Tagged: joe nathan

So Endeth the Season

I guess it was never meant to be. The Twins scraped into the ALDS play-offs and were swept by the mighty Yankees. I’m sure the folks at FOX and TBS must be wetting themselves with glee now that the two smallest franchises (Twins and Rockies) are out of the running, but evidently someone didn’t get the memo about the Boston Red Sox, whose three-game sweep at the hands of the Angels was probably even more of a disappointment considering their mammoth payroll and failure to show up until the final game, which they then proceeded to blow in the ninth inning.

It’s so strange that three of the best closers in baseball, Joe Nathan, Huston Street, and Jonathan Papelbon all failed in critical save situations, and just goes to show how much pressure and emphasis the game places on these guys. Yet it was Mariano Rivera, nearing 40, who showed everyone how it should be done, as the Yankees rolled over the Twins.

In all three games, the Twins led at one point, but couldn’t hold those leads. To some extent the Twins almost beat themselves with some horrible base-running antics that made them look like amateurs out there. But the Yankees were relentless, and that’s how they should be, yet still looked frail at some points. There’s probably an enormous amount of pressure on them to succeed, but I’m thinking it might be tougher for them against an Angels team who appear to be a little more ‘loose’ and enjoying themselves.

The Minnesota Twins had a great run. Another AL Central title, their fifth in eight years is certainly an achievement, but they’re still unable to convert these to championship victories which is obviously disappointing. The last few weeks of the regular season made for exciting viewing as a fan, and that game #163 was the icing on the cake. Despite injuries to some of their major starters and best hitters, despite playing in a weak division where they barely kept themselves above .500, this team showed a lot of guts and determination to grab the title, but also demonstrated a lot of problems and issues along the way.

With the move to Target Field in April, what will the 2010 season bring?

Advertisements

Balls

It’d be very easy to blame a blown umpire’s call for the Twins’ loss on Friday night which saw them go 2-0 down in the American League Divisional Series play-off against the Yankees, but that would just seem like too much of a convenient scapegoat.

The fact is, a terrible base-running mistake by Carlos Gomez, closer Joe Nathan blowing a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Twins leaving 17 (yes, 17) runners on base, and failing to get a single run at the top of the 11th with the bases loaded and no outs (including first pitch outs by both Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez) were the real reasons for their failure, and it was all the more disappointing after Nick Blackburn had pitched so well for the first part of the game.

Detroit: We feel your pain.

That is all.

Yikes

Did you see what I did there?

“The simple fact is, that if the Twins don’t win more than three of the
four games upcoming at Comerica Park between Monday and Thursday, they
can pretty much kiss their play-off hopes goodbye.”

Of course, I was utterly wrong as usual. Instead, with just a single game to go tomorrow the Twins and the Tigers are tied in the AL Central. If one team wins and the other loses, it’s game over for the team that goes down. If both win or both lose, we’ll be, ahem, “enjoying” yet another game #163 at the Metrodome on Tuesday.

cuddyerfisthomer.jpg

photo: AP/Yahoo!

I’m stunned the season has ended like this. I admit I was guilty of writing off the Twins a couple of weeks ago, and you’d be hard pressed to find any fans out there who were still optimistic. Sure, we all knew mathematically that Minnesota could still reach the play-offs, but also, a few days ago, after splitting that four game series with Detroit, the Twins’ chances of reaching the post-season had dwindled to about 7% or something absurdly low.

Instead, somehow, the Twins staved off a valiant Kansas City fightback on Friday night (squandering a ten run lead as usual). Then, on Saturday, Minnesota managed the impossible by scoring four runs off Zack Greinke, and seemed to be coasting, but the bullpen once again screwed up Nick Blackburn’s incredible pitching effort as the Royals tied it up at 4-4 before “Mr September” Michael Cuddyer (.342 with seven homers and 22 RBIs in 19 games at first base since taking over there from injured Justin Morneau) hit his 31st home run of the year and Joe Nathan closed out the Royals again.

Meanwhile, the Tigers have been floundering against the White Sox who are “playing loose” with no pressure on them, and have already taken two out of three at Comerica Park. An epic choke for sure, but tomorrow could be a different matter for Detroit with Justin Verlander on the mound for them.

The Twins will bring back Carl Pavano on three-days rest to pitch against Luke Hochevar. It’s going to be a crazy final game at the Metrodome, how ever things pan out for the Twins, and it’s been a thoroughly exciting way to end the season.

Of course it’ll be saddening if the Twins don’t make it, but unlike last year, where they squandered their lead and could have clinched things sooner, this time they’ve been battling all the way from behind, and it’s been a fantastic effort regardless of the outcome tomorrow.

Wait. Only a Month to Go? Yikes…

Yep, I know, I should be updating this more often, but forgive my lack of entries lately while I still continue to get my life sorted out and find full-time work again so I can get back into some kind of settled routine. In the meantime, here’s a few thoughts from the past few weeks.

  • Glen Perkins may, apparently, file a grievance against the Twins for the way they handled his recent injury. I hope it gets settled. I always liked Glen, but it’s clear he couldn’t cut it as a starter and has been really inconsistent, despite showing occasional signs of brilliance.
  • Justin Morneau is in a slump again. I like this guy, I think he’s a huge talent, and there’s no denying his value to the Twins is immense. But despite this, he seems to end up going into a slump every single damn season, and always at the most inappropriate time. As many fans noticed, both Justin and Joe Nathan were also whining in the press a couple of months back about how the Twins organization don’t bring in enough new talent via trades, and yet both of these players have been instrumental in recent Twins losses because of  their lackluster performances. Of course, both are still hugely valuable players and are usually dominant factors in any Twins’ success, but perhaps they might need to think before they speak or just go about their business quietly and efficiently like Jason Kubel.
  • Matt Tolbert and Brain Buscher were both brought back up from Triple-A at the expense of some exciting younger prospects. This kind of bugs me. Both Tolbert and Buscher have proven to be decidedly below average in the majors over the past couple of years, but still the Twins won’t take a chance on some of the newer prospects who they deem “not ready”, despite tearing it up in the minors this year. I find this kind of sad as it seems to be something the Twins have done well in the past. True, not every youngster is going to cut it in the big leagues, but one Denard Span is certainly proof of what can happen if you give an unknown young’un a shot. What’s worse, is reading purported stories like this one, which imply that Matt Tolbert’s ‘enthusiasm’ and ‘hard work’ are enough to make him a success, despite his proven lack of talent and ability. What is he, a bloody cheerleader? The crap that spews forth from Ron Gardenhire sometimes is enough to make you crazy.
  • Jon Rauch, now a Twins’ relief pitcher after being traded from the D’Backs, has scary googily eyes, but whenever he’s on the mound, I can’t help staring at his neck tattoo which looks to be about the size of Alaska.
rauchtattoo.jpgphoto: David Wallace/The Arizona Republic

NYY and CWS Preview

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.

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.

liriano.jpg

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.