With yesterday's game tied and runners on first and second with no outs in the top of the 10th inning, Ron Gardenhire chose to pinch-run for Justin Morneau, who was the go-ahead run at second base, with Luis Rivas. Jacque Jones then came to the plate and was asked to bunt, but when he bunted through the first pitch from Jaime Cerda, Kansas City catcher John Buck threw to second base and picked Rivas off.
I watched the replay a few times after bashing my head against the wall repeatedly, and it was one of those typical runner-straying-too-far-from-the-base plays where Rivas was anticipating Jones getting the bunt down. While Jones is obviously at least partly at fault by missing the bunt attempt, I did find it amusing that Rivas was picked off of second base almost immediately after entering the game for the sole purpose of running.
Well, I actually didn't so much find it "amusing" until after the Twins won the game, but you know what I mean. My favorite part of Rivas getting picked off is the fact that the anti-Rivas e-mails from readers started flowing in almost immediately. You guys are not only great at preaching to the choir, your preaching is very timely too.
So, in honor of one of Rivas' most memorable blunders (which is really saying something), the immediate reaction that followed in my mailbox, and Lew Ford's third game-winning RBI in the past week, here is a nice, old-fashioned link dump ...
In the last Link-O-Rama (which was far too long ago) I talked a little bit about the former Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com, Jessica Alba. In an effort to make up for that this time around, here are some links to the reigning Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com, Elisha Cuthbert. I don't want to start any trouble with a quarterback-controversy situation, after all.
This man, who started and went 0-for-4 with a passed ball for my favorite team yesterday, has one hit in his last 55 at-bats spread over three seasons. For those of you wondering, that is a .018 batting average. Meanwhile, this man, who was let go by my favorite team because they feared losing Mr. 1-for-55 on waivers, is hitting .346/.393/.538 for his new team.
It is really sad in general when someone isn't able to do something they want and deserve to do. But in a case like this, the worst thing is that an amazingly talented person may let some self-doubt creep into their mind simply because someone in a position of power wasn't able to spot that talent. I am of the opinion that every person who is to become successful at what they dream of doing has to have at least one other person or group of people as a chip on their shoulder once they get there.
In other words, it hurts like hell now, but think about how great it'll be in 20 years when a wildly successful and famous Tony Pierce can tell his millions of adoring fans about the time he got rejected from U-C Irvine. Everyone will laugh, and he'll smile. And then when he goes home to his penthouse apartment filled with leggy blondes watching the Lakers on a big-screen plasma TV, he'll take out that rejection letter from a box somewhere and have a nice, long, motivating look at it.
I realize this horse passed away a long time ago, but that just means it won't fight back while I keep beating it. With lefty Brian Anderson on the mound for the Royals last night, Ron Gardenhire chose to start Jacque Jones in right field, while keeping Lew Ford on the bench. I don't really feel like rehashing this oft-made point again today for whatever reason, so here are some relevant numbers, presented without comment:
vs LHP (2002-04) AVG OBP SLG OPS Lew Ford .294 .367 .493 .860 Jacque Jones .241 .299 .350 .649
Jones went 1-for-3 with a single and two strikeouts against Anderson.
Joe Mays looked perfectly adequate last night until he completely fell apart in the bottom of the sixth inning, which is good news despite how it sounds. The Royals put together their three-run rally with two outs, so I doubt anything could have been done to stop it. With that said, I was still a little surprised that no one was warming up in the Twins' bullpen until after Mays had already let Kansas City tie the game.
I would have though that Mays, who was making just his third start since missing an entire season after Tommy John surgery, would be on a short enough leash for the bullpen to be on-call at that point. Giving up four runs in six innings is certainly far from a disaster, but it's a shame that he couldn't have left the mound on a positive note. Instead, he was visibly upset in the dugout, shaking his head and generally just looking frustrated. The good news is that he more or less cruised through the first five innings, and got 12 of his 18 outs on ground balls.
Oh, and here's a Mays-related tidbit that is probably of interest only to me: Mays' win last night was his first since June 19, 2003, when the Twins beat the Royals 16-2 and Mays pitched eight strong innings. That day was also a milestone for this blog, as AG.com surpassed 100,000 visitors. So in the time it took Mays to win another game, over 1.1 million people visited this website. The following players who are no longer with the team played in that game: Tom Prince, A.J. Pierzynski, Bobby Kielty, Dustan Mohr, Doug Mientkiewicz, Corey Koskie, and Cristian Guzman.
During one of Jason Bartlett's at-bats last night, Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven discussed whether or not Chuck Knoblauch batted second in the Twins' lineup (like Bartlett has this season) when he was a rookie back in 1991. They described how, in trying to find out the answer, they asked players on that 1991 team like Dan Gladden and Jack Morris, and also unsuccessfully scoured the team's media guide for information. And all they could come up with in the end was, "As best as we can tell, Knoblauch did bat second."
The funny thing is, while Bremer and Blyleven were discussing Knoblauch's place in the batting order, I typed "Retrosheet.org" into my web browser and found the information they had been searching for within 30 seconds. The answer? Knoblauch had 460 at-bats batting second in 1991, along with 85 at-bats leading off, and a total of 20 at-bats hitting in other spots in the lineup. In addition to that, I can also tell you that he batted .298/.369/.374 in the #2 spot, compared to just .200/.250/.247 leading off.
The most shocking thing about this is not that the information is so easily found online (I have learned to assume that everything is available online until proven otherwise), but rather that not a single person associated in any way with the television broadcast of an MLB team is aware of its availability.
If Nick Punto isn't back in the lineup at second base today after going 3-for-4 with a double, an RBI, two runs scored, and a great play on a grounder up the middle to end the game last night, I may just give up on this whole thing and start rooting for the Yankees or something.
This has little to do with last night's Twins game, but I watched the White Sox play the A's yesterday afternoon and the end of the game was very interesting. With the game tied at one in the top of the ninth inning, Joe Crede came to the plate with two outs and runners on first and second. Crede was hit by a pitch from Justin Duchscherer, but the home-plate umpire didn't give him first base because he said Crede leaned into the pitch.
Well, needless to say that led to Ozzie Guillen -- and eventually Crede -- being ejected from the game. Which in turn led to the strange sight of Jermaine Dye playing shortstop for the White Sox (Crede had started at shortstop because of injuries to Juan Uribe, Tadahito Iguchi, and Pablo Ozuna). And the entire time all this was happening, Hawk Harrelson and Darrin Jackson were going absolutely nuts about the umpiring in the series on Chicago's TV broadcast.
They were talking about how this particular umpiring crew had a history of screwing the White Sox, and about how they long suspected things would turn out badly during the series because of it. Jackson even uttered one of the most laughable comments I have ever heard during a baseball game, saying, "Well, the umpires just lost us the game." Keep in mind that Jackson said that while Crede was actually still batting with a 2-2 count and two men on base in a tie game.
Needless to say Oakland scored the game-winning run in the bottom of the inning when Marco Scutaro doubled past a diving Chris Widger down the third-base line, scoring Erubiel Durazo. Yes, that's right, the White Sox had a 34-year-old catcher at third base and a 31-year-old right fielder at shortstop in the bottom of the ninth inning. It can't all be blamed on the umpires though, because Widger actually started the game at third (his first career appearance there in nine big-league seasons).
And just to be clear (since I can almost hear White Sox fans typing their angry e-mails to me as I write this), I thought it was, at best, an extremely iffy call. I imagine that if I were, say, rooting for the White Sox to win games instead of rooting for them to have the worst season possible, I would have been just slightly less outraged than "Hawk" and "D.J." All of which brings me to the fact that the Twins are now just three games back of Chicago in the American League Central.
I have nothing to babble about today, so let's get right to last night's win ...
Johan Santana's performance against the Royals last night would have fit right in with his second-half run from last season, which was great to see considering it was his first start this year where he managed to get past the third inning without allowing a run. Santana got his first three outs on infield pop ups, which I've always contended is a sign that he's feeling very good on the mound. Through three innings, Santana had five outs on strikeouts and four outs on infield pop ups, which is about as well as a game can start for him.
His final line:
IP H R ER BB SO HR PIT 8.0 5 1 1 1 8 0 112
A thing of beauty, and he improved his record to 4-0 while lowering his ERA to 3.55. Santana also now has a ridiculous 45-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which would have been an even more ridiculous 45-to-2 if not for the intentional walk he handed out to Mike Sweeney. Oh, and he hasn't lost in 20 starts dating back to last season, during which time he is 17-0. Or as I "discovered" when THT's Craig Burley tried to trip me up after I announced that stat to him last night, 18-0 over his last 22 starts counting the postseason. In other words, Santana hasn't lost since the Twins were shut out by Detroit on July 11, 2004.
While Santana was great last night, he got some help from what was a really awful Kansas City lineup. It included two of the worst hitters in all of baseball in Joe McEwing and Alberto Castillo, along with replacement-level bats in Terrence Long and Emil Brown. Eli Marrero is a good utility guy, but he's lacking offensively as a first baseman, which is where started last night. Matt Diaz has a good minor-league resume, Angel Berroa hits okay for a shortstop, and Tony Graffanino is a solid platoon guy against lefties, but the lineup was basically just Sweeney and a bunch of guys trying to string some singles together.
Speaking of Brown, he is the perfect example of why we should never, under any circumstances, pay attention to spring-training stats over a previously established level of performance.
EMIL BROWN G AVG SLG Prior to Spring Training 209 .200 .302 During Spring Training 26 .389 .704 Since Spring Training 17 .173 .345
Someone please remind me to bring Brown's name up next year when a .200 career hitter is batting .400 in spring training and some silly team is considering giving them a starting job in the outfield.
I have never seen a pitcher complain about balls and strikes as much as Jose Lima did last night. And I actually thought the home-plate umpire gave him a pretty good-sized strike zone -- none of the pitches Lima made exaggerated gestures about looked to be even close to strikes. But I guess the complaining worked, because Lima pitched his best game of the season and held the Twins to just one run in 7.2 innings.
I love bunting down the third-base line when the third baseman is playing back, a play Nick Punto executed flawlessly on a 3-1 pitch in the top of the first inning. It is such an underutilized play, and when you do it correctly there is absolutely nothing the other team can do about it. Joe Mauer followed the bunt single with a deeeeeep fly ball to center field, which Punto nicely tagged up and advanced to second base on. It paid off when Justin Morneau blooped a 1-2 pitch into shallow left field for a single to score Punto, putting the Twins ahead 1-0.
Jacque Jones followed with a walk, his 11th of the season. That brought Matthew LeCroy up to the plate for the Twins' league-leading 27th at-bat of the season with the bases loaded. Following in the tradition of the previous 26 at-bats, LeCroy fell behind 0-2 before he struck out looking on a pitch that clipped the outside corner. Luckily for LeCroy there were already two outs, so he couldn't ground into a double play. (Mauer later grounded out on the team's 28th bases-loaded at-bat.)
Shannon Stewart was a late scratch with a bruised foot, so Ron Gardenhire moved Lew Ford to left field and, of course, put Ford in Stewart's vacated leadoff spot. Because as we know all too well by now, Gardenhire's lineup is determined solely by each player's defensive position. Ford played left field, so he led off. Punto subbed for Jason Bartlett at shortstop, so he hit second (just like Juan Castro has when starting at shortstop). LeCroy, who had only batted cleanup before last night, took over for Ford at designated hitter and not only didn't hit cleanup, he batted in Ford's #7 spot.
Shortly before Luis Rivas popped up the second pitch he saw from Lima in the second inning, Bert Blyleven said, "Rivas has been struggling at the plate." Yes, for going on six years now. It's really one hell of a slump.
Punto's play on the hit-and-run in the fifth inning is one of the better plays I've ever seen a shortstop make. He had to recover from going to cover second base to make the play in the hole, field it cleanly, and then unload a strong throw to first base. Morneau made a nice stretch on it, too.
The Twins caught a break when Tony Pena declined to bring Andy Sisco in to face Morneau with Mauer on first base and two outs in the eighth inning. There's just no way leaving Lima -- already at 105 pitches -- in to face a left-handed slugger with a huge platoon split is the correct move, especially with a 6'9" southpaw with a mid-90s fastball like Sisco warmed up in the bullpen (and pitching extremely well this year).
Morneau fouled off five straight pitches to start the at-bat and then singled past a diving Berroa and into left-center to put runners on first and third. Then, with Torii Hunter (a right-handed hitter) due up, Pena yanked Lima for Sisco. It worked, as Hunter struck out, but plenty of dumb moves work in sports. Fortunately, pulling Sisco in favor of rookie Ambiorix Burgos, who has barely pitched above Single-A and has barely shown any control anywhere, didn't work out quite as well.
I had class yesterday afternoon, so I "watched" the Twins-Tigers game in the journalism school's computer lab, via MLB.com's "Gameday" game tracker. It is an unbelievably tortuous way to track a game in general, but it was made especially painful by the fact that the Twins came back from an early deficit, took the lead, and then blew the game in the late innings. That is a difficult series of events for a bunch of graphics on a computer screen to convey.
MLB.com's play-by-play is as good and as fast as anyone's, but it is still infuriating at times. For instance, when the Twins were clinging to a 4-3 lead with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the seventh inning and Juan Rincon gave up a game-tying single to Craig Monroe, all I saw on the screen for about a minute was "run-scoring play." I didn't know if that meant one run, two runs, three runs, or four runs, and I didn't know if it meant Monroe hit a grand slam or bounced into a fielder's choice that scored a run while using up an out.
And trying to decipher exactly what happened in the bottom of the eighth inning, when Joe Mauer's throw to third base sailed into left field and Nook Logan took third and then came around to score ... well, let's just say I was staring at the screen like it was one of those weird 3-D puzzles where you start to see things if you focus on them for a long time. I kept focusing on the play-by-play screen, hoping I would see Detroit's runs come off the board. Sadly, they didn't.
Yesterday's game was one of those early season matchups that was played in front of about a dozen people and will be quickly forgotten, but losing it really hurts. It is the sort of game a division-winning team simply should win, especially when they are looking up in the standings at a very hot White Sox team at the moment. But once again, the Twins' offense simply couldn't come through in crucial situations, where one hit would have meant the difference between losing and winning.
- In the second inning, Jacque Jones doubled with one out, but Lew Ford and Michael Cuddyer stranded him there when they couldn't get a hit with a runner in scoring position.
- With a run already in, the Twins had runners on first and second with no outs in the third inning, but got just two ground outs and a run-scoring sacrifice fly from their 3-4-5 hitters, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Torii Hunter.
- After a Mauer single and back-to-back walks by Hunter and Jones, the Twins had the bases loaded with one out in the sixth inning, but Ford and Cuddyer couldn't get the ball out of the infield.
As has been the case seemingly all season, the Twins were just one or two hits in key spots away from busting a game open. Instead, they let the other team hang around and ended up going 0-for-Detroit in a very depressing four-day stay in the Motor City.
The Twins now lead the AL with 26 at-bats with the bases loaded and have scored just 10 runs (.385 runs per at-bat) while hitting a despicable .154/.138/.154. For some context, the rest of the AL combined has 199 at-bats with the bases loaded and has scored 202 runs (1.02 runs per at-bat). So if the Twins had simply been average in those spots thus far, they would have scored about 16 more runs than they have. And that's not even fully accounting for all the double plays in those spots.
The Twins' bases-loaded ineptitude so far has potentially been the difference between 10 wins and 13-14 wins. And considering how many of those botched bases-loaded opportunities came in the two-game series against the White Sox, that's probably the difference between running neck and neck with a red hot Chicago team and being five games back.
Anne "Bat-Girl" Ursu got some major mainstream media love from the St. Paul Pioneer Press over the weekend. Twins beat writer Jason Williams (not to be confused with the Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, the Minneapolis Star Tribune's La Velle E. Neal) wrote a very nice, lengthy piece about her hugely popular blog yesterday. If ever you needed proof that people enjoy a good Lego reenactment or Twins musical over some guy complaining about Luis Rivas, consider the fact that Bat-Girl.com "has received an average of 50,000 page hits per day this month," which dwarfs this blog's measly weekly totals.
Meanwhile, Neal (who has yet to write an article about Yours Truly despite constant butt-kissing on my behalf) penned a very good article about Justin Morneau's return from an early season beaning. Neal's piece discusses Morneau's injury history, the Twins' history of players being beaned, and what Morneau might expect now that he's back. It's a good read. Morneau, of course, returned to the Twins' lineup Friday with a homer and a double against the Tigers.
What someone actually said to me this weekend, after the Twins-Tigers game was snowed out Saturday: "I bet they wish they had a dome in Detroit."
I'm a little fed up with Ron Gardenhire turning to Terry Mulholland in close games. He brought Mulholland in with a one-run lead last week against Cleveland and the move nearly backfired. Then Mulholland came into a tie game against Detroit Friday and the move did backfire. Mulholland is not a good pitcher at this point, but he is at least relatively serviceable pitching long relief in low-leverage situations out of the bullpen. What I don't understand is why he is suddenly being used in such crucial spots.
Pretend for a moment that we lived in a world where Mulholland didn't have some sort of strange "free pass" for being really old and having a "rubber arm." Would any other pitcher who had a 5.18 ERA last season and hasn't had an ERA better than league average since 1999 be asked to pitch multiple innings in a tie or one-run game unless the team had run out of other options? Of course not. I just don't get it.
Here's a disturbing little tidbit: Mulholland has thrown more innings out of the bullpen this season than Joe Nathan, Juan Rincon, J.C. Romero, and Jesse Crain. He has also allowed three times as many earned runs as those four guys ... combined. Something just isn't right about that. Oh, and the last three paragraphs you just read are exactly why Bat-Girl's blog has a thriving community of cheerful, exuberant Twins fans, while I just have a few thousand of you cynical bastards coming here every day.
Well, okay, there's also this: With lefty Mike Maroth starting for the Tigers Friday, Gardenhire had Jacque Jones in the lineup at designated hitter. Despite a good start against left-handed pitching this season (just like last season), Jones is a career .236/.288/.340 hitter against southpaws. Meanwhile, Matthew LeCroy was on the bench against Maroth, despite an even better start against left-handed pitching this season and a career line of .288/.353/.510 against southpaws.
Wait, it gets better. Jones got two at-bats against Maroth, who has been significantly better against left-handed batters than right-handed batters over the course of his career. Then, once Maroth was out of the game, Gardenhire brought LeCroy off the bench to pinch hit for Luis Rivas in the seventh inning ... versus a right-handed pitcher (against whom he is a career .252/.303/.411 hitter). If the manager had done things the completely opposite way, LeCroy would have gotten multiple at-bats against a left-handed pitcher and Jones could have been available off the bench to pinch hit against a right-handed pitcher.
Here are some stats that don't exactly shock me: The Twins lead all of baseball by having grounded into 22 double plays in 17 games. An MLB-leading six of those 22 double plays have come with the bases loaded, which is twice as many as any other team has. The Twins, who lead all of baseball with 24 at-bats in bases loaded situations, have an atrocious .167 batting average in those spots. And that doesn't even take into account the "extra" outs they've used up with their bases loaded double plays.
And finally, after a weekend during which two straight games were postponed because of snow, we have this: "Twins, Hennepin have stadium deal." This issue has been killing trees and wasting ink for years now despite the complete lack of any real progress, so I have pretty much taken an "I'll believe it when I see it" approach to discussing a new ballpark for the Twins. I'll be the first one in line for season tickets though, that is on the outside chance that something actually comes from this.