Saturday, May 5, 2007

Recap 5/5/2007 Twins 2 , Blood Sox 1

My poor finger nails...

Whenever Johan Santana takes the mound Twins fans immediately feel more comfortable. Thats what happens when a guy is undoubtedly the most dominant pitcher in baseball. And for a guy who's been notorious as a slow starter early in the season he's been quite good this year, though he's far from being as dominant as he can be. Coming off three straight losses the Twins needed that sort of dominance as they went into their second game of the series with the AL East leading Red Sox who shut them out last night.

Early in the game Johan certainly wasn't at top form as he struggled through the first two innings allowing three hits and walking two. However he got through those innings unscathed and the Twins, who have been finding ways to not score with runners in scoring position almost all season found a way to push runs across the plate in the second. With one out Justin Morneau singled and went to second on an error. The next two batters, Jason Kubel, and Jeff Cirillo each walked to load the bases. Cirillo's ten pitch at-bat in particular made me happy as its the exact sort of bat that a team would like to have one or two of in each game (and the Twins have had almost none of) as they can eat up a starters arm. The next batter, Jason Tyner grounded into a fielders choice, forcing Cirillo at second (who made a great hard slide) but that scored Morneau. The hitter, Jason Bartlett hit the first pitch he saw hard on the ground to third and a diving Mike Lowell couldn't make the play and everyone was safe. Castillo grounded to short to end the inning but the Twins had two much needed early runs. Not surprisingly those runs would be all the Twins could muster against the latest pitcher they're trying to nominate for the CY Young award, Julian Tavarez.

After the second inning Santana continued to deal but he had another 30 pitch inning in the fourth and was out of the game by the fifth. It certainly wasn't one of his better outings as he gave up 7 hits and two walks, far from Santana-esque. Thankfully to say the bullpen which has had a up and down season bailed him out as Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Pat Neshek, and Joe Nathan pitched scoreless frames of varying degrees of worry. In particular the ninth inning was once again an adventure as Kevin Youkilis reached on an error by Nick Punto with one out to bring up David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. Ortiz SMOKED a liner to center and thank goodness Torii Hunter was out there because that was a tough ball to go get. Then Manny Ramirez stepped in and with 40,000+ fans on their feet, "Stand Up And Shout," nailed down Manny Ramirez.


- The Bullpen. They we're all fantastic holding down one of baseballs most formidable lineups. Joe Nathan in particular gets credit for shaking off some real rough outings early this year, staring down a brutal lineup and coming up huge.


- The lineup. All of them. Its freaking Julian Taravez guys!


Listening to the post-game commentary I find it humorous how they always say things like, "Julian Tavarez had his best outing of the year tonight, he's got great stuff and his sinker was really working well...," blah, blah, blah. Are you kidding me? The Twins have made almost every single pitcher they've faced this year look like Sandy Koufax, and it has jack to do with them being on their game. It has everything to do with this Twins lineup being filled with fringe major leaguers. That said, theres almost no chance Terry Ryan will be doing anything to change our lineup so I might as well just shut-up and accept it.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Devil Rays Sting Back

For the second time this season the Twins have allowed promising starts to road trips to fall apart. On the last road trip against Seattle and Kansas City it was the sweep of the Mariners followed by a series loss to the Royals. This week its a 2-1 series victory over division rival Detroit followed by a series loss to the pathetic Devil Rays. But the one thing both series' have in common is that the Twins have been woefully inconsistent in almost every facet of the game.

Before I delve into yet another rant, allow me to begin by saying how pleased I've been with the Twins rotation. Even with the failures of Sidney Ponson, and the disappointing start by Boof Bonser, the staff has held it's own, giving the Twins a chance to win almost every night. Guys such as Ramon Ortiz, who had his first (and surely not his last) rough start of the season tonight, and the much maligned Carlos Silva have more than held their own. If not for their performances the Twins would be 5-6 games from first place, or worse.

On to the ranting phase...

Over the course of this entire season, be it home or away, the Twins offense has been unable to put together strong innings and the past two nights are just another example. Wednesdays game will mostly be remembered for Joe Nathan's ninth inning collapse, but its a collapse that would never had had the opportunity to happen had the Twins converted on any of their multiple chances to drive home runners in scoring position earlier in the game. I know I've been a broken record about this issue but its the single most glaring problem this team has, and last night just further proves the point as the Twins went just 1-10 in that situation. Its perfectly conceivable that had they recorded just one more hit, we win last night game. What makes that loss so tough to take was that it was also Boof Bonser's best start since his first outing of the season against the Orioles.

While many of the Twins early failures this season could be attributed to the lack of hitting coming from the likes of Nick Punto and Jason Bartlett, they're bats have really seemed to come alive of late, but the problem is the bats of Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, and most notably Justin Morneau have gone comatose. Morneau in particular has been nothing short of a complete miserable failure. With all due respect to his decent .275 batting average and his (tied) team leading six homeruns, his inability to produce in run producing situations has become a running joke at my household, and there is no way to make the comedy more bearable. In 36 at-bats this season he has exactly six hits, all but one of which was a single. This off-season and spring Justin turned down the Twins contact extension offers. While I was disappointed at the time, I'm thankful now as he's fallen right back into his old impatient, try-to-do-too-much self. Hopefully he'll have another mid-season epiphany, but I wont be the one holding my breath.

The good thing is that the bats of players like Nick Punto and Jason Bartlett have finally started to come to life after an extended winter slumber. With both of their averages back up near the .250 mark I'm hopeful for another good season from the left side of our infield. While it would be nice to have any power from our 'Piranha's' they can be effective if they all consistently hit at or above .280.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Grading the Bullpen

With an off day on Monday coinciding with the end of April, plenty of Twins bloggers took the opportunity to recap the season so far. Given their excellent work, and the ongoing This Week in Twins feature written by Andrew Berg here at MNSG (which is always worth the read), I won't throw my hat in that ring, but rather we're going to take a more focused look at one aspect of the Twins ballclub, the bullpen.

Coming into this season, the Twins starting rotation was a sizeable question mark, but the bullpen was considered to be a strength. Juan Rincon, Pat Neshek, Jesse Crain, Dennys Reyes, Matt Guerrier, and one of the best closers in the game Joe Nathan were all returning pieces from a very solid bullpen last year. Glen Perkins started the year in AAA Rochester, but was quickly called up to provide an extra arm for Ron Gardenhire out of the pen. The Twins starters have averaged just over 6 innings per start, and at least one member of the bullpen has appeared in every game thus far this season, pitching 77 innings in 26 games. Given the importance of the bullpen and its perceived strength, let's take a look at how they are performing thus far.

Here are some selected stats for the Twins bullpen, listed alphabetically by middle initial (WXRL and Leverage stats are current through the weekend series):

Jesse A. Crain10
Pat J. Neshek12
Juan M. Rincon11
Joe M. Nathan12
Matt O. Guerrier11
Dennys V. Reyes15
Glen W. Perkins6

First a word on the grades that you're about to see. I started everyone off at a C, and then, for a good performance, I bumped them up, and conversely, for a bad performance the overall grade dropped. I'm an optimist by nature, so I've tried to keep that in check a little bit by using Win Probability Added (which can be found at FanGraphs for each game) to settle any borderline performances.

Jesse A. Crain

Highest WPA - 4/3 vs. Bal, entered with Twins leading 3-2 with 2 outs and runners on 2nd and 3rd, faced a single batter, inducing a flyout to end the inning
Lowest WPA - 4/29 @ Det, entered a 3-3 tie, and, after one scoreless inning, gave up the game winning homerun to Brandon Inge

Recently Crain has certainly struggled. He was on the mound when the Indians broke a 3-3 tie in the 12th by scoring 4 runs (all charged to Jesse), and he also gave up Brandon Inge's walk-off homerun on Sunday. Perhaps these struggles are a result of a shoulder strain which kept him out for seven games (WPA before 24.5 in 4 games, WPA after -31.4 in 7 games). He's been used in high leverage situations, only Joe Nathan and Juan Rincon have a higher leverage index, and has done relatively well when brought into pressure situations. He has only allowed 1 of his 6 inherited runners to score (that was in the Yankees series with the Twins already trailing 6-0). He also hasn't got into too many jams, he's finished every inning he's started except the aforementioned debacle against the Indians in the 12th.

His WXRL is the lowest on the team thus far, and he hasn't really given us much to be optimistic about recently. Hopefully his shoulder will get back to full strength and his early season form will return.
Ray's Grade: C- (his early success keeps this from being lower)

Pat J. Neshek

Highest WPA - 4/23 vs. Cle, entered a tie game with the bases loaded and 2 out and retired the first batter with a strikeout. He also added another scoreless inning in the outing.
Lowest WPA - 4/19 @ Sea, entered with the Twins leading 6-2. Pat allowed a hit, a walk, and a homerun in 2/3 of an inning.

Neshek has been outstanding, the only runs he has allowed this year were on the homerun in a game where it made very little difference in the outcome of the game. He has inherited 8 runners and not allowed any of them to score. At no point has Neshek left the game with runners on base. The first batter Neshek has faced is hitting .111/.250/.222 with 4 strikeouts in 12 plate appearances, while with runners on base the numbers are similar, .136/.174/.318.

Neshek is one of two Twins relievers with a WHIP below 1.00, he has the highest WXRL of the bullpen. Oddly, his leverage index is hovering around 1. I would predict that number to come up as Gardenhire uses Neshek in more pressure packed situations with his continued success.
Ray's Grade: A-

Juan M. Rincon

Highest WPA - 4/26 v. KC, entered a 0-0 tie and pitched a 1-2-3 inning.
Lowest WPA - 4/12 v. TB, entered with a 2-0 lead, pitched 1/3 of an inning allowing a homerun, two singles, and a walk, allowing the Rays to tie the game before Neshek bailed him out.

It's difficult to asses Rincon, because even his good outings just aren't that inspiring, he's only had two outings where he hasn't allowed a baserunner. Rincon has the second highest leverage index in the bullpen behind Joe Nathan, he's pitched marginally well in pressure situations. His WPA is hurt by the very bad outing versus Tampa (-50.5 WPA) which counters his other 10 appearances (+51.4 WPA) of which the lowest is -1. He has allowed 3 of the 5 runners he has inherited to score and on 3 different outings other members of the bullpen have saved his bacon, of the 5 runners the bullpen has inherited from Rincon, none of them have scored.
Ray's Grade: B- (not enough positive outings to improve this too much)

Joe M. Nathan

Highest WPA - 4/26 v. KC, entered 0-0 tie and pitched two scoreless innings
Lowest WPA - 4/15 v. TB, entered 4-4 tie, allowed hits to the first three batters and took the loss, allowing two runs.

Other than back-to-back rough outings against Tampa Bay, Joe Nathan has been very good this year. Of course, we've come to expect nothing less. Nathan's numbers aren't quite what we are used to however. Opposing batters are hitting .320/.370/.420 against him including .345/.367/.414 with runners on base. When entering with a lead (8 games) Nathan has only allowed one run and racked up 36.7 WPA, compared to -37.6 WPA in the other 4 games.

Obviously, I'd like to see Nathan's WHIP come down some, but overall, as long as he continues to be lights out with the lead, I'll be happy. The other concerning stat I came across is that Nathan has thrown by far the most pitches of any of the relievers (222, next closest was 195 by Neshek in the same amount of innings) so that will definitely be something to watch for going forward.
Ray's Grade: B

Matt O. Guerrier

Highest WPA - 4/26 vs. KC, entered a 0-0 tie with runners on 2nd and 3rd with 2 out. He retired the first batter he faced, and added two more scoreless innings.
Lowest WPA - 4/20 @ KC, entered with Twins trailing 7-6. Allowed a homerun in his first inning, then allowed the first two batters to reach (single, hit by pitch) in his second. Rincon and Reyes allowed both of those runners to score.

Guerrier has been the surprise of the bullpen thus far this season. Originally expected to be an innings eater, he's pitched so well that we've started to see him in more important situations. In contrast to Joe Nathan's 18.0 pitches per inning, Guerrier has breezed through his appearances at 12.5 P/IP. Matt has the second highest WPA of the Twins bullpen, and has not allowed any of his six inherited runners to score (including 4/18 @ Sea, when he entered with the bases loaded and one out and got out of it with a strikeout and a flyout).

Essentially Guerrier has done everything asked of him. He has a higher WXRL than Reyes, Rincon, and Crain despite having a much lower leverage index. That WXRL is due to nothing more than excellent pitching. He has the lowest WHIP of the relievers and he has finished every inning except the one outing in Kansas City.
Ray's Grade: B+

Dennys V. Reyes

Highest WPA - 4/12 v. TB, entered with the Twins leading 2-0 with a runner on second with 2 out. Reyes retired the only batter he faced with a strikeout.
Lowest WPA - 4/18 @ Sea, entered with the Twins leading 5-3 with runners on first and second with 1 out. Reyes loaded the bases with a single to the only batter he faced. Matt Guerrier came in and got out of the jam (see above).

Reyes has not been good. It's not fair to compare to his numbers last year, because that was a career year for almost any reliever, but regardless, he has had 3 outings where he didn't record an out, and 12 of 15 outings he's allowed a runner to reach base. The rest of the bullpen has inherited 17 runners from Dennys and only allowed one to score. On the plus side, while Dennys was on the mound he hasn't allowed any of his 8 inherited runners to score.

His WHIP is outrageous, but perhaps more disturbing is the performance of Reyes against the first batter he faced in his appearances. They are hitting .500/.600/.833! This is not what you want to see from someone who comes out of the bullpen usually with the purpose of getting one or two batters.
Ray's Grade: F

Glen W. Perkins

Highest WPA - 4/23 v. Cle, entered trailing 3-0. Pitched 2.1 scoreless innings as the Twins tied the game.
Lowest WPA - 4/20 v. KC, entered trailing 5-4 with a runner on first and 1 out. He allowed that runner to score as well as one more, giving up 3 hits and a walk.

Perkins hasn't pitched poorly, but he certainly hasn't wowed anyone either. His WXRL and leverage tell the story, Glen Perkins has been a replacement level pitcher, used in situations that call for a replacement level pitcher. He has walked a batter in five of his six outings, which is something that needs to change for Perkins to become an effective pitcher.
Ray's Grade: C

Those are my grades. Seth, over at Seth Speaks, has also assigned grades to all the Twins players for April, including the bullpen. Here's how my grades stack up with his. The weighted GPA (4.0 scale) takes into account the number of innings pitched and the leverage index so that those who pitched more innings in pressure situations have grades that count for more.

PITCHERRay's GradeSeth's Grades
Jesse A. CrainC-D
Pat J. NeshekA-A-
Juan M. RinconB-B+
Joe M. NathanBC+
Matt O. GuerrierB+
Dennys V. ReyesF
Glen W. PerkinsC
Bullpen GPA2.33
Weighted GPA2.58

From the weighted GPA, the overall grade for the bullpen thus far is a B-. That seems a little bit low given that this is still viewed as one of the best bullpens in the majors. Perhaps it's an indication of the high expectations that come along with the previous success of this bullpen. Those are my thoughts on the Twins bullpen. Where do you disagree? Was I too harsh? too lenient? Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Recap 5/1/2007 Twins 9, Fish Scales 1

After a day off the Twins traveled down to Tampa Bay for a series with the Devil Rays. Taking the ball for the Twins in the first contest was Sidney Ponson who had started the year 1-3 with a 8.44 ERA and was desperately in need of a good start to save his spot in the rotation, especially with essentially every one of the Twins top pitching prospects throwing well in Rochester.

Mission accomplished. Tonight Ponson gave the Twins seven solid if unspectacular innings, allowing five hits, two walks and hitting one batter. He did find himself in trouble a couple of times early as all of his baserunners were allowed in the first five innings but he settled down, worked out of jams and retired the final eight batters in a row. I wouldn't say he looked great as his sinker didn't appear to have a lot of life but he changed speeds, and moved the ball around well enough to limit the Rays scoring to one run. While many may be quick to point out his best two starts have come against the historically inept Devil Rays, I'll be quick to point out that they're the eleventh best scoring team in baseball after tonight. The offense also helped out as they jumped all over the hapless Devil Rays pitchers.

In the first innings the Twins offense jumped out to a quick two run lead in support of Ponson as Luis Castillo led off the game with two infield singles, no thats not a typo, but I'll get to that later... Nick Punto then continued his solid hitting from the night before with a hard hit double moving Castillo to third. Once again the Twins couldn't manage a hit but Joe Mauer bounced a ball to second scoring Castillo and moving Punto to third. Cuddyer then hit a ball just deep enough to center for Punto to tag and score.

After the Twins jumped out to that early lead in the first, the second inning became a comedy of errors that was surely only enjoyable for Twins fans. Torii Hunter walked and stole second even after being picked off as first baseman Tony Pena threw wide to second base. Jason Kubel then walked prompting manager Ron Gardenhire to ask Jason Tyner to sacrifice the runners over. Tyner did as asked but second baseman B.J. Upton didn't cover second and realizing he had no play at first pitcher Edwin Jackson, who had fielded the ball, turned to third and realized he may have had a play on Torii Hunter who had made an over-aggressive turn at third. However Jackson's throw went all Tigers-in-last-seasons-World-Series and ended up against the wall half way down the third base line. Third baseman Ty Wigginton and left fielder carl crawford gave chase but both base-runners scored and Tyner ended up on third. After a grounder to short by Bartlett scored Tyner, Castillo reached on a soft hit grounder got past Jackson. Then with Castillo going Punto smashed a grounder up the middle that was fielded by the covering second baseman Upton but skipped off the heel of his glove, giving Punto first. Mauer then singled to load the bases but Cuddyer grounded into a fielders choice and Morneau grounded to first to end the inning. All told the Twins plated four runs on three singles, two walks, two errors, which was more like three or four, and a couple ground outs, Joe Mauer's single was the only hit to leave the infield.

The rest of the game was really more of the same. Once again Twins hitters managed to clog the bases with runners via hits, walks, hit batters, errors, but were inept at driving them in. Even though the team scored nine tonight, it could very easily have been nineteen as the Twins were just 3-18 with runners in scoring position until Mauer and Josh rabe had back to back infield singles in the ninth. Particularly ineffective was so-called MVP Justin Morneau. While he was 2-6 on the night with a single and an absolutely SMOKED double off the wall in deep right-center, he was 0-4 with runners in scoring position, striking out twice, grounding to first once, and grounding into a 6-4-3 double play, all to end innings. Not exactly MVP-esque. Clean-up hitter Michael Cuddyer also deserves to be shamed, going 0-3 in the same situations and doing an absurd job rounding second base before falling into a hilarious somersault.

Deserving of special mention are the much maligned Piranha's who finally came through with a big game. Castillo (who was making his return appearance), Punto, Tyner, and Bartlett combined to go 9-19 with three walks, and five runs.


- Captain America. He was 3-6 with an RBI and threw out another runner. So far this year he's thrown out a ridiculous 7 of 11 would-be base stealers.

- The aforemention Piranha's for the aforementioned reasons.

- Sir Sidney for his first strong outing of the season.

- Torii "I'm in a contract year" Hunter. Another double, another steal, and (shock) a walk. Too bad he waited all these years to live up to his offensive potential.

- Matt Guerrier, who is looking better and better every time out. He's really learned to locate his curve and how and when to use it. His strikeout numbers bear out his improvement.


- Situational hitting. The Twins ended the night 5-21 with runners in scoring position, but the final two hits were both infield singles in the ninth. I'm the first to acknowledge that how a team hits in April is vastly less important than how they hit in August and September, but its concerning none-the-less.

- Juan Rincon. He pitched a scoreless frame tonight but he sure didn't make it easy on himself walking the first two batters he saw before retiring the next three. His 1.68 WHIP wont be good enough to be a consistent set-up guy.

Prospect Highlight: Jeff Manship

In reading Nick Nelson's Twins Month in Review I saw that he highlighted Jeff Manship, a 14th round draft pick of the Twins in the 2006 draft. Manship has posted some excellent April numbers for the Low-A Beloit Snappers and I thought it would be a good idea to let Twins fans know a bit about him. If you're interested you can check out his stats here.

Manship is a 6 foot, 195 pound, 22 year old right-hander who attended Notre Dame and pitched on the same staff as the very well known football/baseball prospect Jeff Samardzija. In 2006 he was the only unamimous selection to the All-Big East team and was the Big East Pitcher of the Year. He was the highest rated pitcher ever to join Notre Dame's program but saw his career there largely derailed by injuries including reconstructive elbow surgery in 2004. Due to that injury he missed his entire freshman season and another injury to his pitching finger (which occurred when he tried to field a sharp grounder) limited his pitching in his sophomore season where he split time between the rotation and the bullpen. Overall his college stats are quite pedestrian. In his one season he pitched only 22.3 innings with a 3.97 ERA. He also had a fairly high WHIP as he allowed 34 baserunners in those 22.3 innings, but he benefited from both being a good strikeout pitcher, 20 in 22.3 innings, and from being an extreme ground ball pitcher, as he has a 2.00 GB/FB ratio.

He was listed by prestigious baseball publication, Baseball America, to be the 13th overall player taken in their 2003 mock draft (the year he'd have come out of college) He was rated by Baseball America as the third best pitching prospect coming out of high school behind only Ian Kennedy and some guy named Andrew Miller, heady company but wasn't drafted until the 50th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks because it was known around baseball that he was committed to attending Notre Dame. He also made their All-America team along with some guys you may be familiar with such as Delmon Young, Brandon Wood, Eric Duncan, Ian Stewart, Chris Lubanski, Lastings Milledge, and Adam Miller.

As for his stuff he's said to have a low 90's fastball which he spots with excellent control and a devastating, "fall-off-the-table" curveball along with an average changeup which he'll need to develop to be successful the major league level. Overall I'm excited about the kid, some people think his ceiling is higher than that of Kevin Slowey because of his absurd curve and I tend to agree. It'll be interesting to see how he continues to develop and whether or not his reconstructed elbow can withstand the abuse that it'll continue to receive. But it's clear that the Twins may have made a huge steal drafting such a high ceiling, well regarded prospect such as him in the 14th round. Pay close attention to his development.

Further reading on Jeff Manship:

-Much of the information for this article was found here.

- Beyond the boxscore

- Cotuit Kettleers


- GCL Twins

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Recap 4/29/2007 Twins 3, Motor City Kitties 4

The Twins came to Comerica Park last night looking to secure a series sweep against AL central rival Detroit, and with Johan Santana on taking the mound the odds we're clearly in their favor. However for the third straight game the Twins failed to provide Johan with adequate run support, falling short against yet another "junk-throwing-lefty."

For his part Johan was far from his dominant self, struggling mightily in the first three innings against a tough Tigers lineup that includes Magglio Ordonez who has been one of the few hitters to have continued success against the CY Young winner. In those three innings he allowed four hits, and two walks, but managed to escape allowing just Ordonez's two run homerun. The Tigers would follow up that homerun with another off the bat of Marcus Thames in the fourth, but after the third inning Johan had already thrown 68 pitches, and was in danger of not being able to pitch through the fifth inning if the Twins held him at a 100 pitch count. Santana settled down well enough thought to finish the fifth with 96 pitches and I thought would be done for the night. However, for the second straight game, Gardenhire sent Santana back to the mound for another inning, displaying confidence not only in Johan's abilities, but also in his arms ability to hold up.

This usage of Santana also begs another question, is he also overusing Jesse Crain who is coming off what was described as shoulder tendinitis, a condition that will not heal until after this season? And if so, could this portend injury for our star? Clearly his usage of Santana is neither extreme nor frequent, but it is new, and how Santana's arm will react as the season progresses is worth following. As for Crain, this is the second game in which he's asked Crain to come back to pitch more than one inning, in both occasions the extra innings led to Crain allowing runs.

As for the offense, well, one day after beating the ball around against Rookie Of The Year Justin Verlander, they became woeful once again against lefty Mike Maroth. In most divisions the Twins inability to hit lefties, even exceptionally mediocre ones such as Mike Maroth or Jorge De La Rosa wouldn't be too concerning, but the AL Central happens to be one division that is fairly lefty heavy. The White Sox start Mark Burhle, and John Danks; the Indians have Jeremy Sowers, C.C. Sabathia, and Cliff Lee; the Royals Jorge De La Rosa, Zach Grinke, and Odalis Perez; and the Tigers have Mike Maroth, Kenny Rogers and Nate Robertson.

That means more than half the starters in our division are lefties, and when your team is hitting a pitiful .248/.284/.377 (including a .229/.229/.479 from "MVP" Justin Morneau) thats a VERY bad sign. Of course I don't think Morneau will hit that poorly all season but seeing enough of his at-bats makes one think it could be a prolonged slump.

The other glaring issue was the Twins inability, once again, to produce with runners in scoring position as they went 1-9 with the lone hit being Jason Kubel's first homerun of the season. Regretfully to say that homerun only counted as a double since the Tigers play in a ballpark the size of Montana.


- Nick Punto once again excelled as a leadoff hitter. His numbers are VERY limited as last night was only his second start in the position but in his nine at-bats he's hit .333 with a triple and walk.

- Jason Bartlett got his first start as the #2 hitter, something many fans had been begging for, and responded well going 2-4 with two doubles and a walk

- Jason Kubel continued his season long trend of hitting the ball hard but getting very little for his efforts. In the second he hit a ball to the warning track in left-center which was caught and Mike Redmond was doubled-up on. In the fourth he hit his double off the base of the wall in dead center (420 feet) and in the ninth he lined out to second.

- Torii Hunter. He just keeps on raking: two more hits and his fifth homerun, a bomb to left.


- The middle of the lineup. This was a game we could've won by 3-5 runs if they'd have produced. Particularly frustrating is that Joe Mauer chose this game to be human, failing in each of his four at-bats to score runners from second or third.

TWIT: The Wild Thing

Weekly Roundup

A 3-4 record and a run differential of 29 scored against 26 allowed seems innocuous enough, a seemingly middling and boring week that will be forgettable by the end of the year. The broad strokes do not describe the full picture, though, as the team went from ice cold to red hot over just a few days, then gave it all back with a depressing loss behind Johan Santana. If there was a way to quantify a team's momentum, the Twins likely would have run the gamut over the last seven days. The ignominious start to the week featured the completion of a four game losing streak in which the bats would not awaken, no matter how many bad first pitches at which the team decided to pursue. Scoring ten total runs over the first four games of the week gave a pretty good summary of how miserable the entire offense was. Winning the last of the four games 1-0 in 11 innings, though, seemed to reassure the team in some odd fashion, leading to two very good wins to open the weekend series in Detroit. Sure, losing to Kansas City four out of five times over the course of a week is depressing and sad, but making up for it against the teams who will actually remain in competition to the end of the year helps to temper that sullen feeling. Think of it this way: when reading the morning box scores, seeing Detroit lose to an anonymous opponent means far more than seeing Kansas City drop one because the Tigers figure to remain close. Thus, beating the Tigers two out of three ensures a loss to a key opponent, whereas losing to the Royals is scarcely different from losing to a non-divisional opponent. That does not mean that 6-13 record against the perennial cellar dwellers is desirable, nor does it make the last week's offensive futility excusable. Nonetheless, one need not become overly upset at a few games in April while the team lingers around first place.

Biggest Success

Looking at the recent offensive splits, it is extremely easy to pick a pair of winners for this category in Joe Mauer and Torii Hunter. Aside from a few singles by Jason Kubel, every other position player hit .241 or worse over the last week, making it no wonder that the team struggled to score runs. The faces of the franchise held it together, though, combining for 19 hits and 30 total bases. As is usually the case, Hunter and Mauer to different routes to success at the plate. Hunter managed a line of .360/.370/.680 without drawing a base on balls, keeping the aggressive approach at the plate that has worked for him thus far. Perhaps an impatient style is not optimal, but if you can have a center fielder who plays plus defense and manages an OPS over 800 every year, you take it no matter how that split breaks down. The positional scarcity is that crucial in the calculation. Even though there are even fewer quality catchers around the league, Mauer stands out even further above the rest of his peers. Last week's .391/.517/.565 harkens back to the early months of last season when sportswriters started paying attention to the homegrown golden boy because they would look silly if he hit .400 and they had not written a wave of puff pieces about his sideburns and general affability. Even better than the insane OBP over the last week was the encouraging sign that Mauer finally got his first round-tripper of the year in Saturday's romp over the Tigers. If he can manage to keep his walks and batting average up through patience and pitch recognition alone, then more power to him, but if Mauer's ability to mash develops over the next few seasons, it will only give pitchers another reason to keep the ball off of the plate. Since that is yet another way to prevent making outs, the Twins will be better for it.

Biggest Disappointment

Jesse Crain had a down week, but his failings would have been much less noticeable if the offense had picked him up at some point along the way. Instead, I would prefer to use this space to defame the entire offense. Since I doubt I can hold anyone's attention long enough to go through every misstep that has occurred, I will focus on the middle infield tandem of Jason Bartlett and Alexi Casilla, who were responsible for more "outs" in the last week than the GLAAD awards. Casila hit .190/.227/.238 over the last week, making everyone long for the days when Juan Castro would hit .215 and stretch a handful of his plate appearances to three or four pitches. Instead, Casilla has swung at everything in site, presumably thinking that his speed will make up for the fact that he's hitting the ball about as hard as that omnipresent obese kid on the tee-ball team. Normally, I would blame the front office for exposing Casilla before his skill set has fully developed. In this case, I think Casilla deserves the blame, though, since he has the underlying skills to be a patient and disciplined hitter, but left them somewhere between Rochester and Minneapolis. If he can remember how to draw a walk, it will be much easier for fans to see why he drew so many comparisons to Luis Castillo by statheads and scouts alike. Bartlett's .208/.269/.250 line looks alright compared to Casilla, but that is like calling Mussolini a bastion of democratic ideals relative to his geopolitical allies. In an article earlier this week, Ray Felix did a good job breaking down the parts of Bartlett's game that have gone awry so far this season, and we had better hope that he fixes that (especially his approach at the plate) in the near future, because the only other alternative is the guy I just compared to Hitler.

On the Horizon

Last week, I commented that the coming week would help sort out the division just a little. Since so many teams had inconsistent starts due to weather- especially Cleveland- it seemed appropriate to reserve judgment until a later date. Alas, since the Twins week was every bit as inconsistent as the ones before it, the division is even more log-jammed than it was before. Entering May, we're only a couple of weeks away from being able to make more generalized statements about the team. I'm worried about that time coming a little too soon considering the difficult schedule coming up in the near future. Traveling to Tampa used to be a slam dunk for the Twins, but with struggles against the newly dangerous D-Rays at the Dome, the upcoming three game set could be a downer. At least we miss Scott Kazmir, who is the kind of lefty who should strike fear in the heart of any Twins fan. Following that series by starting a 9 game home-stand against the white hot Red Sox makes the next week a dicey proposition. Curt Schilling and Johan Santana miss matching up by a day, narrowly costing us a chance to see a repeat of the Twins' most exciting game of last season. Splitting the six games over the week would please me. Anything more would be almost shocking.

The Big Picture

On the positive side, the Twins have outscored their opponents by more runs (12) than any other team in the division. More realistically, the team's performance has outpaced its component parts pretty significantly. It is one thing for a team with a strong bullpen to outperform its Pythagorean projection, it is quite another thing for a team to systematically score more runs and prevent more runs than the hitters and pitchers produce. There are only so many two out hits and stranded runners for a team over the course of the season. Once again, I will reiterate that it is extremely early in the season, that the team is still in the middle of the competition, and that what happens in August and September is imminently more crucial than what is happening at the moment. At the same time, the Twins deifnitely have a seedy underbelly, and the more than can do to patch it over at this point, the better.