Tagged: triple-a rochester

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

See-y-Ayala-ter

You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to think up that horrible pun in the title, and it’s not even funny. Then again, it’s not as if the bullpen performances by Luis Ayala for the Twins this season have been full of mirth and glee.

ayala.JPEGIn a not particularly surprising turn of events, Minnesota designated relief pitcher Luis Ayala for assignment. I’m not sure what kind of assignment exactly. Maybe a “learn how to throw a pitch” assignment. OK, I’m being mean now, because admittedly, if you put me up there, I’d barely be able to chuck it 10 feet, but then again, I don’t get paid $1,300,000 to do my job.

In his place, the Twins called up one Bobby Keppel from Triple-A Rochester. I don’t know much about Bobby Keppel, but I am glad to see the Twins making an effort to do something about the struggling bullpen, especially as the AL Central is still wide open, and Minnesota has as much chance as anyone of winning it.

keppel.jpgAs I’ve probably mentioned numerous times before, I feel less aggrieved (though, of course, not exactly delighted) when a younger, inexperienced pitcher makes the odd
mistake or gives up a lead as it’s usually a learning experience for
them. What irks me more is when supposedly ‘experienced’ hands (who
the Twins pay millions for) come out onto the mound and throw like
pansies.

Good luck Bobby, you’re gonna need it. Sean Henn? Better watch your back, dude.

Pirates on Parade

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.

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photo: fullcountpitch.com

Taming the Cubs

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.

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photo: AP/Yahoo!

 
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!

Twins vs White Sox Series Preview

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The Minnesota Twins are coming off a series sweep by the Yankees. The Chicago White Sox are coming off a series sweep by the Blue Jays. Minnesota have just put starting pitcher Glen Perkins on the 15-day DL and called up relief-pitcher Sean Henn from Triple-A Rochester. It’s not certain yet who’ll take Perkins’ place in the pitching rotation though. Whoever it is, they will likely be the starter on Saturday against the Brewers. Perhaps it will be RA Dickey. Perhaps they’ll ressurect Sandy Koufax out of retirement and put him in a Twins uniform. I’d like to see one of the hot young pitchers like Anthony Swarzak or Kevin Mulvey called up to make their major-league debuts… seriously, what have we got to lose? But it has been remarked that these young arms are “not quite ready” which is ironic considering how ill-prepared our ‘older arms’ have looked in the bullpen this year.

The White Sox have gone 2-8 in their last 10 games but Minnesota should realize that a wounded Chicago could be a troublesome prospect. They have a nasty habit of waking up when playing the Twins at Cellular Field. I’m remaining cautiously optimistic about our chances Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, but I go on vacation Thursday anyway, so will only be observing from afar.

Roster Move

As expected, struggling switch-hitter Alexi Casilla has been sent down to Triple-A Rochester, while infielder Matt Tolbert has been recalled. I think Gardy gave Alexi enough chances to prove himself, but apart from his poor batting (.167 in 24 games), he’d also been having problems defensively, and is evidently lacking the confidence required to play with the big boys. I feel bad for poor Alexi, but he had it coming unfortunately.

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photo: AP

Brendan Harris will probably be back in the line-up, batting in the second spot, especially against right-handers, but I’m also hoping Carlos Gomez gets a few more opportunities to prove himself too.

Sadly, I don’t think this will be the last roster move the Twins will make this season. Unless things really pick up for Minnesota over the coming weeks, I’d expect a few pitching changes unless the struggling bullpen redeems itself. Of course, the capabilities of the bullpen depend so much on the offense being hot and starting pitching being solid, but right now, there may be a need for future roster changes if the bullpen can’t pull its weight.