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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Minnesota secured its second series victory in a row last night with a walk-off 14-10 win in the 13th inning. They’ll be going for the sweep today, but runs will probably be a lot harder to come by what with Justin Verlander on the mound for Detroit.
It was a topsy-turvy game last night that took almost five hours to complete. The Twins gave up a 9-7 lead in the seventh inning, but Jason Kubel hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to tie it 9-9. In the 13th, after hitting a lead-off triple, Curtis Granderson got a vital run due to Jesse Crain’s balk to make it 10-9, but the fireworks really started at the bottom of the inning. After Nick Punto scored on a Matt Tolbert single to level it, Joe Crede stepped up and hit a game-winning walk-off grand slam.
Tuesday’s game was a little more conventional. The Twins topped the Tigers 6-2, but it was by no means plain sailing. Kevin Slowey found himself pitching out of a jam quite a lot, but his persistence was encouraging, and he had a bit of run support this time round. When Delmon Young lost what looked like a fairly easy ball in the left field in the first inning, and Joe Mauer missed a home run by mere inches, it looked like it was going to be one of those games again, but Minnesota prevailed, and Joe hit a homer to pretty much the same place his next at-bat. Reliever Jesse Crain gave up a home-run with the score at 5-1, then followed that up with a walk which led to a chorus of boos, and his immediate removal, but luckily this time, Detroit didn’t get to exploit that lapse much further.
In other notes, it was nice to see Dontrelle Willis back on the mound for the Tigers, though the Twins line-up didn’t give him a particularly warm welcome! Still, he does bring a great deal of enthusiasm to the game and seems to really enjoy himself up there, despite his recent emotional problems. Of course, he won’t be judged on just this single outing, but how he performs the rest of the season. I remember watching him pitch for the Marlins back in the 2003 World Series. Even though I wasn’t really much of a baseball follower back then, he certainly left an impression.
Well, it only took nine-and-a-half games this season for me to walk away mid-game from a Twins broadcast and head upstairs to play a stupid video game. To be honest, I’m surprised it wasn’t sooner. Last night’s performance against the Blue Jays was probably their most pitiful so far, and it’s all the more tragic because it seems the Twins still have a great team, but they’re totally lacking in confidence.
Thankfully, there’s still a long way to go, and things will get better. Some of the best teams make slow starts, and it’s way more tragic to slump later on in the season than it is early (I’m talking to you, Aston Villa, of English Premiership football fame).
I’m hardly the greatest baseball pundit out there, but I do notice a few things:
- Scott Baker shouldn’t be pitching balls up to super-hitting team like the Jays.
- Carlos Gomez needs some more batting practice or something.
- Luis Ayala and Philip Humber don’t look good, yet Craig Breslow and Jesse Crain (who look fine to this point) have been under-used.
- I’m still not sure whether Delmon Young will ever make it.
- Our starting pitchers will improve over time.
If the Twins can pull out a series draw against Toronto tonight (with Roy Halliday on the mound for them), that would be an achievement, and surely help their confidence. Even out of the mere four games they’ve won so far this season though, only one has been an impressive blow-out, the other three have been won by a mere whisker. In any sport, a team needs to be in command and show confidence, and right now, Minnesota is looking a little meek.