Tagged: nick punto

Your 2009 Minnesota Twins: AL Central Winners

Alexi Casilla singles to right field, Carlos Gomez scores.

I’m not sure what else I can add to the already salient commentaries out there on yesterday’s epic tie-breaker victory for the Twins over Detroit in 12 innings. Just check my “Minnesota Gurus” section in the margin to read them.

gomezjump.jpg

photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

All in all it was a tremendous, exciting, nerve-wracking, roller coaster of a game that in some ways pretty much mirrored both the Twins’ and Tigers’ up-and-down seasons. Rick Porcello pitched beautifully and silenced the 54,088 very lucky people who got to watch in the Metrodome, and with a 3-1 lead and Miguel Cabrera putting all his off-field troubles behind him, I must admit I was a little worried that the Twins had finally found their match.

But, like so often this year, Minnesota somehow found a way to fight back, and everyone seemed to contribute somehow, whether in the right way or the wrong way. The game was exciting because it had a little bit of everything: some bad umpire calls (but some great ones too), some sensational fielding but some errors of judgment, base-running mistakes by both teams, patient at-bats (yes, you Nick Punto — that was quite a job you did out there) and some absurd first-pitch impatient ground-outs (sorry Delmon Young, you’re back in the doghouse despite your recent heroics). The teams looked nervous out there, like they were fighting for their lives, and it pretty much made for the most exciting game I’ve ever seen at the Metrodome (and maybe beyond), and probably up there with the 1987 and 1991 World Series games in terms of historic victories. It was a game for the ages, and everyone who saw it will no doubt always remember it.

gomezflying.jpg

photo: AP/Yahoo!

I know Tigers fans will blame some of the loss on missed calls and the crazy Metrodome but seriously, some calls also went against the Twins too (and many more earlier this year). The so-called ‘plunking’ of Aubrey Huff was a very close call which looked like it merely brushed his leg, Brandon Inge should really start to wear a tighter-fitting shirt instead of that Tellytubbie-sized thing he puts on before every game, and Ryan Raburn diving for a ball which he could have just played on the bounce instead of trying for the Sportscenter web gem probably turned Michael Cuddyer’s single into a triple: but of course that was because of the Metrodome lights…

So many excuses, but really, Detroit played an incredible game, were a little unlucky, and didn’t win this division because they failed to hold a lead both in this actual tiebreaker, but more costly, over the entire month of September. This time last month, the Twins were seven games back. Entering the final games of the year, they were three back with four to play. Minnesota went an outstanding 17-4 over the last 21 games and finally found the team spirit and battling nature that had somewhat eluded them previously. Detroit fans should be well aware that even though it didn’t happen for them this year, some time in the future they will have an opportunity to turn the tables at the Twins’ expense: it’s just how this game works sometimes.

So, the Yankees huh? The Twins are totally over matched, to be honest, I don’t think they stand a chance. Then again, Minnesota’s odds of winning even the AL Central a week or so ago were something absurd like 5%. Anything could happen, and I’m just delighted to have been following this scrappy, crazy, small-market team for the past few years and seeing what they can achieve. It’s David & Goliath for sure in the play-offs, but if the Twins can keep things competitive (and that’s really all you can ask), it could be an interesting few games ahead.

stats.jpg

One final note before I go though. What the hell was with FOX and their AL play-off promos the past few weeks? As many of you probably saw, these promos featured the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Angels, and, you guessed it, the Tigers. I know the major networks just hate it when the small franchise clubs make it to the post-season, but you’d think by now they’d be smart enough to never second guess the game of baseball. If I was a Tigers fan, I’d be a little pissed about these, it’s almost like it jinxed them. I talked to a buddy of mine who told me that FOX were guilty of the same crime with the ’07 and ’08 Mets, so I’m thinking they might need to stop with their stupid promos preempting events in a sport that is notorious for its “anything can happen” mentality.

Advertisements

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.

punto-homer.jpg

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.

grudzy-sliding.jpg

photo: Tom Sweeney, Star Tribune

Mid-season Thoughts

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!

sandoval.GIF

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.

inge-ball.jpg

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.

denard-runs.jpg

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.

morneau-homer.jpg

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.

mauer-blackburn.jpg

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.

Two Games Over 500

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.

Twins Make it Interesting

nervous_chap.jpg

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.

Cleaved by Cleveland

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.

gomez.jpg

photo: AP/Yahoo!

Something interesting about both days’ results though was that Minnesota pretty much gained a game on everyone by winning the first one, as the Royals, White Sox, Tigers (and of course Cleveland) all found themselves losing. By giving up the second game however, only the Indians got any real leverage, because the Royals, White Sox, and Tigers all lost again. I hope this series doesn’t prove to be a lost opportunity for Minnesota, if the other teams in the AL Central are showing signs of weakness.