Saturday, May 19, 2007

Recap 5/18/2007 Twins 8. Brew Crew 1

After a brutal series against AL Central leading Cleveland, the Twins traveled to Milwaukee to face the NL Central leading Brewers. And for at least one game, all the pieces came together. The bats, while not on fire, got the clutch hits, and a pitcher not named Santana rose up and dominated, never letting the opposition get going.

I'll begin with the pitching, as it is what I was most impressed by. Boof Bonser who has struggled in three of his past four starts with his control had not just his best outing of the season, but likely the best of his career. In a game where the Twins desperately needed a win, especially after last nights embarrassing loss to Fausto (not Raphael-Thanks Nick ;)) Carmona with Johan's brilliant game being wasted, Boof stepped up big. He allowed a first inning run to score after giving up two singles to start the game when he induced what should have been an inning ending double play ball, but the infield failed to make the turn quickly enough and the run scored. From there on Boof was nearly perfect. Over the next six innings he would retire the side in order five times, allowing just one more single and a lone walk. By the time he left after the seventh the Twins we're up comfortably 8-1 and Boof had struck out a career high eleven batters.

On that note Boof has really seemed to improve as a strikeout pitcher this season. While he has always been pretty good at racking up the K's, his K/9IP last year was 7.54, this year that number has ballooned to 9.83. An increase of over two per nine innings which is rather impressive for a guy who lacks a truly dominant pitch. If he can get his control issues under control, Boof's ceiling could turn out to be higher than anyone would have thought. It's likely that he'll always be rather homerun prone, but players have worked around that to be good pitchers plenty of times. Of course I could just be getting too excited and Boof may revert to his old form of allowing too many walks and untimely homeruns.

On offense the Twins did a very good job of plating a much higher percentage of the runners they put on base than normal. Whats more, they did it against a lefthanded pitcher, something of rarity this season. For the night the Twins had ten hits, and four walks which they turned into eight runs, with four of them coming in one swing when Torii Hunter hit his eighth career grand slam, and second of the season. That came after Jeff Cirillo, making a return to a city where he played a majority of his career, drove in a run with a rare triple. He would later add a two run homer that carried just beyond the fence for the final two Twins runs. Lew Ford delivered the other RBI on a double into the right field corner.

Overall a great night for the Twins as they finally managed to play a game where both the bats and the arms were on their games. They'll need a whole lot more of that if they want to stay in the race.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Two more games, two more embarrassing efforts from the Twins offense and the Twins have now lost all five games they've played against the Cleveland Indians. I would argue that last nights game was rather expected as C.C. Sabathia has always been a notorious Twins killer and the Twins haven't hit a lefthander hard all year, but this afternoons complete game shutout at the hands of Raphael Carmona may have been the game the Twins lineup finally hit rock bottom. In Carmona's defense, he has been fantastic so far this year and is a major reason the Indians are as far ahead of the Twins as they are, but he's far from dominating.

After back to back very good offensive performances on Sunday and Tuesday, the offense reverted back to form these past two days, destroying any glimmer of hope that may have arose that this season will be anything more than a nightmare. All told the Twins went 11-63 with 3 walks, 3 extra base hits (all doubles), and just one run. The only players to have multiple hits were Hunter and Punto, each who had two singles.

Normally two bad games wouldn't be an issue as its a very small sample size but these past couple games are just a microchasm of what has been the Twins season. Whats worse is there is little that can be done in terms of bringing minor leaguers up as there are no real bats to speak of. Nor can we realistically expect that an impact bat will be brought in via trade as few teams are at the point where they are willing to make major moves.

With this drubbing by the Indians the Twins now find themselves seven games out of first place, just 2-8 over their last 10 games, and 8-17 since April 20th. By comparison they went 10-5 over the season first 15 games. Whats the difference? Competition for one. Over those first fifteen games the only AL Central opponent the Twins faced were the White Sox, and just for two games. Other than that the only other legitimate contender that was played were the Yankees, who summarily drubbed the Twins, winning two of three while outscoring the Twins 19-8. Since then the schedule has been packed with AL Central foes who seem well prepared to deal with the Twins hitters. Against these teams the Twins have gone a combined 7-14, and have a losing record against every team except the Tigers, with whom they've split six games.

Royals: 2-3
White Sox: 2-3
Indians: 0-5
Tigers: 3-3

To say that things aren't going well for our boys would be a major understatement. However it must really be beginning to wear on some of the guys in the clubhouse. Surely tempers are bound to flair, and egos to butt heads if/as the losses keep mounting. I would imagine this teams hitting woes are particularly hard on a pitching staff which has had some players performing well above what their lifetime numbers would otherwise indicate they're capable of such as Ramon Ortiz and Carlos Silva as they've each seen multiple solid starts squandered by a lack of run production. Even staff ace, Cy Young winner, and stopper Johan Santana isn't immune from the lineups lack of punch as he's seen three quality starts become losses on his record.

As a fan of the team I wish there was some good news I could offer the readers, some glimmer of hope, a silver lining, a can of Coke. But there's nothing. The pitch for the club thus far has been more than respectable and has carried enough weight that if the batting order was coming through a winning record could have been expected, but thats not the case.

This lineup is on its own, as its unreasonable to expect a savior from AAA or a bat from without. The team will rise and fall, much as it did last season, with the performance of its stars. If players like Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer who have very respectable BA/OBP/SLG numbers start translating those into runs driven in, and the "little guys" continue getting on base and moving each other around, things could get better. But thats yet to happen and until it does the Twins are very likely to remain a bottom of the league team.

Crain's Winding Road

A season that looked like another difficult reclamation project became an altogether wasted season this week when Jesse Crain’s shoulder diagnosis turned up a double negative: torn rotator cuff and torn labrum. Crain’s recovery from the injury will likely take us far enough into the future that any projection is more speculation than comprehension. Add to that uncertainty the immense variability in Crain’s performance since reaching the majors, and you have one terribly schizophrenic player on your hands.

Crain’s failings to this point in the 2007 season led many observers to wonder if he was compensating for some sort of injury. His pitches looked flat, and he was not so much inconsistent as he was consistently weak. Torn shoulder muscles mean the fulcrum of the pitcher’s power generator has lost its effectiveness, and the pitcher is relegated to throwing batting practice fastballs. In this respect, shoulder injuries differ from elbow injuries, where pitchers often struggle with command, piling up deep counts and walking too many batters, while not necessarily giving up more hits or more solid contact. Crain’s season has followed that trend to a “t,” as his walk rate has increased from 2.1 per nine last year to 2.2 in 2007, a meaningless difference, while his pitches per plate appearances have risen only slightly, from 3.5 to 3.7. The causal factor behind adding two full runs to his ERA is the fact that he can’t throw the ball by anyone, and opponents’ hits are going farther than ever before. Crain is striking out 24% fewer batters than last year, and when balls are put into play, the batters are slugging an impressive .539 against him, unlike the meager .305 and .378 figures he allowed in 2005 and 2006, respectively. Even more impressive is the explosion of his homerun rate, hovering between .70 and .71 for the last three seasons, shooting up to 2.17 in his limited innings this year, a 206% increase. Perhaps this analysis is as meaningless as saying, “I told you so,” without ever having actually told anyone so, but at very least, the injury cannot be considered surprising.

Part of the reason that many observers dismissed Crain’s early struggles is that he had such similar problems last year, which turned out to be a very solid campaign by seasons’ end. After failing to finish even a single inning for the second straight appearances on May 27, 2006, Crain’s ERA crested at 7.97, a far cry from his 5.51 mark that has plagued the bullpen this year. From that point forward, he kept his ERA at a stellar 1.92, striking out three times more batters than he walked, and holding opponents to an outstanding .276 slugging average. Needless to say, Twins fans hoped for the same sort of rounding into for this year as last, pegging Crain as a slow starter who needs time to find a fell for his pitches rather than blaming the horrendous start on the ulterior factor which wound up being the true culprit. Even more telling is the fact that some of Crain’s most comparable players up to his current age have suffered similar fates, including top comp Antonio Osuna (missed nearly two full years with injuries, including a torn labrum in 2001), and Scott Williamson (a notoriously injury-plagued reliever whose biochemistry stood in the way of some nasty stuff).

The intrigue in Crain’s statistical line does not stop there, however, as every season has been something of a departure from the one before it. In the minors, Crain was a lights-out closer with a dominating fastball that he used to overpower batters on his way to an 11.4 K/9 in his final AAA stint in 2004. With numbers like that, some fans (including me) pegged Crain as the next in line for the closers job with Eddie Guardado’s departure after the 2003 season. Terry Ryan knew better, trading for the then-unheralded Joe Nathan to fill that slot in dominating fashion, and Crain split 2004 between Rochester and Minnesota, piling up those gaudy strikeout numbers for the Red Wings, and finding success in a totally different way for the big club. Crain saw limited action in the majors that year, throwing only 27 innings on top of the 50.2 he threw in AAA. In that time, his strikeout rate went from outstanding to miniscule, as he walked nearly as many batters (12) as he managed to strike out (14). Due to an unusually low batting average on balls in play (.194), Crain sustained a terrific 2.00 ERA and earned himself an invitation to rejoin the big club despite the bipolar nature of his major and minor league numbers.

The following season saw Crain continue his balancing act, striking out even fewer batters than the year before. His strikeout rate fell to 2.8, a level so low that even an insane ground-baller like Chien-Ming Wang would do a double take. His walk rate crept above the strikeout rate, putting an incredible amount of stress on the defense behind him, which rose to the occasion, helping him to a spectacular .222 BABIP and suppressing his ERA to 2.71 over a robust 79.2 innings. The .789 defensive efficiency rate for the fielders behind Crain would have lead the majors that year by leaps and bounds, showing just how much help he got from those behind him. Crain did not even do all that much to make their jobs easier, inducing groundballs on only 46.4% of balls in play, a pretty average number. To be fair, when batters put the ball in the air, Crain managed to pop them up remarkably often- 20.2% of the time- a skill which shows that he was fooling batters, jamming them with tough pitches, or both. I credit some of Crain’s surprising road to success to pitching coach Rick Anderson, who said at the time of Crain’s call-up that he would have to pitch more intelligently in the majors to get hitters out, not falling back on dialing up a blazing fastball as frequently as he did in the minors. Still, Crain’s 2005 was fluky in many ways, and did not seem to be a repeatable task at the time.

Oddly enough, Crain avoided the prophecy in 2006 by becoming a “normal” dominant reliever. After trudging through the aforementioned cold streak, he managed to mix together a lethal combination of strikeouts (7.1 per nine and better than 3 for each walk) and groundballs (up to 55.2% of balls in play). That arsenal actually raised his overall ERA to a more normal 3.52, but the underlying improvement can be seen in the decrease in PERA, which fell from 5.02 to 3.36, a more accurate representation of the pitcher’s contribution to run prevention. Perhaps most importantly, Crain made the improvements throughout the season from a struggling pitcher to a successful one, even if his true ability was never that of a 1.92 ERA pitcher.

Coming into 2007, it seemed that Crain was poised to surpass Juan Rincon and his diminishing ability to miss bats as the Twins’ second most reliable reliever. Instead, his entire season has been a tremendous headache, one which fans hoped would culminate in a return to form sometime around June 1st. Instead, the injury indicates that Crain may have been pitching at or near his true level through 2006, and regressed due to the injury rather than making a habit out of slow starts. With such a major injury, Crain’s performance record to date tells us little about how he will recover and whether he will ever return to elite relief status. If anything, learning the skill of retiring batters without over powering them by placing the fastball (2005) and by utilizing breaking pitches to get outs (2006) should help him recover from the potential loss in velocity. For now, we can only wait for the next surprising twist along the odd career path of Jesse Crain.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Recap 5/15/2007 Twins 7, Cleveland Apaches 15

One game after getting the bats going against the Tigers, the hot hitting continued for the Twins as they scored 6 or more runs in consecutive games for only the second time this season, the other bring April 20th and 21st against the Royals. The Twins also hit four homeruns again, and while I haven't checked, I can say with relative certainty that this may have been the first time this season the Twins have hit multiple homeruns in back-to-back games.

To that end, Justin Morneau continued his recent power surge as he hit two more homeruns. Michael Cuddyer also stayed hot, going 2-5 with his fourth homer of the year. Most prominent in my mind however was Jason Kubel's first homerun of the season. Kubel has been getting beaten up lately by Twins fans, and while his average has been down, especially over the past couple weeks, he actually has the highest percentage of line drives hit in baseball, suggesting his average should be quite a bit higher than its been.

The problem with this game however, as you might guess from the final score, was the pitching. For the second straight game Ramon Ortiz pitched much more like the guy who was a disaster for the Nationals last year than the guy who started off ripping off quality start after quality start for the Twins this year allowing a line of 1IP, 7H, 1B, OK, 6ER. Despite those atrocious numbers, his ERA rose only to 4.89, which actually emphasizes just how good he's been so far this season. While I'm sure that many Twins fans are frustrated by this, and understandably so, this is simply a returning to the mean for Ortiz who has made a career of being just good enough to make major league rosters. The problem for the Twins of course means the team is suddenly down to two pitchers for whom they can expect consistency, one being Santana, and (I can't believe I'm saying this) the other being Carlos Silva who has been consistently fine all year. Ortiz has earned a lot of leeway with his fantastic early season performance, but if the Twins and Ortiz continue to struggle he makes an easy target for replacement by one of the Twins plethora of AAA pitchers.

While Ortiz's performance was dismaying, it was far from their only bad pitching performance. Following Ortiz's miserable first inning, Glen Perkins was given a prime opportunity to show that he, not Scott Baker who is being mentioned by many as the likely replacement for Sidney Ponson in the rotation, deserved the shot. Instead he last just two innings, throwing 48 pitches, allowing 4 hits, walking 2, and allowing three more runs to score, all earned. Next in line for punishment was Jesse Crain who's borne the brunt of way too many big innings since returning from his 'shoulder soreness' (which I've read is actually tendinitis). Crain lasted just 2/3 of an inning and allowed six runs, though none of them were earned due to Nick Punto's fielding error. But it wasn't like Crain didn't get shelled, he gave up four hits including a two run homerun to Grady Sizemore.

Juan Rincon didn't allow a run, but didn't look great in his inning and a third, walking one and allowing a hit. The lone pitching bright spots in my opinion were, surprise, Dennys Reyes who pitched a very good inning allowing no hits or walks with a strikeout, hopefully this bodes well for the future of his season. The other was Matt Guerrier who has been good all year. Tonight he went 2 innings, gave up just 1 hit, and struck out a pair.


- Justin Morneau. The man with the big stick decided to bring it to the park tonight, clubbing two more homeruns. He's really been on a bit of a tear lately, as this is his second multi-homerun game in a week. (I think?)

- Micheal Cuddyer. Getting the start in the three hole in Ron Gardenhire's revised (thank God) lineup, Cuddybear hit his fourth homerun of the season, and drove in a pair while going 2-5.

- Jason Kubel. The whipping boy of the moment for frustrated Twins fans, Kubel displayed his immense potential tonight hitting his first homerun of the season while also going 2-4. I for one am pretty happy for the guy as he's hit numerous balls very hard and a long ways, falling victim to walls that were five feet too long. One notable ball was his 420 foot double to straightaway center at Comerica. His upside is huge and I think I'm in league with the Twins management in my opinion that in Rondell White's absence, he isn't the piece that needs replacing.

- Matt Guerrier. Another very nice outing from Guerrier is leaving little doubt in my mind about the tradability of a reliever like Jesse Crain or Juan Rincon. Guerrier has been fantastic this season and has really seemed to learn to control his hard curveball. With the continued ascent to greatness by Pat Neshek, Guerrier's emergence as a possible short guy bodes well for the team, especially if they decide to use Perkins out of the bullpen, which I think is where he belongs.

- Dennys Reyes. He had a really rough introduction to his season but lately has been notably better, albeit in non-pressure situations. He'll have to prove he's ready for the heat before I get back on his bandwagon.


- Ramon Ortiz. He fell victim to the dreaded "big inning" tonight. Is this what Rick Anderson was referring to when he said Ramon's numbers were skewed by his propensity for occasionally having absurdly bad games or part of much larger problem? Its likely that it's the latter, but I'll hope for the former, if only because the alternative is exceedingly depressing.

- Glen Perkins. Basing what I'm about to say on nothing other than what I've seen with my own two eyes, I'm going to go on a bit of tangent here and say that I believe Glen Perkins is destined to a long distinguished career as a long reliever. His variety of pitches is particularly underwhelming and he really seems to struggle against quality players. That said, he's only pitched a handful of big league innings and will likely get a good deal more dependable as he progresses and learns, but he has developed some tendencies in the minor leagues that don't bode well for a long, happy future as a major league pitcher. When you look at the similarities between him and Eric Milton you may become a little worried too. Clearly he has the stuff to succeed but he seems to struggle with his control and will invariably suffer from being a fly ball pitcher. Though he could have a much happier career if he ends up somewhere other than Cincinnati as Milton did, like say with the Mariners (I hope you're reading T.R.) in spacious and homerun eating Safeco Field.

- Jesse Crain. I'm really beginning to think his shoulder could be in a lot worse shape than he's letting on. When he first got hurt and missed some time, the team said it was because of tendinitis in his pitching shoulder, a problem that only intensifies as the season goes on. They later said it was just soreness. Dating a pitcher, I understand why he's still going to the mound every couple days as he wants to compete, but his breaking balls seem to lack a lot of the bite that they had and he's being forced to rely more on his fastball, which he throws hard, but quite straight.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Twins Weekend

Forgive me please, its been a very long, busy weekend. Friday was my brothers birthday and the sports gals, pre-commencement meeting with the faculty. Saturday was the sports gals graduation, and my fathers birthday. Sunday was mothers day. It was, all-in-all, an impossible weekend leaving me ZERO time to write or maintain the site. That said, on to some much needed/wanted Twins coverage.

Friday: After a dismal series against the White Sox, the Twins had the pivilage of hosting the American League Champion Tigers. A couples weeks ago the Twins traveled to Detroit and took a three game series from the Tigers, 2-1. This time the tables were turned and the Tigers came into the Metrodome and continued the beating teams had been laying on the punch-less Twins all month. In this first game the Twins sent ace Johan Santana to the mound to face fifth starter Mike Maroth. In what seemed like a mismatch Maroth became the next mediocre pitcher to dominate an inept Twins lineup. In six and two thirds innings he allowed just one run and Santana left the sixth with a 2-1 deficit. The game may have remained winnable had the Twins suddenly unstable bullpen managed to hold the game at that score. They were not and allowed five runs over the next three innings while the Twins managed just two more on Justin Morneau's 9th homerun, a two run job in the eighth. It was too little too late and the Twins fell 7-3.

Nick and Nick's Recap

Saturday: In the second game of this Tigers series the Twins sent Sidney Ponson to face Chad Durbin. While the Tigers scored more early than late in this game against the ineffective Ponson, Glen Perkins did a solid job in relief going 4 four innings and allowing just two runs on three hits and a walk. But the Twins still gave up eight runs and managed to score just two in six innings against their latest CY Young candidate *sarcasm*, Durbin. Star reliever *more sarcasm* Aquilino Lopez then held the Twins to just three hits over the next three innings. The next morning it was announced that the Sidney Ponson experiment was coming to a end and the Twins designated him for assignment.

Nick and Nick's Recap

Sunday: With the Ponson era over, and in need of some punch for a team of slappers, the Twins called up Garrett Jones. About Jones, Seth Speaks says,
" Garrett Jones is set to join the Twins. This is the first big league promotion for the large, slugging lefty. Jones was originally drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 1999 out of his Illinois high school. He stayed in the Braves organization for three seasons, never getting out of the rookie leagues, before he was released. Soon after, the Twins signed him and sent him to the Midwest League (Low A Quad Cities). He hit just .202, but he did hit 10 homers. In 2003, he went up to Ft. Myers where he hit just .220, but he hit 18 homers, which is impressive in the Florida State League. 2004 was really his breakout year. He moved up to New Britain and he hit .311 with 33 doubles, 30 homers and 92 RBI. For good measure, he stole 10 bases. I wrote an article called Rockcats with Bats about the monster seasons that Jones, Kevin West and Luis Maza had. He has spent the last two years hitting in the middle of the Rochester lineup. He hit a combined 45 homers in those year yet hit just .238 and .245 in those seasons. So, he is not a good hitter. He strikes out way too much. However, he has a lot of power, including home run power."
While Jones didn't play on Sunday it appeared that the Twins hitters got the message as they broke out in a big way with 22 hits and 9 walks on Sunday pounding everyone the Tigers sent to the mound. All told they plated 16 runs on 3 doubles, a triple and four homeruns, including two from Torii Hunter. Speaking of Torii he finished the night 3-5 with the two homeruns, a double, and seven RBI. Torii's been on a tear all year and the more he hits the more it becomes apparent that there is no way the Twins will be able to resign him. In a sad way the ideal situation is quickly becoming that the Twins fall out of contention and be able to shop Hunter on the market at the highest value of his career. In terms of the game, its a good thing the team was able to score so much as Boof Bonser had another down outing, going just five innings, allowing four runs, giving up a total of 9 baserunners on six hits and three walks. Boof hasn't been right all season and he maybe the next pitcher sent down if his struggles continue.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

TWIT: Punchless

Weekly Roundup

Last week, I closed by tempering expectations for a six-game set against two solid AL Central opponents. I commented that it is not such a bad week to be cold, since these games will be difficult no matter what, and a couple of good wins could help jumpstart the team’s collective momentum generator, seemingly still puttering out black smoke from last year’s winterization. In a way, I may have been making excuses in advance, anticipating a putrid performance across an important segment of the schedule and compensating by lowering expectations. After all, if you set your goals low enough, you will be sure to reach them. As it has worked out, the Twins needed a dramatic walk-off homerun by Justin Morneau- legitimately one of the most exciting moments of the season so far- to get a single game during the week (I am writing during the lead-up to Sunday Night Baseball’s feature presentation of Boof vs. Virgil in primetime, so another win is a possibility). My pessimism has fomented so substantially that I saw the name “Virgil Vazquez” on the pitching probables list and thought to myself, “Oh no, first career start, that guy’s going to kill us.”

Joe Morgan hit the nail on the head during the SNB pre-game show, pointing out that most of the Twins regulars have performed relatively close to expectations, and the team is not scoring close to enough runs to remain competitive. After lurching through an easy part of the schedule, ripe for the picking with Kansas City and Tampa Bay, the truth has come out against the real competition: the Twins do not have enough bats to stay in the race. The nagging injuries to role players, and now Joe Mauer, have played a roll in suppressing run production, but do any of these numbers look totally out of line?

Morneau- .265/.353/.529

Hunter- .313/.345/.565

Cuddyer- .270/.316/.407

Punto- .215/.301/.289

Bartlett- .257/.331/.312

Kubel- .243/.295/.320

Mauer- .353/.446/.480

Castillo- .310/.361/.340

Sure, only Mauer and Hunter would have been considered successes at those levels, but only Cuddyer and Punto are noticeably below the range of reasonable expectations. Bartlett is basically a league-average on-base guy with a good glove and little power. And that’s what he has been this year. Morneau is a solid power hitter with so-so discipline whose average from 2006 was destined to come down. And that’s what he has been this year. Assuming that Kubel would start hitting for doubles power and a high average because time had passed was based mostly on blind faith going into the season, yet I remain hopeful to that end. Since his gruesome knee injury, he has been inconsistent across the board, wildly impatient at the plate, and constantly battling to keep his OBP above water. And that’s what he has been this year. I could go on like this, but you get the picture.

The real problem is that the Twins have walked on an offensive tightrope for a long time, getting just enough out of the lineup to support a reliable defense, a solid rotation and an excellent bullpen. This year, however, the lineup has produced too many duds to remain competitive. In the early part of the decade, they relied on consistency from top-to-bottom; only Luis Rivas stands out as a true black hole in any of the lineups that helped win three straight division titles (plus, the competition was weaker). Last year, Mauer and Morneau were transcendent enough to put the entire roster on their backs, get a little help here and there from whomever else was swinging a hot bat, and pull the team back into the divisional race. Subtract Mauer from the equation and bring Morneau back to earth, and that lineup suddenly becomes a group of below average hitters waiting for someone to get hot enough to carry them for a few games at a time. Torii Hunter did it for two weeks, Luis Castillo has tried to do it this week, but they are making a crazy number of outs.

Getting on base has been an issue for many in the lineup, but the problem that really stands out is their inability to generate any sort of power. Over the last week, the Twins slugged .341 as a team, putting them slightly behind the recently departed Shannon Stewart’s season total, and even with Chris Duffy- the same Chris Duffy’s whose lack of power has made him a fringe regular in spite of solid on-base skills and blazing speed. Other than Morneau’s three homeruns and one triple, the entire team combined for seven doubles and nothing else in the XBH department. To reach the AL average of a .407 slugging average, they would have had to turn 14 of their 52 singles into doubles, tripling their non-Morneau XBH total. Bottom line- a team can’t survive hitting for such little power.

Biggest Success

I got a little verbose in the whiny, cathartic part of the article, so I will pick up the pace here. After all, there are so few successes to discuss, that it should not take terribly long. For what it is worth, the starting rotation is rounding into form, as Boof struck out seven, walking only one, and giving up a single earned run in a seven inning start earlier in the week. Johan continued his early season passability, although the lack of endurance and strict pitch count is a potentially worrisome caution flag. Sidney Ponson still sucks, that’s nothing new. I think we’re better of treating him like the fat, old guy in a pickup basketball team who always weasels his way into games and sweats way too much: you don’t expect him to contribute anything at all, so any small victory comes off as a pleasant surprise. (Ah-ha! Just after I have written this, Ponson has been DFA’d- that’s right, he’s been sent to that big steak buffet in the sky. Here’s to hoping Garza gets another shot at the rotation and goes Liriano on us. Or Slowey. Or Baker. Oh, hell, I’m just glad Ponson is gone; it’s the 2007 Batista moment!)

Setting aside Torii’s incredibly catch on Wednesday, the overall player of the week has to be Morneau. Luis Castillo hit .400, albeit as empty of a .400 as you can dream up with only one XBH and 3 walks. Mike Redmond went 9-17 on the week, which is nice. Only Morneau put a stamp on the week, though, with his huge homerun and six runs batted in (the second best total for the week was 2). He hit only .250, but he can get away with it if he keeps slugging .800, or even .500 with the sort of patience that earned him 4 bases on balls in only 24 plate appearances. Wait, that’s not called patience, that’s called being the only batter in the lineup who can hit anything but a single.

Biggest Disappointment

I guess I already beat this horse to death, as well. In lieu of a standout candidate, I will give this week’s award as a sort of seasonal achievement nod to Mike Cuddyer, whose four singles, no extra base hits, one walk, and one run batted in typified how useless he has been to the lineup for the last month or so. After a decent start to the campaign, Cuddyer has fallen off of a cliff at a time that coincided with one of the team’s other two run producers went on the DL. Luckily, Justin Morneau is Canadian, otherwise Cuddyer would have been saddled as the team’s chief run producer for more than one game after the MVP broke his nose.

On the Horizon

When a team struggles, there’s nothing better than a road trip to visit two of the three hottest teams in the game. By the time the Twins reach Texas early next week, the Rangers may seem like a AAA team compared to the buzz saws they will see in Cleveland and Milwaukee for three games apiece. If Cleveland has a vulnerability, it may be shooting photon torpedoes into the back end of their bullpen, where Joe Borowski’s job has to be on the line after horribly botching a relatively easy save opportunity against Oakland on Sunday (two outs, two strikes, two run lead- too little). The Twins will get early-contact pitchers Paul Byrd and Fausto Carmona as the bread in a C.C. Sabathia sandwich (I hear that’s a tender cut of meat). Their groundball tendencies may line up well with Minnesota’s single-it is. Don’t be surprised if the Twins have something like 3 runs on 12 hits and 1 walk in one of these games.

The Big Picture

It’s still early. It’s still early. It’s still early. Repeat the refrain with me. The Twins have the same record today as they did after the same number of games last year. With injuries plaguing them instead of incompetence, it should be even easier to correct the course, right? If there is any value in a cold spell, it’s that the overachieving part of their peripheral statistics has sunk back to even keel, putting the adjusted record very close to the actual record. The other good news is that the Twins have actually outscored their opponents this year, hinting at the possibility that the offensive struggles are due to inconsistency rather than a persistent lack of ability. I still believe that Cuddyer will hit better, that either Punto or Bartlett will round into something more acceptable, and that someone out of the Kubel, Tyner, Ford, White grouping will be get hot enough to approach league average. It is frightening that Detroit and Cleveland have run so far out in front, but just like the Twins were overachieving when they were in first place, the Indians are 3 games ahead of their third order win projection, and the Tigers are 4.6 ahead. These things tend to even out over the course of the season, so keep hope alive. Plus, based on the sample size of the first inning of the Sunday Night game, the offense is right back on track!