Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Nightly Notes: Games #85 & 86

If there were two games this season that I'll look back on and say "man, I wish I hadn't missed those," yesterday's games will undoubtedly be the ones. The Twins put up 32 runs over the two games, and pasted the White Sox to sweep the doubleheader and gain a game and a half in the standings on the Indiands. Here are yesterday's notes:

1.) The starting pitching yesterday was obviously split. After stringing together a couple of good starts in a row, Scott Baker forgot that he had learned how to pitch and got pasted for 7 runs in 5 innings on 9 hits and a walk. As well as he's pitched at times, his season ERA sits at 5.71, and if Kevin Slowey hadn't fallen apart so completely against the Yankees on Thursday, there's a good chance that Baker's inconsistency would have cost him his starting spot. As it is, Baker will likely be left alone to continue his development -- but the only reason is because there's no one to take his place right now (as well as Nick Blackburn has pitched for Rochester, I don't think the Twins have any interest in promoting him to the big leagues this season, and Glen Perkins is not healthy yet, so Baker gets a reprieve until either Ramon Ortiz earns another chance to start, or Slowey works his way back to the bigs).

2.) Matt Garza made a pretty solid statement yesterday by going 6 shutout innings and giving up just 5 hits (with 3 walks) and striking out 6. Now, I regularly bash Boof Bonser for going just 6 innings, so why am I cutting Garza some slack? Well, first off, because it was his first Major League start of the year, so I expect him to improve as he settles in (admittedly an iffy proposition). Secondly, though, I find it hard to complain too much after six shutout innings. His start was inefficient -- 99 pitches through 6 innings -- but he still got the job done, and the bullpen is capable of taking it over from there. He will need to start improving his efficiency and extend into the 7th and 8th innings as he moves forward, but for a first start this was very impressive.

3.) The bullpen was a mixed bag yesterday. In game 2, Matt Guerrier and Joe Nathan combined for 3 perfect innings against a demoralized White Sox team. Unfortunately, game 1 was a different story. Ramon Ortiz gave up 3 runs (2 earned) on 4 hits and a walk in 2 innings, and Carmen Cali made his return to the Twins by giving up his first runs of the season -- 4 of them in 1.1 innings off of 5 hits and a walk. Juan Rincon finished the game without allowing an earned run of his own, but he walked a run in again. As many people in the blogosphere have noted recently, he's just no longer one of the Twins top relievers.

4.) Justin Morneau hit three home runs in game 2. Torii Hunter went deep in each game. Jason Kubel hit a grand slam in game 1. Michael Cuddyer and Jeff Cirillo also went deep. When is the last time the Twins showed so much power in one day? I think more than anything, this speaks volumes about the struggles the White Sox are going through -- but it's an encouraging sign for the Twins.

5.) Perhaps the most encouraging days were had by the Jason's Bartlett and Kubel. Kubel is really starting to get more comfortable at the plate, and is driving the ball. Bartlett is taking to the second spot in the batting order with zeal. It's not an original idea on my part, but I'll second all of those who recognize that it's incredibly important for the Twins season that Kubel develop into a solid anchor hitter in the seventh spot, and Bartlett continues to hit in the 2nd spot, setting the table for the mashers in the middle of the order. Very encouraging day for those two.

6.) Ron Gardenhire's doomsday scenario finally came to fruition yesterday, as he lost his DH in the bottom of the first inning after Joe Mauer had to come in and catch for an injured Mike Redmond. I've always said that it's silly to carry three catchers solely to guard against this situation, and I continue to argue that point -- it's not worth wasting a roster spot to carry a catcher for a scenario that unfolds only very, very rarely. Yes, the one game it happens you are handicapped because you effectively lose a spot in your batting order (although it thankfully didn't bother the Twins yesterday), but that's all -- if the injured catcher is hurt too badly, you can juggle your roster in time for the next day's game. Hopefully, now that Gardy has lived through this situation he'll be less concerned about carrying the third catcher because he's seen that it's not the worst thing in the world. It's also possible, though, that he'll turn around to Terry Ryan and say "see, it can happen -- bring back Heintz."

7.) The Twins have a chance to pound a stake in the White Sox heart today and tomorrow. Hopefully they do so -- and get some help from the Red Sox and Blue Jays so they can gain some ground on the Tigers and Indians. If the Twins could gain one more game on each team and finish the first half down by just 5, they'd be in good shape to make a run at a playoff spot. Even if they don't, they'll still be well within shouting distance. It looks like it's going to be another very interesting stretch run this season.



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