Firstly, I apologize for not updating this sooner. What with being jobless and out of my usual routine, I’ve not felt particularly inspired to write posts here when I have more important things to concern myself with right now.
But to be perfectly honest, the Twins have hardly been inspiring lately either. Earlier in the season, such performances would usually have entailed me ranting on this very blog, but sometimes it’s like flogging a dead horse. I think all us ‘fans’ know what’s wrong with the Twins right now, but it doesn’t seem many of these issues are being addressed by the management folks.
The most disappointing factor of the season so far is the obvious weakness of the AL Central. To be honest, I sometimes think none of these terms deserve to go to the play-offs, but of course, someone has to. Strangely enough, even as many games as the Twins are back, there’s still a chance they could make it, but it’s a very, very slim chance admittedly. With the talent in the Minnesota line-up, this team should have ripped the AL Central apart, so their lack of good performances this year have made it all the more troubling. 2009 was really the Twins best opportunity in a long time, and they’ve pretty much screwed it up, and it’s all been because of one thing: terrible pitching.
Still, I almost hope they do kind of give up on their divisional hopes. One thing that’s alarmed me about watching the Twins lately is that they just don’t seem to be having any fun. They don’t appear to be enjoying themselves. Sure, it sucks to lose a lot, and teams like the Nationals and Pirates are well used to it, but the Twins look miserable out there, and it just goes to show: expectations are a bitch. If good things wouldn’t have been expected of Minnesota this year, maybe everyone could have enjoyed themselves a bit more, but right now, it looks brutal out there. It’s not always the losing that matters, it’s how completely and utterly the Twins have been outplayed, especially in August. It hasn’t been much fun for the fans either.
But, if the Twins are pretty much done for this year, there’s still a few good things to look forward to. If the pressure is off them a little, perhaps they can shake things up good and proper in September and be the pesky little troublemakers they usually are. There could be the opportunity to finally see some classy players from the Twins’ minor league affiliates brought up to the majors like Anthony Slama, Rob Delaney, Danny Valencia, Armando Gabino, and Steve Tolleson. Perhaps some of the comedy bullpen clowns like Bobby Keppel and Jesse Crain will finally be sent down. Starters like Nick Blackburn and Anthony Swarzak are having horrible games out there, so they’d benefit from some time to work on that, while the Twins bring up the young arms and let them demonstrate what they’ve got… and there will be nothing to lose.
And of course, there’s one very important thing to look forward to, and that’s Joe Mauer and his hunt for the .400 average. The way things are right now, it’s not impossible by any means that Mauer could reach that golden number. The odds are still against him, but it’s going to be fun watching him try. Joe Mauer is still, completely and utterly (at this particular time of writing), 100% AL MVP for 2009. Plenty of other players have had great seasons so far (like Mark Teixeira) but nobody has been quite as brilliant as Joe Mauer (and evidently, Joe Posnanski agrees) when it comes to being the most valuable asset on a team. Joe Mauer has shined both offensively and defensively, and if he doesn’t get the award this year, it’ll be a travesty. But that’s a good word to describe the Twins’ season so far, so anything could happen.
After their successful midweek sweep of the Chicago White Sox, the Twins were quickly brought back down to earth with a resounding thud, being swept by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in three games.
The Halos scored an incredible 35 runs, thoroughly decimating a sorry looking Twins who have now dropped to one game under .500, and yet they still remain merely three games back, which I think says more about the weakness of the AL Central than it does about the abilities of this year’s Minnesota team.
Even though Nick Blackburn pitched effectively on Friday evening, and the Twins opened up a 5-2 lead, the Angels came back to tie it up in the eighth inning due to the familiarly ineffectual Minnesota bullpen. A six-run eleventh inning then completed the comeback, humbling the Twins who really should have done a better job holding their lead, as the Twins finally lost 11-5.
On Saturday, Anthony Swarzak gave up six runs, and not to be outdone, the bullpen chipped-in for five more. The Twins were in it early on, matching the Angels with two-run second and third innings, but the Halos were far more relentless and once again crushed Minnesota 11-6.
If those two games weren’t ugly enough for Twins fans, Sunday didn’t bring much joy either. Glen Perkins was his usual ineffective self, and the Angels ran out 13-4 winners.
It’s worth noting that on Friday, LA catcher Mike Napoli went 4-for-6. On Saturday, he went 3-for-5. And on Sunday, he didn’t even play, yet the Angels still put 13 runs on the board. Despite Minnesota’s thorough inadequacy this entire weekend, there’s no doubt in my mind that this Angels team really looks the part. Against overwhelming odds, Mike Scioscia has done an incredible job with his team this season. Even with injuries to star players like Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero, and the tragic death of Nick Adenhart, this team has played like champions these past few months, and I’d be very surprised if they didn’t go all the way, providing their starting pitching can settle down.
Minnesota on the other hand… Well, as I mentioned above, somehow they’re still in it, and now move on to face three at Cleveland and then three at Detroit. While it’s true that they’ve fared far better this year against AL Central opposition, these upcoming games will be crucial. Cleveland may be a little depleted personnel-wise, but now the pressure is off them, they put up an excellent showing against the aforementioned Tigers this weekend, so they’ll be no pushovers as usual.
Dick & Bert consistently harped on about a Carlos Gomez throwing error in the game on Friday night, and other defensive miscues here and there this weekend, but the simple fact remains that the Twins were outdone not only by an Angels team who are far stronger and quicker than them offensively, but more importantly, Minnesota’s starting pitching and bullpen sucked huge donkey balls and won’t be able to take this team all the way if they continue to put up performances like that. Make all the excuses you like, if the pitching doesn’t get it done, this team will be thoroughly held back from ever succeeding.
I had this whole giant post mapped out in my mind, complete with details on every individual player and my thoughts on each aspect of the Twins’ season so far, but it just seems like things are more easily summed up in a single word: UNCONVINCING.
Yep, that’s my word to describe Minnesota’s season thus far. It’s not like they’ve sucked horribly, but neither have the lit up the league. Instead, they’ve just failed to live up to their potential so far. Can they turn it around? Of course they can. Will they? Who knows.
There’s already been much discussion on other blogs better than this one about what needs to be done. We know who’s been productive and what needs to change. But the one thing that remains true, above everything else, is that if the Twins’ starting pitching doesn’t improve, this team isn’t going to win the AL Central.
It doesn’t matter that the Twins are always usually around the .500 mark at the All-Star break. It doesn’t matter if the bottom of the order doesn’t produce like the top half. It doesn’t matter if the bullpen is showing signs of improvement. The simple fact is, the reason why Minnesota remains a .500 team right now is down to their starting pitching not being as good as it could be.
In other news…
- Alexi Casilla has been brought back to the squad. It’s probably the last chance for the young second baseman to prove himself, and I seriously hope he does because he’s a real asset when he’s playing well. Matt Tolbert has finally been sent back down to Triple-A Rochester. He never looked like a big leaguer the whole time he was up with the Twins anyway. What bugs me about the Casilla move though is that he’s likely to bat second, which could mean Ron Gardenhire will play Nick Punto more than the much more talented and productive Brendan Harris, because of the skipper’s continuing love affair with one of the most offensively inept players on the team (Punto). I personally liked the Denard Span, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau 1-2-3 line-up that was tried earlier this season, and it seemed to be a winning combination, but Gardy seems to insist on putting someone else in the number two spot before Joe and Justin.
- Kevin Slowey’s rehabilitation hit a snag when he tried some practice pitches this weekend, so Anthony Swarzak will probably get a few more starts. This one’s a real bummer as Slowey is one of the aforementioned starting pitchers who could help turn this season around for the Twins when healthy.
- I wanted to give a ‘shout out’ to my second favorite team, the San Francisco Giants. As a Bay Area resident, I’ve followed the progress of the Giants longer than the Twins, if not quite so avidly. After a couple of terrible seasons that have seen them fall from grace, I’m really delighted to see how well they’ve been playing so far. I think the Giants are going about things the right way, building their franchise on solid starting pitching, and I hope they make the play-offs this year. GO BIG PANDA!
Another Yankees sweep. To say we were “owned” by the Bronx Bombers this year would be an understatement. The Twins record against New York is now a very unhealthy 0-7.
Tuesday’s game was horrible for the Twins as they got thoroughly out-played by the Yankees and lost 10-2. But, these things happens to even the best teams now and again, so any baseball fan can expect this to occur a few times every season. Anyway, there wasn’t much to talk about regards the Twins, except perhaps a fine defensive play by Carlos Gomez, but if that’s the only highlight of your team’s night, something is very wrong. Still, all credit to the Yankees who got their noses ahead early and really took the game to Scott Baker. Meanwhile, CC Sabathia backed up all the New York batting heroics with another composed, steady, and dominating performance.
Sure, Wednesday’s game was a tighter affair, but the Twins still lost, and that’s what matters. They may as well have been totally blown out again, but instead went down 4-3. Yeah, we could talk about how the Twins took the game to the Yankees this time, or how they kept fighting back, but it was still not enough. Again, the Yankees got ahead early and really worked last-minute replacement pitcher Anthony Swarzak hard to complete their sixth victory in a row over a dispirited Minnesota line up.
On Thursday, the Twins didn’t fare too well either, and the sweep was completed by the Yankees with a 6-4 victory. The loss put Minnesota back at the .500 mark again. Detroit and Chicago still have to face the Yankees and the Red Sox in the coming months (as well as the Rays), while Minnesota will be happy to be shot of the main AL East contenders, “only” having to entertain the Orioles in August and visiting Toronto in September for four games.
Much discussion emerges after these close games about how the Twins “just can’t seem to get a break” or how they’re “one hit away from winning”, but frankly the Yankees outplayed the Twins this series, and even if Minnesota do make it to the post-season, the prospect of facing them or Boston again sends shudders down most fans’ spines. Witnessing Michael Cuddyer’s pitiful flailing strike-out in a bases-loaded two-outs situation in the fifth inning on Wednesday night, pretty much exemplifies how a team that has shown so much promise, has consistently failed to produce in clutch situations this season.
The depth of the Yankees batting line-up is also apparent, as the players at the bottom of their order continued to out-perform even their stars up at the top. Brett Gardner, Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano, even some guy called Francisco Cervelli all produced hits and runs for the Yankees. I know many Boston fans sometimes think their team is pretty much a shoe-in for the AL East pennant this year, but the Yankees look like a class act finally, and if their pitching remains dominant, Boston better keep a close eye on their New York rivals.
Detroit and Chicago continued to win this week, while the Twins struggled. Minnesota is beginning to lose some pace in the AL Central. Of course, a sweep of the Sox this weekend would take care of that, and the Twins are by no means out of it, but once again, they’ve let a potential position of dominance disappear from their clutches. Losing the series to the Yankees was hardly unexpected, but Minnesota can’t keep relying on other teams’ records if they want to forge ahead.
The Twins managed to win two out of three against the Tigers at the Metrodome, which was a pretty damn good result against the division leaders. Minnesota is now two games back, and the White Sox, who split a series with the Royals this weekend, are just 2.5 games behind Detroit.
Extra-inning games can be particularly cruel, especially to the team that doesn’t win them. The Twins remarkable comeback on Friday night pretty much meant nothing in the end, and simply managed to tire out all concerned, as the Tigers topped the Twins 11-9 in the 16th inning.
were quickly 6-0 up by the second inning. Somehow, Minnesota managed to
rally from a 7-1 deficit and tied the game at 7-7 in the sixth inning.
By then, Slowey was long gone, and it was revealed later that he’s been
put on the DL after suffering sharp pains in his wrist. Anthony Swarzak
has been recalled from Triple-A Rochester, and will likely make a start
sometime this week.
Anyway, back to Friday night, and the game
went to extra innings, prolonging the agony for Twins and Tigers fans
everywhere. In the 14th, the Tigers looked like they may have finally
secured victory when they made it 8-7, but Minnesota rallied to tie it
up again. Finally, some time around 7:00 AM two weeks later, the Tigers
hit three runs in the top of the 16th off an undoubtedly tiring RA
Dickey, and the game was essentially over. Frankly, the Twins should
have just conceded defeat in the second inning, the result would have
been the same, and the home plate umpire’s strike zone was positively
cavernous all evening, it was even more remarkable the game lasted so
long. Amazingly, Delmon Young ended up being one triple shy of the
cycle, and Denard Span had a crazy night going 5-for-8 with two RBIs.
Saturday’s game was a little more conventional. Francisco Liriano
pitched very well for most of his outing. Having retired a string of 13
straight batters, he took a 2-0 lead into the top of the seventh. But,
the inevitable implosion occurred as the Tigers managed three hits in
as many balls, one of which was a three-run homer to Magglio “I’m not
even in form” Ordonez, as the Twins relinquished their lead and found
themselves 3-2 down. Incredibly enough, Minnesota managed to tie it up
with a single run in the bottom of the seventh. Even more incredibly,
in the eighth, Nick Punto hit a cheesy blooper off his magic bat which
saw the usually ineffective Matt Tolbert (pinch-running for Jason
Kubel) score the go-ahead run with a head-first Punto-style dive, a
pinch-running decision by Gardy that probably won the game, something
I’ve rarely witnessed before with the Twins. Joe Nathan easily mopped
up the Tigers in the ninth, and Minnesota tied the series one game
apiece with a 4-3 win.
On Sunday, Nick Blackburn was just a couple of outs away from a
complete game shut out. He’d pitched beautifully again, but gave up a
two-run homer to Brandon Inge in the ninth inning. A few weeks ago against the Pirates, Blackburn had done something similar, taking a shutout into the ninth but blowing it. Nevertheless, Blackburn
prevailed for a complete game anyway as the Twins ran out 6-2 winners.
Minnesota did all the damage in the fourth inning. With Joe Mauer on
base, Justin Morneau cranked home run number 21 for the season, and then the
floodgates opened, with the Twins scoring four more runs, including
three on a throwing error by Adam Everett.
So a satisfactory weekend of baseball, despite Friday’s nastiness, and it was good to see the Twins bouncing back from that disappointing night so well. Next up, visits from the Yankees and the White Sox before the All-Star Game, which won’t see Justin Morneau starting at first base despite having one of the best seasons of his career, though he was selected as a reserve at least.
Finally, a series wins for the Twins on the road! It’s been a long time coming, but it was well deserved, and their first since the end of April. Minnesota is also back at .500.
On Friday afternoon, with a little bit of help from Milton Bradley, the Twins defeated the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field 7-4. Kevin Slowey pitched well and improved to 9-2 for the season, and Minnesota kept hustling and scoring runs, even after the Cubs had put up a threat here and there. It was great to see so many Twins fans at Wrigley cheering on Joe Mauer.
On Saturday, it was a little cloudy and overcast, but Anthony Swarzak pitched seven run-free innings, and the Twins won 2-0. Sure, neither team’s offense was sparkling, but the Twins did just enough to keep the Cubs at bay.
Glen Perkins returns to the rotation in the coming week, so unfortunately Swarzak got demoted to Triple-A Rochester right after the game! I’d personally have liked to have seen him kept in the bullpen, replacing the ineffectual Jesse Crain, but a roster move was necessary because of injuries to Michael Cuddyer and Denard Span. The Twins are an outfielder short right now, and will definitely need one for the upcoming interleague games at the Metrodome. They recalled catcher Jose Morales in place of Swarzak, but how this helps their outfield situation I’m not so sure.
Will Minnesota be able to pull off a sweep at Wrigley Field? It’s a tough proposition, but if Scott Baker is on top of his game and our bats can get going, it might just happen. The Cubs always appear threatening, and they’ll have Ted Lilly on the mound, but haven’t shown much offense so far this series. That being said, they’re probably due to erupt any minute, so here’s hoping they delay that for just one more game!
With the home series tied at one apiece, Cleveland and Minnesota face off today in the rubber match. Scott Baker (2-6) will be up against Fausto Carmino (2-5), both of whom have had less than stellar starts to the season, so it’s really anyone’s game.
Game one saw the Twins earning a 4-3 victory, but it was a closely contested affair, despite the home team being 4-0 up at one point. Joe Mauer was the big hero again going 3-3 with yet another home run in the fifth inning, but the Indians fought back valiantly, and it took Joe Nathan actually being allowed by Gardy to pitch in the eighth to get an out, before closing the ninth completely to secure the win.
Notable from this particular game were two excellent defensive plays which probably saved runs from scoring. In the top of the third with two outs and a man at first, Victor Martinez hit a huge fly ball to center, and Carlos Gomez completed an incredibly athletic catch to end the inning. To me, this just shows that even a poor-hitting Carlos Gomez is much less of a liability than a poor-hitting Delmon Young, and probably why the former should be playing more regularly than the latter. There’s very few folks in the Twins line-up who could make that catch, let alone the league! Earlier that same inning, Brendan Harris and Justin Morneau also combined for a great play that saved a probable hit. I’m sure Nick Punto might have got that one too, but while Harris has shown to still be a little nervy playing short-stop, he looks to be improving, and offensively he’s certainly more productive than Nick Punto.
Game two wasn’t such a good one for the Twins though, losing 10-1. Anthony Swarzak, after making two great starts, was humbly brought back down to earth with a thud. I think we all knew this was likely to happen eventually. This doesn’t mean he’s a bad pitcher by any means, but it does mean he’ll learn that leaving the ball up in the strike zone in the Majors is going to be trouble. I think he’ll rebound just fine because in baseball there’s just some days when things work out, and others where it seems everything sucks.
RA Dickey had to come in again for some relief pitching, while the comedy bullpen clowns of Ayala and Crain later gave up four runs. When are you going to do something about this pitiful pen, Gardy?
Minnesota’s bats barely even got started against Cliff Lee last night, and there was some silly tiff between him and Carlos Gomez which barely warrants discussion, but I think I know who would win in a fist-fight, what with Carlos once being a boxer back home in the Dominican Republic! Thankfully, Victor Martinez did a good job playing peacemaker.