Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Game Notes and Recap 4/4/2007 Twins 7- Orioles 2

I think I'm obligated to be a Ramon Ortiz fan if for no other reason than he has ears that stick out almost as much as mine.

Oh yeah, those are the real deal.

Ramon Ortiz's first game for the Twins was a gem. Coming into the game there were a lot of skeptical fans who were concerned that Ortiz was a disaster waiting to happen. Well, for at least one game, disaster has been averted. Ortiz pitched his way through seven very good innings allowing just 5 hits and one walk and for the most pat was never really in trouble. He did give up two runs in the sixth when Brandon Roberts led off the innings with a triple and Melvin Mora, who hit a home run last night, doubled bringing in Roberts. Mora would later score on a ground out to Punto on a play where it appeared Punto lost track of the situation, throwing to first for the second out when he probably could have run down Mora. But that was all Baltimore could put together as Ortiz got through the seventh inning finishing with 4 strikeouts on 97 total pitches, 56 strikes, 41 balls. Overall it looked like Ortiz relied on his fastball which was hitting 90-92 and his slider which was very effective tonight. After Ortiz, Matt Guerrier came on to pitch the eighth and ninth striking out two while allowing only one single by Miguel Tejada getting through them both in only 25 pitches.

At the plate the Twins took advantage of a second straight day of wildness by Baltimore pitchers walking a total of six times, all in the first three innings. Of the six people batters who walked, four scored. Driving in runs for the Twins tonight were Cuddyer, White, and Castillo each with two RBI's. Jason Kubel also had his first RBI of the season on a RBI double in the 5th. The Twins also managed to put up 11 hits, 3 by Cuddyer, 2 by Mauer and Castillo (both infield hits giving him5 on the season). Also contributing base hots were Tyner, White, Hunter, and Kubel. Justin Morneau had a tough night going 0-4 with two strikeouts. However he did launch a bomb down the right field line that went just foul, his second near miss in as many nights, if he keeps hitting like that he could be even better than last year.

In the field, the Orioles helped the Twins cause by committing two errors, a third error was ruled a hit to Luis Castillo's, and Miguel Tejada's benefit. It wasn't a great night in the field for the Twins either as Jason Bartlett committed his second error of the season when he threw wildly to first trying to get Chris Gomez. Its the second time Bartlett has tried to rush plays he had plenty of time on, each resulting in an error. Hopefully Gardy will sit him down and tell him to just relax and let his talent do the work. A second Twins error was called a hit when Torii Hunter (no its not a typo) dropped a fly ball in the 8th. He had to make a long run on the play, but so did Jay Gibbons in the 3rd when he dropped Castillo's foul pop. I don't get why one was called an error and the other wasn't. Must be the gold-glove effect.

All in all another solid game for the Twins and a big test passed with flying colors by Ramon Ortiz. If he can give us 10 more games like that this year we'll be in great shape.

- Rondell White failed to draw a walk tonight going 1-4 with a strikeout.

- After stealing five bases last night the twins didn't run once even though they had plenty of opportunities, especially in the early innings.

- Nick Punto went 0-3 but showed signs of improvement at the plate finally being more patient and drawing two walks and putting the ball in play when he didn't walk.

- Castillo now has 5 infield hits this season. At this rate he'll surpass last seasons high mark of 41 by Ichiro by the end of May.

- Michael Cuddyer must have hurt himself after a foul tip, being replaced by Tyner in ight in the 5th inning. Before that he had gone 3-3, hopefully getting some of the annoyed Twins fans off his back for at least a game or two.

- Joe Nathan had his baby and got the day off. Congrats Joey, however you can't save 162 games now. Just think about that, the most you can end up with is 161. Pathetic.

- The Twins faced a total of 10 3-ball counts tonight, walking 6 times and singling and doubling once each.

- Despite being down in every game the Orioles showed Mauer's arm some real respect and didn't try to steal even once.

- Joe Mauer is now looking Ted Williams square in the eye and has only 53 games to go to tie the record.

- The Twins are well on their way to the first perfect season ever at 3-0 and in the same place they'll remain all season, 1st.

Around the League 4/4/2007

1) Though I could find at least 10,000 Twins fans who would contest the point (and with a degree of validity) JD Durbin made Terry Ryan once again look like maybe, just maybe, he knows what he's doing. Taking in the D-Backs, Rockies game this afternoon I couldn't help but be shocked to see the D-Backs turn to Durbin down two runs in the eighth. Durbin got Steve Finley to ground out to start the innings then got bombed. In all he gave up seven runs on seven hits with at least 3-4 doubles a bunch of singles a couple walks... By the time the dust settled the score was 11-2 and there were still only two outs in the innings. He did fall victim to hitters making good contact on good pitches but there weren't any bleeders, Texas leaguers, or dying quails mixed in and the Rockies punished every mistake. I know why Twins fans love Durbin, he's got a live arm and electric stuff but he has no idea how to pitch, a terrible makeup, and poor control and at 26 his days are over. Good riddance.

2) I've always been a Fransisco Rodriguez fan and believed he had the best stuff of any closer in the league. Tonight he proved why that doesn't always make you the best closer as he made a serious situation out of a three run lead. He struck out the first batter but then surrendered a hit up the middle which I think was actually scored as an error on the shortstop. But then he gave up a single and walked a batter to load the bases with one out throwing 7 balls in a row at one point. He then dug himself a hole against Brad Wilkerson before he hit a deep drive to right-center that was caught but brought in a run and left runners on first and third. His control was so bad I was starting to think he might just walk the Rangers around the bases.

3) If the Vikings take Brady Quinn I'll personally slaughter the entire front office. Or at least I'll be boycotting a second straight season.

4) I'm a huge Elijah Dukes fan, not just because of his talent but also for the attitude that he has. I know everyone else hates it but I'm always excited to see someone who's lived a tough life have a chance to redeem himself and excel. I hope he does and I'll be rooting for him every game, same with Josh Hamilton and for pretty much the same reasons. Amy Nelson of ESPN the Mag has a nice article on Dukes.

5) I have a feeling that Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory might have made a better pitch last night than anything were going to see from Carlos Silva.

6) Miguel Cabrera is off hot. 7-10 with five walks, one strikeout, 2 doubles and two home runs. Throw in 6 rib eye's and 5 runs and wow. He has an OPS of 2.300.

7) Curtis Granderson had a huge day getting the hard half of the cycle with a triple and a grand slam. For the day he was 2-5 with 5 RBI's, 2 runs, and a stolen base. For the season he's 4-10 with a single, double, triple and homer 5 RBI's and 3 runs. However he still is striking out a lot with 3 in ten at-bats.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Game Notes and Recap 4/3/2007 Twins 3- Orioles 2

On night where the Metrodome proved its worth the Twins played some classic Minnesota baseball. The game also featured a cool occurence for me as I had the sincere pleasure of meeting and taking in a game with Nick Nelson of 'Nick and Nick's', he's great individual and every bit as knowledgeable a fan of the game as he seems in his writing.

Boof Bonser proved why the Twins made him their number two starter this year as he pitched six good innings. Things occasionally looked tough for Boof out there as he was certainly wild at times, and ended the fourth inning with 80 pitches. The final two innings went a bit better as he retired the Orioles 2-7 hitters in order in exactly 20 pitches. For the game he went six innings in 100 pitches (41B-59K) surrendering 3 hits, 3 walks and striking out 6 while allowing only two runs. Despite those good numbers however, I think Bonser did rely on his fastball way too much as I had him throwing only ten off-speed pitches all game. That may work fine against a weak Orioles lineup but I'm concerned that once he has to play some of the teams within our own division he might get hit hard. Hopefully he'll start utilizing his curve more as the season goes on as the times he did throw it, it broke nicely down and away on righties. Both Nick and I thought he should have gotten some back-door strikes on that pitch that weren't called.

After Bonser the Twins proved exactly why they may just be ok with the weak combination of Ramon Ortiz, Carlos Silva, and Sidney Ponson taking 60% of the starts early this year; the game really only lasts six innings for most opposing teams offenses. Pat Neshek came entered the game in the seventh and pitched a good frame. He hit Corey Patterson to lead off the inning but then got reserve catcher Alberto Castillo on a sac bunt, Roberts on a deep fly to center, and struck out Melvin Mora to end the inning.

The eighth was an interesting inning as Gardenhire brought on Juan Rincon to pitch (which is normal) and after he struck out Nick Markakis and allowed a crisp single to Miguel Tejada on a 0-2 count he was pulled for Dennys Reyes. Nick and I disagreed a bit about the logic but in the end everything worked out as Reyes gave up a single to Aubrey Huff but Jay Gibbons to ground to first. With two outs and runners on second and third Gardy made another call to the bullpen bringing in Jesse Crain for the second time in as many games (my argument with Nick was that he should've used Crain first where he might be more comfortable). Crain proved equal to the task though and got stone-aged Kevin Millar to toss a can of corn to Cuddyer in right to end the inning. The ninth inning was... you know, Joe Nathan. With two outs he walked Roberts on four pitches to make sure that he fulfilled his requisite 'no easy saves' rule but then got Mora swinging to end it.

The Twins offense, while not nearly as hot as last night managed to get the job done as we've seen them do numerous times over the last five years. It seems like the names and faces change but the Twins game pretty much stays the same. As a team the Twins managed only seven hits for the game going 7-29 overall. Daniel Cabrera, a notorious as both a wild pitcher and a Twins killer seemed like he would win again as the Twins couldn't put anything together in the first three innings before knocking in a run in both the fourth and fifth. But despite those runs, Cabrera seemed in control as Twins hitters seemed to play away from the pitchers weakness swinging early in counts. The Twins fifth inning run was largely a result of finally beginning to milk counts as both Torii Hunter and Jason Kubel drew walks before Luis Castillo brought Hunter home with two outs. For the game Cabrera went seven innings allowing 3 runs, all earned gave up six hits (all singles) while walking four and striking out eight. I did notice that his fastball topped out around 93. A tad slow from what I've come to expect out of him.

Over the first Michael Cuddyer had his second straight dismal game and probably provided Nick and I with some of our best moments in predicting how many pitches it would take Cuddyer to strike out. Thankfully (or not so much) he obliged by striking out two more times and ended the first two games of the year with 5 strikeouts in 8 at-bats. Somehow he's managed to take only 3.13 pitchers per appearance this year, putting him the better part of a full pitch behind his career average, needless to say he'll need to improve upon that if he's going to duplicate his success of last year. Thats not to say everything was awful for him. He did smash a ball up the middle that Miguel Tejada made a ridiculous diving play on and turned into a 6-4-3 double play, easily the best defensive play of a game almost completely devoid of great defense. To be even more cruel, since he hit into the DP he didn't get credit for driving in Nick Punto. Luis Castillo had another good night at the plate going 2-4 on a pair of hits that really bring Cuddyer's robbery into sharper focus. In the 1st inning he hit a sharp grounder back to the mound that ricocheted off Daniel Cabrera and Castillo just beat out the throw after jogging out of the box. He got another cheap single in the 5th when he hit a chopper off the top of Cabrera's glove that planted itself in no mans land behind the mound and no one was able to make a play. Jason Bartlett also had a cheap single and RBI when he drove in the winning run in the seventh on a busted bat blooper that fell just fair beyond third base. I suppose thats just how baseball goes though.

As for MVP and Batting Champ they're each on pace to demolish Ted Williams' 56 game hit streak as they've now each logged hits in their first two games. Mauer had a pair of singles and Morneau singled in the second and walked in the 6th while striking out twice. While Morneau is still on track for a 162 game hitting streak, he has cooled off substantially on the homerun pace, falling from a projected 162 down to 81. He did come close to a homer in the second though when he drove one down the line in left and just foul before going up the middle for a single. On Morneau's last strikeout he looked particularly bad, after getting ahead 2-0 he then swung at three pitches on the out-half pulling his front shoulder out each time leaving himself no chance at the ball. Continuing an odd but hopeful trend, Rondell White who's never walked more than 41 times in a year (back in 1995!) drew his second walk of the season after drawing only 11 in 355 plate-appearances last year. He is now on pace for 162 walks though he's failed to get a hit in his first five at-bats.

For the game the Twins didn't manage a single extra-base hit but took advantage of Alberto Castillo making his first stat behind the plate as a reserve who was called up to provide a third catcher while Ramon Ortiz heals up. The Twins ran wild on Castillo, swiping five bases and not being caught once. Committing larceny for the Twins were Mauer, Castillo, Hunter, Bartlett and Tyner who had probably the ugliest stolen base I've ever seen. After White drew his second walk of the season (I still haven't gotten over that idea) in the seventh Tyner pinch ran and on the second pitch of the at-bat took off for second and beat the throw by a few strides. However in his head first dive he seemed to roll over his left shoulder, then his right, finally crawling into second still ahead of the tag for his second stolen base of the year. I was quite concerned at first as he didn't move immediately after the play and I thought he may have dislocated both shoulders in one dive. Thankfully to say he got up and eventually scored on a great hustle play going from second to home on Bartlett's Texas leaguer to score the winning run.

Up next Ramon Ortiz vs Jaret Wright

Monday, April 2, 2007

Game Notes and Recap 4/3/2007 Twins 7- Orioles 4

Game 1; Orioles vs Twins Boxscore

Opening night is here and I'm absolutely stoked. Game notes.

-1st Pitch, Brad Radke for his final strike one. Ironically its one of the first early game pitches he's thrown in his life that wasn't hit for a home run.
-1st Orioles hitter. Johan Santana strike-out.
-Joe Mauer's 1st At-Bat, first pitch fastball away, single. On a personal note, I was sitting there thinking, "man I hope they throw him a first pitch fastball away, he chews those up.," then BAM, they did it. Honestly, did the Orioles forget to scout Mauer? Did they somehow miss the part where he had 181 hits last year? Most of them on that exact same pitch?
-Justin Morneau's 1st At-bat, first pitch fastball down mainstreet, homer just over my seats.
-Twins go back to back with Torii Hunter hitting the first offering he saw after Morneau's homer over the baggie in right-center. Both of them were first pitch no-doubters. I like the way things are going.
-Santana proves he is indeed human. I find myself surprised because the first three innings left me feeling as though me might actually be an android, a belief that is shattered by three doubles, and an absolute bomb by Tejada which may have ricocheted off the IDS Tower before landing 15 rows deep to almost dead center. Oh yeah, he had his orange crush.
-For as average as his line looked, Michael Cuddyer put up a fine ballgame working into deep counts each time he came up. The strikeout in the first was tough though, he took a fastball right down the middle and he knew it. Three strikeouts a night from the four hole though just wont suffice. But watching his at-bats I see no need for long-term concern.
-I'm surprise by Nick Punto and Jason Bartlett's nights. Punto's because he had a hit, Bartlett's because he didn't.
-After a bad looking first two at-bats Castillo can't be kept off the bases. A nice bunt and a couple good slashes through the infield.
-For anyone who was curious why Gardy would want three catchers, observe last night.
-I hate the Metrodome tonight. But I'll love it tomorrow.


Good game from our boys. Santana, though he struggled in the fourth did a good job of keeping the team in the game and showed flashes of his brilliance. In all his game was relatively short as its obvious the Twins are still trying to stretch him out as he went only 83 pitches in 6 innings, a good ratio. I was also pleased with his strike rate of 70% which means, as always he's finding the zone consistently which wasn't always the case early last year. Another thing I hope viewers on TV or at the game noticed about his outing is that his fastball was hitting 94. I'm not certain if any of you remember, but last year for the first 2-3 months he was only getting to 91-92. It might not seem like much but those extra couple miles and hour make his changeup just that much more effective. Now if he can just keep them down in the zone hitters wont be slashing them off the baggie quite as often. Also, I know he loves his changeup but I'd like to see him throw his slider/cutter to lefties more often. Its a nasty pitch for them because it looks so much like his fastball but has that tailing action that could induce a lot of soft grounders to Punto and Bartlett. Just an idea. Overall Santana had a fine night though going six, while giving up seven hits (4 doubles, 1 homer which tells me he just made some mistake pitches, mostly changeups from what I observed), walking two and striking out six.

Even if the Santana wasn't in midseason form though it was ok, because for the most part the lineup was. Other than Torii and Justin's back to back first pitch homeruns which will get most of the ink, Luis Castillo showed his abilities by slashing a ball down the third baseline for a double, and laying down a gorgeous bunt for a single and going 3-5 overall on the night. In all, the Twins racked up 12 hits while striking out only six times (3 by Cuddyer). The Twins also looked good on the bases with the exception of Morneau who inexplicably tried to take home and was gunned down by a mile but managed to rip off half of poor Paul Bako's chin. Morneau was also thrown out at second on a play where I assumed he must have thought there was going to be a relay throw home. Both throws were made by Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis.

After the sixth the Twins turned to their vaunted bullpen and it was more of the same. Dennys Reyes worked a third of an inning walking one and getting a strikeout. Then inexplicably they pulled Reyes (a lefty specialist) with another lefty coming up and went with Jesse Crain who shut the next two hitters down anyways. I just thought that was a particularly curious decision by Manager Ron Gardenhire who is probably the best bullpen manager in baseball. In the eighth the Twins brought on familiar setup man Juan Rincon who worked a good but not overly impressive inning where I feel the home-plate umpire Joe West suddenly shrunk the strike-zone. I'm not certain if anyone else saw this, but for both teams pitchers it suddenly because really hard to find the plate. Now I didn't like his zone from the onset, he gave too much inside, not enough away. But at least he was pretty consistent through six innings. But the one things I and every pitcher in the world hates is when the zone suddenly changes. Or worse, when you throw an identical pitch in the same exact location in back to back pitches like Rincon did and one gets called a strike and the other a ball. Maddening. In the ninth with a three run lead the Twins brought on Mr. Unhittable Joe Nathan. Four batters and one walk later the game was over.

Twins 1-0
When you ask most people what their favorite day of the year is, I'm sure most will mention a religious holiday, Christmas for example would garner many votes. I'm sure thanksgiving would make off fairly well too. People will tell you how much they enjoy being in the company of their family and with people they love and care about. But for a baseball fan, today is certainly better. Today in fact is the happiest day of the year. We've waited patiently since the end of the World Series in October for the return of the greenest grass and the bluest skies on the planet which will be sullied by only the military jets roaring triumphantly overhead and the ball piercing its way through the air. First pitches will be thrown, infielders will rough up their spots on the field just so, batters will dig in, and pitchers will burrow in front of the rubber.

Today you'll once again get to to hear and feel the electric gasp that can fill a crowd of 50,000 as the bat cracks and a ball is hit deep and bounces to the wall as a fleet baserunner makes a strong turn around second and heads for third. The tension and anxiety as he slides head first for third as the throw arrives and the third baseman catches and swipes at the bag. I'm not ordinarily a religious man, but bless the heavens, the angels, the saints and God its back. I don't think I could have waited another day but now my patience will be rewarded by seven straight months of baseball, save for the two days bracketing the all-star game which I will continue to despise though I know they're necessary. But thats ok because today is the beginning of our very own seven-month long holiday. Finally we can take our much deserved breaks from work to follow our teams on the internet, either through the boxscores or on and we can cheer our teams on and enjoy eternal afternoons and evenings at the ballpark.

To all of my readers (I think thats about 15 people or so...) I hope you enjoy the holiday as much as I do, but remember, important times of the year like this are for spending with friends and family, so be sure to include them in the joy too.