It’s tough for Twins fans to view games against the New York Yankees without some sort of trepidation, after all, Minnesota’s record against the Bronx Bombers has hardly been favorable in the Ron Gardenhire era, with the Twins being stomped by the Yankees more often than not.
However, now is as good a time as any to break that run of disappointing results, and I’m sure the Twins will be looking for payback after New York swept Minnesota four games to nothing earlier this year at the new Yankee Stadium, even if three of those victories were closely contested walk-off wins.
The Twins are playing better recently, or at least, getting better results and series victories, however the Yankees have been on a hot streak and their line-up is very competent and dangerous as ever. To be honest, if it wasn’t for the 0-8 deficit the Yankees have had against the Red Sox so far this year, they’d probably be topping the AL East, and their powerful batting prowess is equally matched by their pitching abilities. With CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett going for the Yankees in two of the games this series, the Twins better be on top of their game, or they’ll be facing another sweep.
Still, positive news for the Twins organization yesterday was that Kevin Slowey is not seriously hurt and will return soon enough. Justin Morneau won the AL Player of the Week due to his excellent performances against the Royals and the Tigers last week, so Twins fans will be hoping he can keep that up. Joe Nathan was just named Delivery Man of the Month, an award I can’t say I’ve actually ever heard of previously, but nevertheless, his recent performances closing out games have been nothing less than stellar.
The weekend series against the White Sox should be interesting too. There’s another team that has also been performing much better of late, and despite some struggles at the Metrodome last season, I doubt the Sox will roll over so easily this year. If the Tigers eventually lose their claws, it’ll probably be the Twins and White Sox contending for the AL Central top spot again until the bitter end.
Looking forward to the six games ahead between now and Sunday, if Minnesota can come through with even a 3-3 record, I think they’ll have done very well. Of course, anything better than that would be a nice fillip with which to enter the All Star Break.
Seriously, you read that correctly. Minnesota is finally two games over the .500 mark for the first time this season thanks to a 5-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals. After playing terribly in the first game, the Twins played moderately better yesterday to beat the Royals 2-1, but that was mainly down to the increasingly error-prone Kansas City line-up. Today, the Twins were a little more convincing and came out on top, with Joe Mauer going 3-for-3 and Glen Perkins largely untroubled by the Royals’ bats. Minnesota has now gone 10-6 on the road since June 8.
With a day off tomorrow, the Twins will just have to hope that the injuries sustained to Justin Morneau, Mike Redmond, and Nick Punto aren’t too severe. All three left the game at some point today because they were hurt. Justin left because of a ‘tight left groin’, and the Twins would definitely miss his presence terribly if his injury is severe. Nick Punto continues to get hurt so often, it’s getting beyond a joke, especially because he’s been wholly unconvincing with the bat all season long. Maybe Ron Gardenhire will put him on the DL or finally bench him for a longer stint so someone more worthy can get a chance in the line-up. Right now, the bottom of the Twins order continues to perform woefully compared to the guys at the top.
Next up, the Detroit Tigers visit Minnesota for a series that could really make a difference to the AL Central standings. Detroit lost a series to the A’s today, so are three games ahead of the Twins, with three games to play at the Metrodome this weekend.
I’m guessing the Royals love playing the Twins. They always seem to make us look like complete amateurs out there, and play their best baseball against Minnesota, despite struggling in recent weeks. Then again, when you put up Brian Buscher, Delmon Young, and Nick Punto in the seventh, eighth, and ninth spots, you’re hardly going to put the fear of god in opposing pitchers. Kansas City won 4-2 this evening.
Nick Blackburn didn’t pitch too badly at first, but the Twins never really got going until the eighth inning, when Justin Morneau’s two-run homer made the scoreline seem a little more respectable, but it was too little too late. The best moment of the game was probably Ron Gardenhire’s temper tantrum that got him ejected. A pitch that Jason Kubel clearly batted onto his foot bounced to Billy Butler who tagged first base and it was called an out. Gardy (rightly) got super-pissed when the home-plate umpire refused to ask the third-base umpire for his view on the play so he got ejected for the third time this year.
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.
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.
I’m having a hard time understanding this ‘magical’ 100 pitch count that managers seem to insist upon. Nick Blackburn had pitched a great game, and the Twins had a 2-0 lead, but in the eighth inning the bullpen came in and royally screwed it up. I won’t waste everyone’s time again explaining what happened, but it was certainly ugly.
Sure, the Twins had secured a series win, but they were pretty much set for a sweep, and I’m positive Blackburn could easily have thrown a few more pitches. If Minnesota lose the division race by a single game this year, it’s going to be decisions like this that will haunt them.
Trouble is though, the Twins will have difficulty remaining competitive throughout this long season, unless they sort out their pitiful bullpen, or Ron Gardenhire begins to allow his starting rotation an extra inning or two, especially when they’re ahead.
Then again, last Sunday, Gardy could be criticized for not taking Scott Baker out soon enough. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t… who’d be a manager, eh?