… 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.
I had this whole giant post mapped out in my mind, complete with details on every individual player and my thoughts on each aspect of the Twins’ season so far, but it just seems like things are more easily summed up in a single word: UNCONVINCING.
Yep, that’s my word to describe Minnesota’s season thus far. It’s not like they’ve sucked horribly, but neither have the lit up the league. Instead, they’ve just failed to live up to their potential so far. Can they turn it around? Of course they can. Will they? Who knows.
There’s already been much discussion on other blogs better than this one about what needs to be done. We know who’s been productive and what needs to change. But the one thing that remains true, above everything else, is that if the Twins’ starting pitching doesn’t improve, this team isn’t going to win the AL Central.
It doesn’t matter that the Twins are always usually around the .500 mark at the All-Star break. It doesn’t matter if the bottom of the order doesn’t produce like the top half. It doesn’t matter if the bullpen is showing signs of improvement. The simple fact is, the reason why Minnesota remains a .500 team right now is down to their starting pitching not being as good as it could be.
In other news…
- Alexi Casilla has been brought back to the squad. It’s probably the last chance for the young second baseman to prove himself, and I seriously hope he does because he’s a real asset when he’s playing well. Matt Tolbert has finally been sent back down to Triple-A Rochester. He never looked like a big leaguer the whole time he was up with the Twins anyway. What bugs me about the Casilla move though is that he’s likely to bat second, which could mean Ron Gardenhire will play Nick Punto more than the much more talented and productive Brendan Harris, because of the skipper’s continuing love affair with one of the most offensively inept players on the team (Punto). I personally liked the Denard Span, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau 1-2-3 line-up that was tried earlier this season, and it seemed to be a winning combination, but Gardy seems to insist on putting someone else in the number two spot before Joe and Justin.
- Kevin Slowey’s rehabilitation hit a snag when he tried some practice pitches this weekend, so Anthony Swarzak will probably get a few more starts. This one’s a real bummer as Slowey is one of the aforementioned starting pitchers who could help turn this season around for the Twins when healthy.
- I wanted to give a ‘shout out’ to my second favorite team, the San Francisco Giants. As a Bay Area resident, I’ve followed the progress of the Giants longer than the Twins, if not quite so avidly. After a couple of terrible seasons that have seen them fall from grace, I’m really delighted to see how well they’ve been playing so far. I think the Giants are going about things the right way, building their franchise on solid starting pitching, and I hope they make the play-offs this year. GO BIG PANDA!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Houston is the fourth largest city in the USA. For some reason, that statistic always surprises me. It’s also home to the Lyndon B Johnson Space Center, and of course, the Houston Astros who are in Minneapolis today for a three game series against the Twins. The Astros played for 30+ years in a dome too. Maybe back in the sixties and seventies that was considered “cool”.
The last time the two teams met was 2006. The previous year, the Astros had their only World Series appearance when they lost to the Chicago White Sox in 2005. Back then, they had Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte, and Roger Clemens among their pitching staff, but now, only Roy Oswalt remains. He’s still a great pitcher of course, so tonight’s showdown between him and Kevin Slowey should be a good one. If Slowey gets the win tonight, he’ll join the elite club of ten-game winners so far this year.
Though the Astros have been struggling lately, they certainly have some talent in their ranks. Miguel Tejada currently has a .341 average and recently achieved his 2000th big league hit last week. They also have that perennial favorite Pudge Rodriguez, who achieved a major milestone this week by setting the record for most games played as a catcher. Minnesota will probably seem like favorites on paper, taking their record at the Metrodome into account, but hopefully they’ll not take anything for granted this weekend.
Elsewhere in the AL Central, interleague play continues. The Tigers find themselves entertaining the Milwaukee Brewers, the White Sox are at Cincinnati for three games against the Reds, Cleveland gets to play at Wrigley Field against the Cubs this weekend, and Kansas City remain at home to face the mighty St. Louis Cardinals.