Scott Baker


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.

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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.

First, my notes from Tuesday’s 13-2 shellacking:

  • I had a general idea that Denard Span was fast, but watching him run full speed in person changed my mind into thinking that he’s actually really, really fast. I’m referring to the play in which he didn’t catch a foul ball (it landed out of play) but he ran all the way to the foul fence in right field and even leapt in the air a bit to try and catch it. Seeing him leg out his 5th triple of the year helped me realize his speed, too.

 

  • Kevin Slowey did an outstanding job, lasting seven innings and allowing just two runs on five hits. He clearly kept Oakland off balance by striking out what I believe to be a career-high twelve batters.

 

  • Brian Buscher got things started early for the Twins by jacking a two-run homer, his fourth of the year, in the 2nd inning. It gave Minnesota a lead after Slowey allowed a run in the top of the 2nd.

 

  • The bottom of the order did most of the damage, with eleven of the team’s thirteen RBI coming from the 6-7-8-9 hitters, capped by Buscher’s five. Carlos Gomez launched a two-run homer, his sixth of the season, and Brendan Harris and Randy Ruiz each collected two hits with two RBI.

 

Onto yesterday’s untelevised, afternoon game. Francisco Liriano didn’t pitch as well as Slowey did, unless you want to get super-technical and say Liriano was near-perfect in that he didn’t allow an earned run through five innings.

 

Mike Redmond was the offensive star, with two RBI singles. Justin Morneau also drove in his 98th run of the year.

 

Most importantly, Alexi Casilla has been activated from the disabled list with Brian Bass being shown to the door. It’s. About. Time. He’s not a ML-caliber pitcher, but the good ol’ Twins sure gave him enough chances to try and prove it.

 

Tonight is the start of a crucial road trip, starting off with the red-hot Angels. Game starts at 9:05 and Scott Baker will start for Minnesota.

Joe Mauer had three hits, two RBI, three runs scored, and hit his 8th homer of the year in a very good night at the plate for him. Plus, he scored the game-winning run on a sac fly. That has to be pretty exciting, right?

 

Brian Buscher had pinch-hit for Brendan Harris earlier in the game and with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th, hit a little bloop into left field. And frankly he didn’t hit it very far, and had I seen it live, I can guarantee I would’ve been freaking out, thinking Mauer wasn’t going to be able to score. As Patrick Reusse described it, the left fielder “made a throw that would’ve embarrassed Jacque Jones” and Mauer was able to easily slide in for the score.

 

Scott Baker allowed eight hits, four runs, two walks and just one strikeout in 5 and 1/3 innings of work. Everything blew up in the 6th inning as Jesse Crain was eventually brought in, but was only able to record an out, prompting Craig Breslow. Breslow allowed Crain’s two runners to score, which is unfortunate for Crain’s numbers, but after that Breslow did a very nice job. He lasted 2 and 1/3 innings, allowed just one hit, and struck out two.

 

Dennys Reyes breezed through the 9th on just twelve pitches, picking up a strikeout en route to his third win on the year.

 

Pinch-hitting for the Twins was crucial last night with Jason Kubel getting a two-out RBI single, Mike Lamb walked, and Buscher’s key sac fly.

 

The Twins go for a sweep today at 1:10 with Glen Perkins on the hill.

Francisco Liriano turned in what was easily his best outing of the year, not that it was hard to do when you take into consideration the starts he’s had so far. Franchise lasted seven innings and allowed just two hits, a double and a single. He walked two and struck out five and was only in trouble once, in the fourth. In the first three batters he recorded two outs and allowed the double, but then he walked the next batters to load the bases with two outs. The ball was hit towards Brian Buscher, who had his glove all the way on the ground, but had the ball bounce up above his glove but still under his legs and it skipped into the left field corner, allowing two (unearned) runs to score. Francisco threw a total of 98 pitches (30 coming in his troubling 4th inning), 59 of them for strikes.

 

Offensively, the seven-run 4th inning definitely put the Mariners out of reach. The inning was capped by Jason Kubel, who had a two-run homer and an RBI single in the inning.

 

Every batter except Justin Morneau and Carlos Gomez got hits, and even Morneau scored a run and had an RBI.

 

Denard Span and Nick Punto were nearly identical at the plate. Both had two hits (with one of those being a double) and two runs scored, the only difference being Span’s lone RBI compared to Punto’s two.

 

Carlos Silva looked like the lazy, overrated pitcher we’re all used to. He was only able to go 3 and 1/3 innings, allowing nine hits and nine runs. He walked one and didn’t have any strike outs, all the while seeing his season ERA balloon up to 6.36. It’s surprising to see that he actually has ten quality starts in 25 total starts this season. His entire month of April, going 3-0 with a 2.79 ERA. His monthly ERAs since then have been: 11.00, 4.99, 7.03, and it’s currently 9.56 for the month of August. In short, Seattle looks incredibly foolish for handing him $48 million for four years of work. Honestly, think of an easier way to make that much money, than to flat out suck at what you do for a living. Because that is what Carlos Silva does.

 

Also, the White Sox lost last night, leaving the Twins in a tie for first place.

 

Scott Baker tries for his 8th win in today’s game, which starts at 2:55.

The baseball game has been over for approximately one hour, and I’ve been unable to type anything regarding what I just witnessed. I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced so many different feelings within a 3 hour and 14 minute period. I don’t even want to pull up stats.

 

The Twins struck first, scoring two runs in the top of the second. The first thought that went through my head was “Well, we had a six-run lead last night and blew that, so two runs is nothing.” Mood: cautious optimism.

 

Sure enough, in the bottom of the third, Seattle scored four runs, highlighted by a Raul Ibanez three-run homer. This guy is killing us, with 11 RBI in the two games that have been played. Mood: hoping for the unlikely.

 

The top of the 6th rolls around, with Jason Kubel leading off. On the sixth pitch of his at-bat, Kubel turned on an 85-mph fastball and unintentionally morphed the baseball into a weapon heading for beyond right field. Mood: proud, because my favorite player brings us within one run.

 

Bottom of the 6th, and Scott Baker takes the hill. To summarize the inning, Baker ends up loading the bases with one out and is removed in favor of Craig Breslow, who pitched in the previous game. A ground out and RBI single later, Breslow is gone with Jesse Crain jogging in from the bullpen. Five pitches and Crain gets the final out of the inning, and despite not pitching in the first game of the series, is done for the night. Mood: deflated, pessimistic; any chance at a victory was just squandered.

 

Fast forward to the 8th inning. Remember in yesterday’s post, how I said that the inning the Mariners scored ten runs in was literally the worst inning ever?

I retract that statement. The 8th inning of last night’s game takes the cake as the worst inning, ever. Justin Morneau doubles with one out, and yet again Jason Kubel turns white leather into a tooth-remover, hopefully not injuring any defenseless Washingtonian en route to his second homer of the night. A few batters later, Mike Lamb pinch-hits for Carlos Gomez. A questionable move at best, as Gomez has two hits in the game. After watching two fastballs come by outside of the strike zone, Lamb smokes the third consecutive fastball into right-center field to tie the game. Denard Span would strike out to end the threat, and inning. Mood: surprised the Twins could put together an inning like that.

 

Let’s transition into the bottom of the 8th, and what makes it the worst inning ever. An overused Matt Guerrier starts the inning by allowing two singles while recording just one out. He threw just five pitches but they were all mid-90’s fastballs. Bring on Joe Nathan, the self-proclaimed “door-closer“. At this point in the game, you have Brian Bass, who pitched in the last game, or Nathan as pitching options. FYI, Dennys Reyes is apparently sick with food poisoning and is out for an undetermined amount of time. It was an easy choice to go with Joe and hope he could get a quick double play since runners are on first and second and there’s an out already on the board. It took 12 pitches for things to get out of hand. A 5-pitch at-bat retired Adrian Beltre for the second out of the inning. 6 pitches into the next at-bat and the count is full. All of a sudden, the screen goes black and shakes a little bit. Color returns us to a screen showing the two team names and their respective records, with a picture of Safeco Field. Literally, the video feed cut out for viewers everywhere. The only thing we had was Dick Bremer‘s voice slightly cracking as he said “Poked to left field and DOWN for a hit, and Seattle has retaken the lead.” Mood: disbelief, shock, awe, anger, frustration, etc.

 

The 2-3-4 hitters are scheduled to hit in the top of the 9th. If anyone will win the game, it’s gotta be a combination of these guys. Nick Punto and Joe Mauer both strike out swinging. Great, our best hitter up in the clutchiest of situations. Morneau draws a walk to climactically bring up Kubel yet again. On a 2-2 pitch, Kubel goes opposite field on a 97-mph fastball for a double. Mood: believing the impossible might actually happen. Morneau was correctly held at third base. Folks, he’s easily the slowest runner on the team, and the ball was on its way in from the outfield when Morneau was touching third, so please don’t get upset that he wasn’t sent. For once in his life Scott Ullger made a wise decision. Delmon Young is intentionally walked to bring up Adam Everett. Another easy decision by Gardy is to pinch-hit for Everett. Who he chose could be questioned, as Mike Redmond saddled up in the batter’s box while rook Randy Ruiz saddled up on the bench. All we needed was a classic Redmond bloop single into right field and we would’ve retaken the lead, hopefully for good.

But it was not to be. Red Dog lined the third pitch into right field, an easy catch for the speedy Ichiro.

 

 

There’s a few things that can be learned from these first two games:

  1. Our bullpen is overworked and unreliable without Pat Neshek. Either the starters need to pitch above the 100 pitch mark or the team needs to make something happen. Call up Bobby Korecky, who was serviceable while pitching in the Majors earlier in the season, and ship Bass to whoever will take him. I’m convinced that Bass should staple a white flag to the inside of his hat so that whenever he takes the mound, the opposing team knows they can add a W to their season totals.
  2. Every starter in the rotation is vulnerable at any moment and nobody is a sure win anymore. It’s times like these that make a fan miss the Johan Santanas of the world.
  3. Joe Mauer pulls the ball to the second baseman way too much. Seriously, if you’re going to ground out, at least try hitting it to the 3B so you might be able to beat out the throw. Mauer is also 8th in all of baseball in double plays grounded into, a pretty awful stat for a number 3 hitter. This is where Gardy should be doing more hit-and-runs, or attempted steals, because chances are it’s either Span or Punto (formerly Gomez or Alexi Casilla) on first so you know they have some speed. Try something to help Mauer out.
  4. Lastly, I can reiterate my point that I do not believe Gardenhire is a capable manager. He throws Crain for five pitches but nothing more, not to mention he’s a huge fan of these 1-out appearances for pitchers. Seriously, who does he expect to pitch if the game goes into extra innings? It would’ve had to be a starting pitcher for crying out loud. Maybe you can’t pin that all on him, because he doesn’t have the power to sign another reliever. But he can manage the bullpen better than getting just one out from both Breslow and Crain.

 

Today’s game starts at 3:40 and I don’t know if I will be able to watch.

 

And oh yeah, the Tigers scored two runs in the top of the 14th to get an 8-6 lead over the White Sox. But, um, Chicago scored four runs in the bottom of the inning to win the game and get sole ownership of first place in the division.

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