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!
A 2-2 series split with the Oakland A’s was hardly the most exciting of results for the Twins, but to be honest, the way this team has been playing on the road so far, not unsurprising. Amazingly, Minnesota has only won one paltry road-trip series all season (against Cleveland at the end of April), so if a tied series against the A’s is an indication of even a slight return to form, that’s something. I’m hoping the Twins can start to at least perform averagely in games away from the Metrodome over the next few months, that will certainly be a step up from sucking horribly.
The upcoming three-game series at Wrigley Field against the Cubs should be an interesting one. Rather like the Twins, the Chicago Cubs have been having a fairly uninspiring season so far, but for many of the Twins players it will probably be thoroughly exciting to be playing at the historic ballpark. We know Minnesota has a habit of performing well in interleague play, but this is the Twins on the road, so anything could happen. With three day games to look forward to this weekend and the prospect of watching a floundering Delmon Young lose the ball in the ivy, it should make for a great series.
I just wanted to extend my congratulations to Joe Mauer (not that he
reads this of course) for being voted the AL Player of the Month for
I’m not sure what else I can say about his stunning month
to be honest. It’s actually been refreshing to read so much positive
press about Joe Mauer in the media outside of Twins Territory, and
his performance in May has been incredible, all the more so considering
he missed the entire month of April.
Just look at those figures:
106 at bats, 28 runs, 45 hits, 12 home runs, and a remarkable .425
average, .508 OBP, .849 SLG, and an even prettier 1.357 OPS. He’s only
struck out a mere 16 times too.
It’ll be hard work keeping that kind of production
up all season long of course, but if anyone has the natural ability to play like
this every month, it’s probably Joe Mauer. Meanwhile, behind him,
Justin Morneau continues to have an outstanding season, though the
spotlight so far this season has been falling firmly on Joe.
though, Joe was outshone by Jason Kubel, who hit two 3-run home runs
and thus 6 RBIs in an 11-3 victory over the Cleveland Indians.
Minnesota took the series 2-1 and now face their extended road trip on
the west coast with games against the Mariners and the A’s, before a
weekend in Chicago against the Cubs.
Man, these guys shouldn’t even be allowed to leave the Twin Cities! Another poor road trip, this time in Tampa Bay, saw the Twins only win one of three. Minnesota is still a fairly embarrassing 6-16 on the road, and this was just their second win in 13 games away from the Metrodome. Their Sunday performance was a nail biter, but the win was a very welcome one after two poor showings on Friday and Saturday. Nick Blackburn pitched a good game, only giving up a couple of solo home runs, and the Twins hustled home a few runs to claim a scrappy 3-2 victory.
On Friday night, Scott Baker started well enough, but yet again had one of his mental breakdowns in the sixth inning, giving up a three-run homer to Evan Longoria. The Twins rallied a bit later on, but couldn’t get enough going and ended up losing 5-3. When Brian Buscher (.183) has to pinch hit for Carlos Gomez (.219), as happened in the ninth inning, you know there’s definitely something wrong with your line-up, even if that was the right move in the circumstances.
Saturday’s game was even more pitiful. There’s definitely something odd going on with Francisco Liriano, who only lasted four innings for the third straight time. He threw 47 (yes, 47) pitches in the third inning and gave up four runs, after which, I gave up watching. The Twins organization need to do something with poor Frankie, I’m not confident the whole “working out his issues on the mound” thing is really going to pan out if Minnesota wants to remain competitive. Saturday’s game also featured a woeful base-running decision by Scott Ulger, stopping Joe Crede at third after an overthrow instead of waving him home. Sure, it may have been a risky play to send Crede home, but with the way David Price was pitching, the Twins weren’t going to get many chances to score runs, and we blew one right there. Naturally, Alexi Casilla failed to get the run home the next at-bat.
Talking of which, Alexi is back. Nick Punto is on the DL with a groin injury, so the Twins brought back Alexi Casilla who they’d sent down a few weeks ago. The lack of batting production of players like Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, Delmon Young, and Matt Tolbert is really beginning to hurt Minnesota’s chances of success this year. But it’s not just sucky performances, injury woes continue to mount for the Twins. Jason Kubel had a dodgy knee that kept him out of a couple of games, Joe Crede has had a few unlucky niggles here and there, Michael Cuddyer left Sunday’s game with a finger injury, and we’ve already mentioned Nick Punto who the Twins probably miss more in the field than with the bat.
Usually, I like to end each posting with a positive note, but today I’m just cranky. Even excuses like “it’s still early in the season” are starting to sound a little hollow now we’re almost one-third of the way through. Still, the AL Central doesn’t have a team storming away uncontested like the Dodgers in the NL West, so yes, OK, “there’s still plenty of time to go”. Checking the standings again though, Detroit are the only team who are over the .500 mark in the division, and Minnesota are 4.5 games back, certainly not cause for panic, but nevertheless a little disconcerting.
After three games at home entertaining the steadily improving Indians, the Twins upcoming 10-game extended road trip with stops in Oakland, Seattle, and Chicago (Cubs) could prove to be vital to their hopes this year.
Should be an interesting series this weekend with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays have had a mixed start to the season with a 23-27 record currently. They just got swept by the Indians at Progressive Field where they never seem able to win, having lost 17 road games there since September 2005. Their home form isn’t spectacular (11-10), but they’ll certainly be looking to rebound. Former Twins short-stop Jason Bartlett remains on the DL, which might be good news for Minnesota seeing how well he’s been playing this season (MLB-leading average, at the time of writing), but we all know that the Rays always remain a threat.
Intriguing pitching match-up of the weekend should be Sunday’s encounter between another former Twin, Matt Garza, and Nick Blackburn. The Twins have a horrible road record, and it would be a good time to turn this around to at least ‘average’. Early June sees West Coast road trips to both Seattle and Oakland, and then back to the Chicago Cubs for some interleague joy. The Twins do have a small home stand entertaining the Cleveland Indians (who finally seem to be regaining some of their form) but it’ll be essential that Minnesota improves its woeful road performances as we hit the one-third mark of the 2009 season.