Tagged: brendan harris

Mid-season Thoughts

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!

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Twins Take Sox Series

The Twins redeemed themselves somewhat after their pitiful display against New York by taking two out of three against the Chicago White Sox this weekend. Minnesota is still four games out of first place though because the Tigers keep winning, but at least they showed a little more spunk this time round and didn’t just lay down and die.

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photo: AP/Yahoo!

To be honest, I was quite impressed by the Twins on Friday night, which is unusual seeing as I’m finding myself lapsing into the perennially grumpy and curmudgeonly kind of fan the longer I follow this team. However, Minnesota produced the kind of gutsy performance they’re known for, but have rarely demonstrated so far this season. Despite being 0-4 down after the first inning, the White Sox constantly chipped away at the Twins’ lead before tying it up. But Joe Mauer’s RBI single in the seventh, topped off by a clever two-out RBI bunt by Carlos Gomez which scored Matt Tolbert in the eighth, secured a 6-4 victory.

The scoreline of Saturday’s 8-7 loss may have given casual observers the impression of a roller coaster, see-saw, fun kind of game with various lead changes and other high-jinx. Far from it. The White Sox punished the ineffectual and pasty-looking Glen Perkins from the get-go and ran out to an 8-3 lead, the only effective Twins offense coming from the bat of Joe Crede who hit a three-run homer, then followed that up with a solo shot later. Minnesota’s late rally was too little too late once again, and if anything, the scoreline was far too flattering to the Twins who pretty much looked like buffoons out there for most of the game.

Fortunately, there was little buffoonery on display by the Twins in their 13-7 victory on Sunday. The Minnesota bats truly came alive for a change against an unusually ineffective Mark Buehrle. Carlos Gomez was the hero today, with a career-high five-RBI game which included a three-run homer in the second, and both Denard Span and Brendan Harris also went deep. Surprisingly enough, Joe Mauer was probably the team’s most ineffective player on Sunday, going 0-for-5 with an amazing four strike-outs. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him strike-out so many times in a single game to be honest, but he’s probably just preparing his swing for the Home Run Derby tomorrow. Here’s a nice picture of Brendan Harris smacking a good one.

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photo: AP/Tom Olmscheid

Errorfest

Though the Brewers had lost four straight and the first game of the series to the Twins, it was not surprising that they bounced back and finally claimed a victory over Minnesota this season. Still, both games were mainly won on costly fielding errors, so it’s hardly been pretty for either team.

To be honest, the Twins were pretty fortunate to win Tuesday night’s game, but they took advantage of two Brewers’ errors to emerge with a 7-3 victory. Watching the game though, it’s hard to believe the scoreline was that unbalanced. The game just seemed to drag and drag as we witnessed Francisco Liriano struggling once again. He showed massive control issues, giving up hits and walks, and constantly throwing balls down low and in the dirt. It certainly wasn’t much fun for Joe Mauer behind the plate, either. Still, surprisingly enough, Liriano only gave up three runs in five innings and the bullpen was impeccable (it’s rare we get to say that as Twins fans), as RA Dickey, Matt Guerrier, and Joe Nathan threw four run-free innings between them. Carlos Gomez had a great night though, going 3-for-5 with two RBIs.

Wednesday night saw Nick Blackburn pitch well again in a tight contest where neither team’s offense truly got going. The Twins took a 3-1 lead in the sixth with a Jason Kubel home run, then a Joe Crede RBI double scored Michael Cuddyer, who had also hit a double a few pitches earlier. But with two outs in the bottom of the eighth and Minnesota holding a 3-2 lead, a couple of costly errors cost the Twins the game. Jason Kendall doubled and JJ Hardy scored when Brendan Harris’ throw was wide
of home plate and bounced away from Joe Mauer. So Kendall broke
for third, but Nick Blackburn flung the ball into left
field, which allowed Kendall to trot home for the go-ahead run. Harris and
Blackburn were each charged with errors on the play, and Brewers’ closer Trevor Hoffman did the rest to end a frustrating evening for the Twins. At least Joe Mauer ended his 0-for-12 hitless streak with a single in the seventh that deflected off pitcher Mitch Stetter.

The rubber match is on Thursday with Scott Baker facing off against Milwaukee’s Mike Burns who was just called up from Triple-A Nashville and gets his first start of the year. The Detroit Tigers keep winning and are opening up a lead in the AL Central, while the Twins are struggling to even keep their heads bobbing around the .500 mark. Minnesota will be hoping to at least salvage something from another disappointing series on the road before moving onto St Louis.

Houston, We Have a Problem

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photo: soxinthecity.wordpress.com

Yeah, I so much wanted that headline to be “Houston, YOU have a problem” but it was a disappointing weekend for the Twins, who lost two of three to the Astros. Houston played moderately well and certainly didn’t decimate the Twins, but Minnesota’s offense barely got going all weekend. With tough games on the road this week against the Cardinals and the Brewers, this last home stand was an opportunity to forge ahead, but Minnesota remains stubbornly just below the .500 mark for now.

Reading the triumphant 5-2 scoreline of Friday’s game, it might look to the casual observer that the Twins had a comfortable win, but this was far from the case. Kevin Slowey pitched well enough to get his tenth victory of the year, but in the top of the eighth inning, when Houston made it a one-run game, a Twins victory was far from assured. Fortunately, in the bottom of the eighth, Delmon Young managed to secure the 5-2 lead with a cheesey double that leftfielder Jason Michaels lost in the lights, but it was a far-from convincing victory.

Saturday’s game was just, well, kind of annoying. Minnesota managed all their runs via home runs with Brendan Harris, Delmon Young, Joe Mauer, and Jason Kubel all going deep. Trouble is, they did little else. Taking a 3-1 lead into the seventh, Scott Baker gave up a couple of runs and the score was tied at 3-3, so disappointing, but not a disaster. That is, until Ron Gardenhire, in his infinite wisdom, decided it was better to just go ahead and lose the game out right, introducing the comedy bullpen clowns once again. Sean Henn gave up a two-run homer, and Luis Ayala allowed another run to score, and despite Jason Kubel’s late-game heroics, and Jose Morales’s pinch-hitting double to make it interesting in the ninth, it was all too late by then, and Houston won the game 6-5.

Sunday: Two hits for the Twins the entire game, one of which was a solo home run shot by Michael Cuddyer. The Astros’ starter, Wandy Rodriguez, completely shut down the Minnesota offense, and Houston’s three-run first inning was more than enough to secure a series victory over a very disappointing and sorry looking Twins line up. Amusingly enough, Carlos Gomez did bunt the ball onto his head at one point, which pretty much summed up the entire weekend for Minnesota.

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photo: AP/MLB.com

Twins Make it Interesting

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What is it about these Twins lads? Nothing is ever straightforward with them, but I suppose that makes watching them all the more exciting, and sometimes, an anxiety-ridden experience. With a 10-0 lead going into the bottom of the ninth against the A’s last night, Scott Baker was three outs away from a complete game shut out. But of course, it was never going to be that easy. So, instead of talking about a successful offensive performance by the Twins last night, we’re instead discussing how they almost blew it again.

Baker loaded the bases with a walk and a couple of singles, so in came Jesse Crain. Of course, Jesse did what Jesse does best: choke in vital situations. Adam Kennedy got a single off him which scored two, Jack Cust walked, and Chris Denofria got an infield single which Alexi Casilla fumbled (so not necessarily Crain’s fault this time) to score another. Turns out Casilla had already made a couple of mistakes earlier, so the quicker he gets sent back down to Rochester, the better. When Nick Punto returns on Friday (from what I’m reading on other blogs), Gardy will probably keep Brendan Harris at short-stop and put Punto at second, so it’ll likely be bye-bye Casilla.

With the score at 10-3, in came Jose Mijares, fresh from his cross-dressing exploits. He got Jason Giambi swinging for a vital first out, but then walked Kurt Suzuki to score one AND Daric Barton to score yet another, so now the game was at 10-5.

So would you believe it, this has now become a save situation, what with the bases loaded and the tying run in the on-deck circle. Thankfully, Joe Nathan emerged from the bullpen and was inch perfect, showing all those young’uns exactly how it’s done. He made short work of things and struck out Jack Hannahan and Rajai Davis for his 12th save of the season.

The win for Minnesota stopped their three-game losing skid, and put an end to Oakland’s impressive seven-game winning streak. The A’s young rookie pitching roster looks very promising, and I’m sure they’ll perform well this year, but whether they’ll be able to last out the long season is a different matter. And, as usual, even faced with virtually impossible odds in the ninth, their batters still hustled and played hard until the end. 

Right now, the series is tied at one apiece with two more to go tonight and tomorrow. Obviously, us Twins fans will be hoping to finally get a good string of road victories under our belts, but Oakland won’t make that an easy task.

Cleaved by Cleveland

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.

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photo: AP/Yahoo!

Something interesting about both days’ results though was that Minnesota pretty much gained a game on everyone by winning the first one, as the Royals, White Sox, Tigers (and of course Cleveland) all found themselves losing. By giving up the second game however, only the Indians got any real leverage, because the Royals, White Sox, and Tigers all lost again. I hope this series doesn’t prove to be a lost opportunity for Minnesota, if the other teams in the AL Central are showing signs of weakness.

Anything You Can Do…

It was certainly entertaining watching the Twins on Friday and Saturday, especially the Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau show. In the fifth inning on Friday evening against the Mariners, Mauer stepped up and hit a solo home run to left field. Not to be outdone, Justin Morneau came up next and did exactly the same, but to opposite field. While back-to-back home runs are hardly uncommon in baseball, the very next evening against Seattle ace Felix Hernandez, Mauer and Morneau did exactly the same thing again, but this time in the third inning. Cue camera shots of the pair of them on the bench laughing and smiling like little kids trying to out-do each other.

Before Saturday’s game, Joe Mauer received both a Gold Glove and a Silver Bat for his brilliant performances last season. Here he is with two former Twins legends, Tony Oliva and Rod Carew.

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photo: AP/Yahoo!

Friday night, the Twins thumped the Mariners 11-0. Scott Baker pitched splendidly, but our offense truly shone that evening with Minnesota hitting an unprecedented four homers, the solo shots by Mauer and Morneu as mentioned above, and three-run shots by Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher. The Twins got their noses in front early and kept it that way, something they’d been failing to do all season. I hope this is a sign of better things to come.

Saturday was a closer affair, with the Twins beating out the Mariners 9-6. Once again, the Twins went ahead early, but this time Seattle was a little more resilient, and Francisco Liriano had a very tough fourth and fifth inning. Saturday’s game was dominated by Adrian Beltre, but not always for the right reasons. In the bottom of the fourth, he tried to tag Cuddyer at third then overthrew to first, which scored Cuddyer and put Buscher on third. Buscher scored on a Denard Span sacrifice fly, so Beltre’s mistake probably led to two Twins runs. His home run in the eighth could have meant trouble for the Twins, but the rest of the M’s line-up failed to capitalize, and Joe Nathan came out in the ninth to save it for Minnesota, and wrap up a series win.

Sunday will probably see Nick Punto back in the line-up, and Joe Mauer as the DH. Personally, I’d like to see Carlos Gomez get a chance to play a full game again. Completing the sweep against the Mariners and Erik Bedard today will be tough, but then again, if someone would’ve said the Twins will score 20 runs and hit seven home-runs in two games against Seattle, I’d have laughed like a goon.