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.

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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.

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.

Exciting news coming your way very soon, TNT fans.

The first extra-base hit didn’t come until the bottom of the 5th, and the total of them got doubled in just a few pitches when Glen Perkins gave up back-to-back homers, the first a two-run shot and the second a solo shot that ended up in just about the same spot in the left field seats.

 

Perkins was done after four innings in favor of Boof Bonser, who had a great month of August. But his September started horribly, giving up a walk and then a go-ahead homer to his first two batters.

 

Matt Guerrier would also give up a run later in the game.

 

All of the Twins’ nine hits were singles, but they were aided by a couple stolen bases and a wild pitch.

 

I don’t have any stats for the game, the internet here isn’t working properly. I believe tonight’s game starts at 6.

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Francisco Liriano‘s seven innings of one-run ball wasn’t enough, even though he didn’t walk anybody for the first time this year and also had a season-high six strikeouts. No, that picture above sums up the game; a Joe Nathan throwing error with the runners on first and second taking off on a sacrifice bunt that Nathan fielded. It’s his 5th blown save of the season and second on this crucial road trip. Luckily, the White Sox lost so Minnesota is still a half game back in the AL Central standings.

It’s easily the most heartbreaking loss of the season.

 

Players that will be called up when rosters expand on Tuesday: Jose Mijares (RP), Bobby Korecky (RP), Philip Humber (SP), Matt Tolbert (IF), Matt Macri (3B), Jason Pridie (OF), and Ryan Jorgenson (C).

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.