Tagged: francisco liriano

It’s Been a While…

… Since I last wrote, but I think with good reason. Unfortunately, the company I worked for had to shut its doors and lay off not just me, but 50 or so other people. It’s a real bummer being unemployed in this tough economy, and the start-up I worked at, even though it had a brilliant and well-received product, fell victim to both these difficult economic climes and a few poor management decisions along the way.

So with all this time on my hands you’d think it’d be an ideal opportunity to write about the Twins any time I liked, but it really doesn’t work like that for me. This blog was mainly started as a diversion, a nice respite during a regular work day and an opportunity to take a break at lunch time and focus on something else. Now I have all the time in the world, it’s actually a lot harder to get motivated, and of course I have more important things on my mind. However, with a little time to get over the harsh realities of life, I will bounce back.

So how about them Twins eh? Just when you think they’ve finally given up the ghost and decided to die peacefully, they turn it around again and start to realize they’re still in this thing. I’m still not sure if they can last, but they just don’t want to die either, so I suppose that’s encouraging. After a nasty three days in Oakland (Heather and I somehow managed to attend the only game they played well, Tuesday’s 3-2 tenth inning win), the trip to Los Angeles was not much better as the Twins dropped three of four to the Angels. But that final game victory was followed by a sweep of the White Sox back home, and what with some better looking production from the usually less-than-stellar lower batting order, Minnesota now finds itself just two games out of first place again.

Can they keep it up? It’s hard to tell right now, as throughout the season the Twins have consistently switched from dazzling to deadbeat from day to day. They pretty much just scraped by the White Sox taking advantage of their mistakes, but to be honest, if “doing just enough” is what it takes, so be it. Admittedly, for a change, it was nice to see the OTHER guys imploding instead of us.

However, the Twins starting pitching will have to remain confident, and with 100 games behind us now, the repercussions of any extended losing streaks are far greater than they were earlier in the season. Right now, the Twins do have a good chance of finishing first, but they probably have an even better chance of finishing third, as the race with Detroit and Chicago remains tight. They may need to make a trade move to acquire another pitcher. With Kevin Slowey out for the season, Nick Blackburn having ‘issues’ after the All-Star break, Francisco Liriano with a potential wrist problem, Glen Perkins being merely ‘meh’ all year long, and Scott Baker not being able to shut teams down, unless the Twins get some help in that department, they’re going to have a tough time against their main rivals this year.

If I’m unfortunate enough to be unemployed for a while, I hope, at the very least, I can enjoy the Twins playing competitively again, but if there was ever a time for Minnesota to finally make an exciting move before the trade deadline, I think that time is now. I’ll be stunned if that happens, knowing this organization and its somewhat ineffectual management, but delighted if it actually does, and it would certainly show fans looking forward to outdoor baseball in 2010 that they can truly compete with the big guys.

Twins Take Texas

It was a pretty good weekend for the Twins, all things considered. Minnesota managed to take two games out of three from the Rangers, and only narrowly missed out on a sweep when RA Dickey gave up a walk-off home-run to Ian Kinsler on Sunday evening in extra innings.

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photo: AP/Yahoo!

Glen Perkins didn’t start Friday’s game too well. After giving up a two-run shot to Josh Hamilton, I’m sure many Twins fans were having nightmare flashbacks to his Yankee Stadium meltdown earlier in the season. However, the Twins prevailed. Carlos Gomez’s two-run triple tied things up in the next inning and this was followed up by a vital three-run homer by Jason Kubel shortly after. The bullpen performed impeccably and the Twins ran out 5-3 winners.

On Saturday, Scott Baker had one of his best outings of the season so far, so it was good to see him regaining some confidence. Baker pitched eight innings, giving up just eight hits and one earned run. The Twins’ offense did just enough, even if it wasn’t spectacular, and Minnesota won 4-1 to take the series.

Sunday, however, was a weird one. The Twins showed very little offense, and even Texas seemed a little jaded too. Francisco Liriano had an unspectacular outing, which started promisingly, but then faded. In an I don’t believe what I just saw! moment, Nick Punto went 3-for-4, and even hit a home run, while Joe Mauer went 0-for-6. Mauer was a pitifiul 1-for-13 the entire series, and his average dropped to .358, leaving him behind Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki, who is at .363. Despite this, the Twins still took the series, and it’s a promising sign if the other guys on the team can perform well when our star players are slumping.

With Detroit being swept by the Yankees in three very close games, Minnesota moved to two games back in the AL Central, but once again, they can’t rely on how the other teams are performing in the division if they’re not winning games themselves, so a sweep of Texas would’ve been a far prettier outcome. Now the Twins move onto Oakland where they split a four-game series in June. They better win Tuesday at the very least, because I’ll be in attendance at the Coliseum!

In other intriguing Twins news, the organization signed veteran second baseman Mark Grudzielanek to a Minor League contract.
The guy is 39-years old so I’m not sure how confident we can be about his fielding abilities these days, however he’s certainly a quality hitter, and considering the other duffers the team have been putting at second base like Alexi Casilla and Matt Tolbert, I doubt Mark Grudzielanek could be any worse.

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photo: Tom Sweeney, Star Tribune

Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

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.

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photo: AP/Yahoo!

Kevin Slowey had another terrible outing unfortunately, and Detroit
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.

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photo: AP/Yahoo!

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.

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photo: AP/Yahoo!

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.

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photo: AP/Yahoo!

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.

Twins Top Cards

Minnesota continued their successful interleague form (12-6 for the season) by taking two out of three from the St. Louis Cardinals. The Twins are now 39-38, still four games back from the Tigers. Another series victory on the road is definitely good news for the Twins who had struggled earlier in the season when playing away from the Metrodome.

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photo: AP/MLB.com

The Twins won the first game 3-1 on a balmy Friday evening in St. Louis. Glen Perkins pitched admirably and kept the Cardinals at bay as they only managed one run across the plate the entire game. Keeping Albert Pujols quiet was essential, and the great man went 1-for-4 that evening, including a strike-out by the mighty Joe Nathan in the ninth, who closed the game for his 18th save of the year.

Saturday was a different story entirely. Kevin Slowey, searching for his 11th win of the season, came unstuck early, and gave up a couple of two-run shots to Albert Pujols, who once again proved why he’s the best in the league. Pujols is positively scary at the plate, putting the fear into even the best pitchers, and he increased his home run count to a magnificent 28 for the season so far. The Twins had a few chances to fight back, but didn’t look particularly convincing, and a base-running decision not to send Michael Cuddyer home in the third turned out to be quite costly when he got thrown out at home later that inning. In the end, Tony La Russa used seven different pitchers to complete the 5-3 win, and Bobby Keppel made his first Twins relief debut, tossing four shutout innings.

On Sunday, Francisco Liriano, who’d had a few troubled starts of late, truly stepped up his game and pitched very well. This time round he went seven innings throwing 97 pitches with four hits and two earned runs, six strike-outs and two walks. Fortunately, he got some great run support. Justin Morneau cracked a crucial three-run homer in the first inning, and the Twins put addtional runs on the board in the third, seventh, and ninth. Though St. Louis threatened in the later innings, a terrible base-running error in the ninth probably cost them a chance to make it close, but Minnesota still sent Joe Nathan in to get the final out as the Twins wrapped up a series victory with a 6-2 win.

Now the Twins get their first taste of the recently renovated Kauffman Stadium with three games against the struggling Kansas City Royals. The Royals have only won twice in their last ten games, but as ever, they’ll no doubt put up a good fight as the Twins look to get some momentum behind them before their extended home stand where they’ll face the Tigers, the Yankees, and the White Sox before the All-Star Break.

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.

Up and Down

Minnesota continued to show why they’re the most schizophrenic team in baseball, switching from glittering performances to ineptitude and back again over three games at the Metrodome.

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Thursday’s game was a swift two-hour affair (some kind of MLB Network-only game I think, with two unknown blokes commentating) and Nick Blackburn pitched a complete game, just one out shy of a shut-out, as the Twins emerged 5-1 winners and wrapped up a series victory over the Pirates. Both Brian Buscher (seriously!) and Michael Cuddyer went deep, but this game was all about an ever-impressive Blackburn inducing the Pittsburgh line-up into hitting ground-ball outs pretty much every inning.

However, the Twins performance on Wednesday night, when they lost 8-2 to the Pirates, was probably one of the worst I’ve seen all season. Francisco Liriano didn’t pitch too badly, but gave up a couple of two-run homers. However, with Pittsburgh leading 4-2, the bullpen clowns of Sean Henn and Luis Ayala gave up four more unnecessary runs in the eighth and ninth. Minnesota had numerous opportunities to score, but squandered them once again. Michael Cuddyer tripled in the sixth with one out, but Delmon Young hit into a double play, mainly because Cuddyer had made the foolish decision to break for home. In the seventh, with the bases loaded and only one out, Jason Kubel struck out and Joe Crede grounded out weakly. Delmon also hit into another double play later, and went 0-for-4. It was almost embarrassing watching him at the plate last night, but he was hardly alone, as the Twins failed to produce yet again. Sure, Minnesota has lost games this season when they’ve played poorly, but there was something about this slow, painful game last night that made me thankful that it finally ended.

For some reason, this team has a great deal of trouble staying at (or over) .500, and watching games like these, you can kind of see why. Still, a series victory was earned, and now the Twins face the Houston Astros in three games on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the Metrodome.

Pirates on Parade

The Twins latest (interleague) home stand got off to a good start last night with an 8-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Glen Perkins was welcomed back to the starting rotation and pitched solidly, getting good run support from our boys from the very beginning. Everyone got on base at some time, Crede and Cuddyer were back in the line-up and got hits, and Joe Mauer went 4-4 to increase his average to an incredible .429 for the season. No slowing down in June for Joe so far!

Jesse Crain, whose performances in the bullpen this year have been anything but stellar, got optioned to Rochester, which I think many Twins fan will welcome. However, despite his difficulties, I hope he can work them out and get back to pitching well again because the Twins bullpen is shorthanded already. Denard Span is on the DL for a few days while he sorts out his dizziness issues, and Jason Pridie has been called back up from Triple-A Rochester to the 25-man roster.

Francisco Liriano will get the start today, and I think he really needs a commanding game to boost his confidence. His opposition on the mound for the Pirates will be Ian Snell, who by the looks of things has also had his fair share of poor starts, going 1-7 this season so far. Should be an interesting game, and the Twins will be hoping to clinch a series victory quickly.

On Thursday, it will be Nick Blackburn vs Zach Duke. As the Pirates get used to playing in the Metrodome, I’m sure they’ll improve from yesterday’s performance, and will still provide the Twins with plenty of healthy competition. As they showed in their 2-1 series win over Detroit this past weekend, these plucky Pirates are no pushovers, especially with a mascot like this.

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photo: fullcountpitch.com