kirk Saarloos came in and allowed just three singles and struck out three in 3 and 2/3 innings of relief.

 

The 8th inning provided some excitement, and hope. Denard Span led off the inning with a sharp single, but Nick Punto flew out right after that. Joe Mauer, Minnesota’s hero, hit a ball that ended up bouncing off the left field wall, even though it didn’t look like he had hit it very far. Span scored easily, and Mauer wanted to stretch it into a triple. The left fielder’s throw hit Mauer as he slid into the base and caromed into the Twins dugout, resulting in an advance of one base because the ball went out of play. The final scoring on the play was an RBI triple with a run scored because of an error. Justin Morneau followed with a sharp single of his own, and nearly every armchair manager was screaming for Carlos Gomez to come in and pinch-run. It was simple, really. Gomez replaces Morneau and Mike Lamb would come in to play first base for the 9th inning (and any subsequent innings, if necessary.) Then you have the option of sending Gomez to second, or possibly doing a hit-and-run with the pull-happy Jason Kubel at the plate. The non-move proved costly, as Kubel grounded into a double play to end the threat, and inning.

Not that Delmon Young‘s pathetic 9th inning at-bat helped matters. He swung and missed on the first two fastballs, then made lucky contact to foul off the next two pitches before a feeble half-swing at a slider that was caught in the middle of the left-handed batter’s box. I don’t like to rag on a single player like that, because even the great Mauer or MVP Morneau can have bad at-bats. But Delmon is the one player I can watch and have absolutely no hope that he’ll do anything good with the bat. He has no patience and can’t field very well (as seen by the ball that fell out of his glove and the ball that bounced over his glove last night. He was luckily only charged with one error.) I have faith that he’ll be a key member to our team in the future, I just wish he’d show some signs of improvement.

 

Speaking of improvement, I heard a nice quote about Gomez. When he found out he wasn’t in the starting lineup, he said something to Ron Gardenhire that was along the lines of “that’s o.k. coach, I’ll play whenever and wherever you need me to,” which is a hint to me that he may be maturing just a tad bit.

 

Adam Everett had to leave the game after taking a Nick Punto foul ball to his hand. He has a “deep bruise” and it isn’t known whether or not he’ll be able to play tonight.

 

It’s well-documented that Minnesota’s bullpen has struggled lately. I cringe every time I see Brian Bass warming up near the left field seats. Speak with any person that has seen me cringe and they’ll tell you how I’m convinced Bass should wear a white flag underneath his cap, because his coming into the game is the signal of surrender.

Anyway, Al Reyes was released by the Rays yesterday, and might be an option for the team. He collected 26 saves last year for Tampa Bay and currently has a 4.37 ERA in relief this season. Before you shout “A 4.37 ERA is horrible for a reliever!” in disgust at me, please note that if acquired, Reyes’ ERA would put him as our 5th-best man in the pen; ahead of our supposed setup “ace”, Matt Guerrier, and Gardy’s love child, Mr. Bass. One more rant on Bass: he seriously has no ML talent whatsoever. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but he literally has shown nothing to prove that he belongs with the big boys. At least Boof as had some flashes of dominance.

 

Alexi Casilla was 1-for-3 in a rehab start last night, and he hopes to be back to the team by the end of the month.

 

I am fortunate enough to have a ticket for tonight’s game, and will be attending in my beloved Kubel jersey. Look for me in either section 232 or 233 (I can’t remember), row 11, and either seat 7, 8, or 9. Oh yeah, it’s in the upper deck, because it’s apart of the All You Can Eat Seats promotion…I’ll let you know how that works out.

Glen Perkins pitched his 9th Quality Start of the year, holding Detroit to just 2 runs over 6 and 2/3 innings. One of the runs came from a sacrifice fly, the other from an RBI single. He allowed a total of 6 hits, a combination of 3 doubles and 3 singles. He walked and struck out the same amount of batters (2) and was in real trouble only once, in the 7th. He loaded the bases with 1 out, gave up the sac fly, and was pulled in favor of Jesse Crain. Yes it panned out, but I don’t know that I necessarily agree with pulling Perkins when he was only at 85 pitches and had 2 outs with runners on first and second.

Crain made things a little interesting, throwing two 95-mph fastballs for strikes, then a breaking ball that landed in front of home plate, and finally got Carlos Guillen to fly out to (deep) center field.

Matt Guerrier came in next and frankly it took me by surprise. He’s generally considered our best reliever, but I didn’t expect both he and Crain (although Jesse only threw 4 pitches) would pitch on back-to-back nights. Nevertheless, Guerrier used 13 pitches to make it a quick inning that included 2 strikeouts.

The ever-dominant Joe Nathan notched his 26th save in 28 chances, successfully lowering his season ERA to a ridiculous 1.16. It might surprise you to find out that his ERA is only third-best out of all pitchers with at least 37 innings pitched. It also might sound ridiculous that I used 37 IP as a benchmark, but there are three closers right next to each other as far as ERA is concerned, and the lowest IP total is 37, making that the easiest choice.

 

Offensively, the star was easily Nick Punto. He had an RBI double early in the game, to tie it, and a sac fly a couple innings later to give the Twins a lead. Delmon Young would have a sac fly of his own in the next inning, and it proved to be key as Detroit scored a run on a sac fly of their own in the bottom half of the inning. I think I just said sac fly more in this paragraph than I have in the history of the blog, but when 3/5 of the runs scored in a game are by way of the sacrificial fly ball…you gotta do what you gotta do.

 

I have to say there was a questionable managerial move by Ron Gardenhire late in the game. Well, at least it seemed questionable at the time: pinch-hitting Brendan Harris, a right-handed batter, for Brian Buscher, a lefty, to face a left-handed pitcher. It didn’t bother me until FSN was more than willing to show us the splits for Harris: a .218/.269/.299 hitting line against lefties. I thought to myself, “This is ridiculous. Buscher has to have better numbers than that!”

Well, he doesn’t. Buscher has a flashy .143 batting average against lefties this season, albeit in minimal at-bats (14). Have no fear though, two other pinch-hit options (Craig Monroe, Mike Lamb) would’ve been even worse! Monroe has a .450 OPS against LH pitchers (for example, the average AL hitter had a .781 OPS in 2007) while Lamb has just 2 hits in 27 at-bats against southpaws. The only bench player that could’ve pinch-hit, and would’ve been an upgrade statistically (other than Harris) is Mike Redmond, who has 10 hits in 37 at-bats versus left-handers. Even then, Harris would’ve had to come in the game as a defensive replacement, because I’m pretty sure Red Dog would be an inept third baseman (edit: for what it’s worth, he has 2 career innings played at 3B).

 

Carlos Gomez was 0-for-5 yesterday and that only adds to his current 0-for-17 slump. He’s got just 7 hits in the entire month of July (a .184 batting average) and a horrendous 2:12 BB:K ratio. We can only hope that he will come back after the All-Star Break energized (wait, it might be impossible for Carlos to not be energized) but at the very least, refreshed and ready to get on a hot streak. Denard Span is making a great case to be deemed our new lead off man, who is carrying a .474 OBP into today’s game. Even though the numbers are there, it will never happen and for a couple of reasons. One, Gomez scares pitchers in a way. They never know what he’s going to do, and he gives pitchers an extra thing to worry about when he does get on base. Secondly, I have a feeling that Gardy likes Span hitting 9th because it gives them that “two leadoff guys in a row” lineup (you could actually make a case to have Alexi Casilla added to that to make it three) which worked so well for the piranhas in 2006.

 

Like I said previously, I’m now off on a week-long vacation with no Internet access. I’ll still be sure to watch every game and when I get back, I hope to just do a short summary of how every Twin fared during the week. Although there won’t be too much, considering the All-Star Break is right around the corner.

Glen Perkins said it himself:

I gave up 10 hits today, but nine of them were singles … But it’s avoiding that big inning by not giving up that big hit with guys on base. Let them chip away, get a single here, a single there, get a guy out. They are going to score runs, so it’s just trying to minimize those innings.”

And he’s right. Nick Blackburn has a WHIP of 1.41 but has managed to keep a very respectable 3.87 ERA, in large part because most of the hits Nick allows are singles. It’s tough to compare Perkins to anybody because he has about half the innings pitched as other starters who have been pitching the whole year have, but let’s take Johan Santana for example. Santana’s allowed 96 hits, but 33 have been extra-base hits (XBH), giving him an XBHA% of 34.3 (XBHA% meaning the percentage of his hits allowed that go for extra bases). Perkins, allowing 69 hits with 21 of them going for extras, has an XBHA% of 30.4. Are you confused? I hope so, because I wrote that and it confuses me. If you have any logical, sane way to describe what I just tried to, by all means please explain it in the comments section.

 

The team had another great night offensively, but they were helped again by the Nationals’ tough time in the field. Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel each had a double and a triple, and they each scored two runs, but the only difference was that Cuddy drove in two while Kubel had just one RBI. Cuddyer also had two great catches that saved probably one run, but possibly more. He attributed the catches to his lack of athleticism, saying they looked that good because he wasn’t fast enough to get under it. It’s good to see he has a sense of humor, which probably goes hand-in-hand with how he has been hitting in the month of June. His line is currently at .304/.409/.945  in 18 June games.

Joe Mauer, Brian Buscher, and Brendan Harris all joined them in the two-hit club, with Buscher getting two RBI and raising his average to .375.

 

Delmon Young and Alexi Casilla were the only Twins to go hitless, but Casilla had a sac fly for his 24th RBI of the year. He also got caught stealing and made a fielding error, and could’ve easily been charged with another one. We have to hope it doesn’t rattle him too bad and that he can rebound nicely against the D-Backs.

In Seth Stohs’ recap of the second game in this series, he mentioned Kubel as playing with confidence and trying to hit the ball hard every time up. Generally you can relate hitting the ball hard to line drives, and Kubel’s LD% (Line Drive Percentage) is actually way down this year. For instance, last year his LD% was 22.1%, and in 2004 before his injury it was 23.1%. So far this year his is just 15.9%, which indicates to me that he’s yet to start hitting like he normally does. No matter what you think of his performance last year (I stand by my statement that he was our best hitter after the All-Star Break), he still ended up with 31 doubles. Considering the average player in the AL only had about 20 doubles, and factor in that Kubel didn’t even get a full-season’s worth of at-bats, I’d say that’s pretty good. Coming to my conclusion though, he has just 7 two-baggers so far this season. If he were to get the same amount of ABs this year as he did last (418), he’s on pace for just 13 doubles. On the other hand, he’s on pace to increase his HR production by 54%. He had 13 last year and is on pace for 20 this season. But you know what’s encouraging? Kubel had this to say after the game:

I’m starting to feel a lot better, starting to feel like I did at the end of last year and before I got hurt”

and it just gives me hope, as a Kubel fan, that he’ll crush what he’s on pace for and actually finish the year as the team’s second- or third-best hitter (depending on the parameters you want to use). Obviously Mauer is going to lead the team in average, while Justin Morneau will most likely lead in homers (with Kubel as his only competitor), but overall I think Kubel is right there with those guys, ahead of Cuddyer too.

 

One last thing I want to touch on is how great Craig Breslow has been for the Twins. In 8 games (8 and 2/3 IP) he’s allowed just three hits, all of which came in his June 3rd outing against Baltimore. Still, they were all singles, and he hasn’t allowed a run yet as a Twin. He’s also sporting a 9:2 K:BB ratio and, yes it’s true he hasn’t really pitched in high-leverage situations (pitching the ninth inning in a 9-3 game is probably fairly easy), he’s shown that he can handle the best situations with ease. I’m hoping that Ron Gardenhire is realizing that too, and maybe we’ll start to see Craig in roles that Juan Rincon used to get.

 

Tonight’s game starts at 7:10 and it should be a great one, with team ace Scott Baker against future Hall-of-Famer Randy Johnson.

Kevin Slowey crafted his second straight Quality Start, after allowing eight runs on ten hits in just three innings back on June 8th. This time he allowed a total of seven hits, six for singles, over six innings of work. The one hit that wasn’t a single was a homer, luckily just a solo, in the 5th inning. It’d be one of the two runs the Nationals would score. Slowey walked two but also struck out four, helped his cause with a pick off,  and was relieved by Jesse Crain. The same Jesse Crain that had a 4.50 ERA exactly one month ago, the same Jesse that has since brought his ERA down to 2.93 with a great month of June. It’s not yet over but to this point he’s allowed just four hits in ten and 2/3 innings of work. The only run he’s allowed this month came on a solo homer in that horrible White Sox series a week ago. It’s nice that he’s been able to take over the “go-to reliever if Matt Guerrier has pitched recently” role with ease.

Speaking of go-to, or rather who not to go to, Juan Rincon declined his assignment to AAA and elected to become a free agent. Good riddance, and I’ll leave it at that.

 

On to the offensive side of last night’s game, well where to start? Every player who had a chance to bat ended up scoring a run, with Alexi Casilla and Michael Cuddyer being the only hitters to not get a hit. Brendan Harris had a double and a triple but got just one RBI and one run scored. He also made a fielding error, just his first at SS this season, and it seems like he feels a lot more comfortable over there than at second. Not to mention, Casilla’s doing pretty dang well on the right side of the diamond.

Justin Morneau provided the big hits, tallying three RBI with his two singles. Brian Buscher drove in two with a single of his own, in the 9th. Buscher’s hitting .333 in just 21 at-bats this season, but expect to see more of him soon. According to my good friend Thor Nystrom, who talks to players and coaches to get the good dirt, Ron Gardenhire is planning on using the “three-headed…third baseman” approach. I don’t think Mike Lamb, Matt Macri, and Buscher can combine into a lion, or dragon, or some super-human being, so we have to settle with a three-headed third baseman. Hey, it scores us points in the “which team has the best oddities?” category. Lamb hasn’t met expectations, offensively, at all, so it doesn’t bother me too much to try out Macri and Buscher at the hot corner.

 

Delmon Young had a pretty interesting night, getting outs in his first two at-bats on a total of two pitches. Yet, in his next two at-bats, he saw a total of eight pitches and drew two walks. If you want to discuss the possible outcomes of an at-bat, Delmon’s first four (or, at least, one out of each pair of two) pretty much cover the most extreme circumstances. For what it’s worth, in his last at-bat he hit his 13th double of the year down the right-field line, scoring two garbage runs (the score was 9-1 after his hit).

 

The team was also helped by three Washington errors and a total of seven walks.

 

My plan for the three boxes on the right-hand sidebar is to update them each at the end of a series, because it gets surprisingly difficult to keep up with it daily, and one update every three or four games can still give you a good idea of how they’re doing it.

 

The Twins, back at .500, go for a sweep of the Nats today with Glen Perkins taking the mound. The game starts at 12:10 but check for the Twins Squeeze Play later on tonight, with a 30-minute condensed version of the game.

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