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Watching the Twins lose six in a row on the road earlier in the month was rather frustrating. Then they won 20-1 in Chicago before winning five of seven at home. Then they went back on the road and lost their first two games to the Rays. But more important than anything else, on Sunday, they were able to beat Matt Garza and that makes everything right with the world again. It was great seeing Brendan Harris touch him up for a home run. It was great to see Delmon Young come in to face him and get a single.
In the end, we see over and over and over again, whether at the Metrodome or on the road, that the key to a team’s success starts with that day’s starting pitcher. I know. It’s boring and sounds so cliché, but sometimes it’s important to remember how clichés got to become clichés! You’re only as good as your next day’s starter, right? Tom Kelly used to say that all the time, and well, it is one of baseball’s great truths. Friday night, it was Scott Baker giving up a three run homer to Evan Longoria. On Saturday, it was Francisco Liriano looking pretty clueless. On Sunday, it was Nick Blackburn looking pretty much in control the whole game with the exception of two solo home runs. Garza looked pretty good though and for awhile it looked like that would be enough for the Rays to sweep the Twins, but single runs in the 6th and 7th innings gave the Twins a 3-2 win. Sean Henn, Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares and Joe Nathan finished the final three innings without allowing a run to preserve a win for Blackburn.
Why was the offense able to score in the 6th and 7th? Did they wear out Garza? I don’t know about that, but I know I did my part by leaving the house and going to watch the cartoon Up at the theatre. What as excellent movie, one of the best feature cartoon movies that I have seen! That’s right! I quit watching them and decided to enjoy the weekend! So, you’re welcome!
Plenty of topics to discuss, and as you can see, I am just rambling. That’s the beauty of titling something a Stream of Consciousness blog. I can ramble and that’s the purpose! That’s what I am going to do today, trying to touch on several Twins-related topics. I’ll write for awhile and just see where it takes us, so please enjoy and certainly feel free to comment.
As I have said, starting pitching is the key to everything. Right now, it seems that the Twins can count on Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey to give them decent starts and a chance to win. Anthony Swarzak came up to replace the injured Glen Perkins and has since made two very good starts. Perkins had really struggled for several starts before going on the Disabled List, so I am not certain if the struggles were related to the arm, or what. But I do know that I agree with the theory that a player should not lose his spot to an injury. That is why, after his rehab stint at Rochester, I believe that Glen Perkins should be given a couple of starts before possibly being shifted back to the bullpen if that is what needs to be done.
The problem is that Swarzak is a good pitching prospect, but nothing in his minor league numbers indicate that he will be able to sustain this level of excellence over a long period of time. As one who believes in minor league track record being an indicator of big league success, I also understand that there are exceptions to every rule. So of course you just run with Swarzak while he is the hot hand and just hope . The problem is that Swarzak could stay in the rotation because one of the two guys that we all counted on heading into the season, Francisco Liriano, has been horrific of late. He looks completely lost on the mound. It’s all about control of the fastball, and from pitch to pitch, he does not seem to know where the ball is going. It’s as if he still thinks he’s a dominant pitcher and he’s fighting himself so hard to get there again and overdoing everything. I really do not know what is best for him. He does have an option left, so he could be sent to Rochester, but I don’t necessarily think that is the best idea. He could be sent to the bullpen for awhile too, but who would he replace? R.A. Dickey continues to do great out of the bullpen. Sean Henn and Jose Mijares have been solid as lefty relievers. I guess this could be the opportunity to let go of Luis Ayala and see how Liriano responds. What do you think?
Scott Baker continues to get hurt by the big inning and/or the big home run. Friday, it was the three run blast by Longoria that essentially ended that game. Baker has really been very good most of his innings, but in each start he has had that one bad inning where he can not control the damage. Instead of giving up one or two, he gives up three to six. A team can come back from one or two, but it really puts you behind the eight ball when you’re always down by a handful of runs.
It is all so frustrating to me because the Twins are playing so inconsistently and average despite getting amazing production from Denard Span, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel all season. In May, Michael Cuddyer stepped up his game big time while Joe Crede showed the power that he can have from the right side. This team is too talented to be playing like this and to not think that a division title is in reach. But what happens when three-fifths of the season-opening starting staff is not performing to expectations? Swarzak is already up. Kevin Mulvey could probably come up and be a solid back of the rotation type. What if Liriano can’t get things figured out? What if Glen Perkins then struggles? What if Baker doesn’t stop giving up huge innings? If you go through the season’s second half with two rookie pitchers in your rotation, that isn’t necessarily good. Brian Duensing and Philip Humber do not appear to be big league starter material and none of the starters at AA New Britain look ready.
We have spent the last couple of years wondering why the Twins would go after pitchers like Livan Hernandez, Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson. Why did they insist on bringing in veterans who were not good instead of just trusting their own young players? Well, maybe now we are seeing why. And yet, I can’t be mad at the front office for not getting a veteran. All five starting pitchers showed enough last year that there was no need for a veteran starter. The starting pitching was supposed to be a sure-thing, the thing that would lead the Twins to a division title. Pedro Martinez, anyone?
The bullpen has actually been much better of late. The reason? Well, when Slowey, Blackburn and Swarzak have pitched, they have been able to go seven innings. Bill Smith is not above criticism for not going out and getting a bullpen arm to solidify the back end of the bullpen, and yet, I agreed with him that they didn’t need to prioritize it too high. We knew Joe Nathan would be fine, and he has been. Many assumed Jose Mijares would be solid, and since returning he has been good. I believed Matt Guerrier would be fine, and he has been. I thought Jesse Crain would take another step forward, to get back to what he was the first three years of his career, but since his disabled list stint, he has been non-trustable. Luis Ayala was a reasonable, cheap risk, but he has not been good at all. R.A. Dickey, as I have stated several times, has been just fine in the role that he was brought in to fill, so no arguments there. Again, the key is the starting pitching, but the bullpen arms are not above criticism either. Now, Juan Cruz has been alright for Kansas City. Nothing spectacular by any means, and I fully understand not giving up a first round pick to acquire him (although when I saw the dollars and years that he signed for, I thought that it made sense). But Cruz walks a ton and moving to the American League never seems to be a good thing for a relief pitcher. Other names that fans wanted at various times included Eric Gagne, Russ Springer, Joe Nelson, Brandon Lyon and others, and none of them have done well either. So again, I don’t blame the Twins in not being big players in the free agency market because free agents rarely have an impact worthy of the contract they sign.
(Meanwhile, Rob Delaney and Anthony Slama sit in AA, just waiting for a promotion. I agree with the thought that a player who dominates in AA is ready for the big leagues and could be promoted if necessary. But at some point, those two players should be moved up somewhere, whether it is to Rochester or to the Twins. I don’t pretend to know if they are ready to help the Twins today. I know their numbers indicate that they could probably both be pretty good. Slama needs to throw more strikes, and Delaney could give up some hits. But both have done enough at the AA level to move forward.)
(The one prospect that I believe is ready to play at the big league level offensively and defensively is Danny Valencia, and as long as Joe Crede is healthy, there is no reason to call him up. Could he be at Rochester? Certainly, and I think he would do well there, but Luke Hughes needs at bats too.)
The Twins understand that building from within is the best way to develop a team over the long haul. It is a philosophy that has been very successful for the organization. But then that success is dependent upon the players developing as they need to. The Twins have developed some very good players (Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, Cuddyer, Span, Slowey, Blackburn, Baker, etc.). They were able to stare down Scott Boras and get Joe Crede for a very fair market deal. But the player development right now is kind of a question mark.
Look at the AAA roster. How many players there do you think will be contributors to the Twins at the big league level? More important, how many of them could help the Twins right now, today? Jose Morales could, and yet, I think Twins fans need to look at his track record and realize that he is not a .350 hitter. At the big league level, he could possibly hit .280/.310/.310, which frankly, isn’t terribly exciting. But he is one guy who could contribute on some level. Luke Hughes and Dustin Martin are two others that I think could contribute for the Twins if called upon, but neither of them is star caliber and I don’t know that either of them is really starter caliber. I still hold out hope for Trevor Plouffe to be a future Twins SS, but again, his batting average doesn’t indicate that he would be much better than Nick Punto at SS.
Which brings me to my next point… when the Twins locked up Nick Punto last winter for two years and $8.5 million, it didn’t bother me too much. I looked at the other free agents on the market at SS and none of them seemed to be much better than Punto, particularly for the price tag that they would insist upon. Edgar Renteria had already signed with the Giants for two years and $18 million, and he is no better than Punto. We heard rumors for players like JJ Hardy and Yunel Escobar, but the price tags in terms of players were so high that those options didn’t make sense. So although I would have preferred to go into this season with Punto not on the team, I understood that he was probably the best option available and the dollars and years that he got were certainly fair market value (in December, before free agent dollars seemed to completely disappear). My caveat to being comfortable with Punto was that he not return to 2007 form and just give 2006 or 2008-like performances. Again, that’s not to say he was good during those two years, but as a nine-hitter it would be acceptable. Well, to this point in the season, Punto has been even worse than he was in 2007, and worst yet, his defense has taken a major step backward. I always thought it was a bit overrated (because of the constant web gems), but he now has very little range and no arm.
The biggest problem with the SS situation is that there isn’t anyone close to ready to take the position from him. Brendan Harris will do just fine in replacing him. He is a far better option, so that is actually an upgrade right now. But I have noticed, as Gardy has said, that Harris does not do as well when he plays too much. But again, Plouffe isn’t ready. Steve Tolleson just got promoted to AAA this week, but I don’t think he would be ready to step in today (but maybe in a month?). There are not other options in the system right now.
It’s a good think that Justin Morneau has been incredible this year and Joe Crede has been everything that could be expected because Punto, Alexi Casilla, Matt Tolbert and Brian Buscher have been terrible. Casilla has been somewhat disappointing. Tolbert is what he is, as I have said all along, he is a better version of utility player than Punto is. He’s a little better offensively (which doesn’t say much) and he’s not quite as good defensively (which does). I said that Buscher is a solid left-handed bat off the bench, a guy who takes good at bats and generally does what the situation calls for. I don’t think we have seen that this year, and his defense has never been real solid. I’m not certain how much value he provides to the team. In fact, that would be the one way right now that I could see the Twins bringing Jose Morales back to the roster. Morales could be the new left-handed bench bat, occasionally get some time behind the plate, and give Gardy the confidence to keep Joe Mauer in the lineup most games. Again, I feel it necessary to temper the expectations people seem to have for Morales, but I do think it is fair to say that he could contribute as much with the bat (and maybe the glove) as Buscher.
Watching Mike Redmond play baseball is painful. In years past, it was because he seemingly was always getting beat up behind the plate and yet still finding a way to hit .300 or higher while providing excellent defense and leadership from the backup catcher position. This year has been painful for a couple of new reasons. First, he simply can not throw any more. I don’t know how hurt he still is, but that has not improved over the season’s first couple of months. Secondly, if I’m an opposing defense and Redmond is up, I bring all the outfielders in to about 200 feet and swing the CF toward the gap in right center. You could almost put on a left-handed batter shift for him too. In the past, it was almost “cute” as told to us by Dick Bremer when he flails singles to right field or barely throw the hole on the right side. This year, those balls are being hit even softer. I don’t know how he continues to get any hits (and he has). I have no problem with keeping Redmond around for the rest of the season. I just sincerely hope that this is the end of the line.
Gardy-led teams are known for being overachievers. That is always the case when the expectations are low. But what about in those years when the Twins have come into the season with expectation? They have not played well. This year may be the biggest visual of that. This team has way too much talent to be flailing around .500. But to be fair, I don’t know if this team has ever had this many holes either. A broken bullpen. A horrific middle infield. Two 23 year old outfielders that need playing time to get better but provide so little to helping the team win. And now starting pitching problems that were not expected. I don’t think that can be pinned on a manager, and yet in some organizations, it is. I personally agree with the ideas of longevity, and we all know that Gardy and his coaching staff aren’t going anywhere, so it’s not worth worrying about.
In the end, it comes down to the players and making plays. It’s the players that will turn the season around, or they won’t.
Now I know, I don’t whine too often on here, and one thing that you can almost certainly not get from here that you can get most places is the seemingly sophomoric need to say the same thing every day. Could I write about Brian Buscher or Nick Punto being bad every day Sure. But why? What good is that? Why pile on?? I could write about being wrong about Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez daily, but why? What good comes from that? I prefer to write more often about being completely wrong about Denard Span and Nick Blackburn! So many of these above topics, you may not read here again until something happens. There are enough other topics that can be covered and a lot more positives. There is an entire minor league system of players dreaming of getting to the big leagues that is worth talking about.
MINOR LEAGUE REPORT
Saturday – SethSpeaks.net Hitter of the Day – Danny Valencia, New Britain Rockcats
Saturday – SethSpeaks.net Pitcher of the Day – David Bromberg, Ft. Myers Miracle
Sunday – SethSpeaks.net Hitter of the Day – Whit Robbins, New Britain Rockcats
Sunday – SethSpeaks.net Pitcher of the Day – Tyler Robertson, Ft. Myers Miracle
Saturday –Rochester 6, Lehigh Valley 3 – Jason Jones picked up his first win in the Twins organization in this game. The righty went 5.2 innings and gave up three runs. He allowed six hits (two homers), walked one and struck out four. Jason Pridie went 3-5 with his 13th and 14th stolen bases. Jose Morales went 2-4 with his fourth double. In his first AAA game, Steve Tolleson went 2-3 with a walk and a double.
Sunday –Rochester 1, Lehigh Valley 5 – Kevin Mulvey started this game for the Red Wings. He gave up five runs on nine hits and a walk in seven innings. He struck out six. Tim Lahey pitched a scoreless inning. The Red Wings managed just four hits. David Winfree hit his eighth home run.
Saturday – New Britain 6, Binghamton 5 – The Rockcats got a couple of big home runs and the second win of the season by Jay Rainville. Rainville gave up five runs on seven hits and two walks in 5.2 innings. Frank Mata came in and gave up two hits and a walk before getting the final out of the sixth. Rob Delaney struck out four in two shutout innings. Anthony Slama recorded his 10th save with a scoreless ninth. Danny Valencia went 2-3 with his sixth homer and two RBI. Rene Tosoni was 2-4 with his seventh home run and three RBI. Whit Robbins went 1-2 with two walks.
Sunday – New Britain 15, Binghamton 7 – It was a big offensive game for the Rockcats, with nearly the entire lineup contributing. Whit Robbins led the way by going 4-6 with his 11th double. Brandon Roberts was 3-5 with a walk and his third homer. Erik Lis was 3-5 with his seventh double. Rene Tosoni went 2-5 with his eighth double and eighth home run. Matt Moses went 2-4 with a walk and three RBI. Brian Dinkelman went 2-4 with two walks. Yancarlos Ortiz went 2-5 with a double. Danny Valencia was 1-2 with two walks. Ryan Mullins was the beneficiary of the offensive explosion. He gave up five runs on seven hits and three walks in six innings. Yohan Pino gave up two runs on three hits and two walks in two inning. Zach Ward pitched a scoreless inning.
Saturday – Ft. Myers 7, Brevard County 1 – David Bromberg has continued to pitch well this season despite not getting as many strikeouts this year. This game was a little different. Bromberg went six innings and gave up just one run on six hits and a walk. He struck out 12 to improve to 5-0 and reduce his ERA to 1.94. Kyle Waldrop picked up his first save of the season by throwing three shutout innings. Chris Cates went 3-5. Mark Dolenc went 3-4 with his ninth double and ninth stolen base. Rene Leveret went 2-5 with his first stolen base. Deibinson Romero was 2-5 with his 11th double.
Sunday – Ft. Myers 2, Brevard County 0 – Tyler Robertson improved to 3-2 in this game. He threw six shutout innings. He gave up three hits, walked none and struck out six. Santos Arias, Spencer Steedley and Blair Erickson combined to throw three shutout innings. The Miracle managed just five hits. Ben Revere hit his sixth double. Rene Leveret hit his seventh double.
Saturday – Beloit 2, Kane County 5 – Michael Allen fell to 0-7 in this game, but he really has been pitching a little better as the season has progressed. In this game, he gave up four runs (3 earned) on eight hits and a walk. He struck out six in six innings of work. Bruce Pugh gave up a run on two hits and a walk in two innings. He struck out four. Michael Tarsi gave up two hits in a scoreless inning. The Snappers managed just six hits in this game. Nathan Hanson hit his seventh double.
Saturday – Beloit 4, Kane County 11 – Dan Berlind gave up five runs (4 earned) on six hits and three walks over 5.1 innings. He struck out five. Joe Testa gave up three runs (1 earned) on two hits in two innings. He struck out three. Matt Williams went 0.2 innings and gave up just a hit. Curtis Leavitt gave up three runs on five hits in one inning. He struck out two. Jeff Lanning went 2-4. Angel Morales went 1-2 with two walks and his sixth homer. Ramon Santana hit his fifth home run and Michael Harrington got his first homer.
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