Twins 8, Tigers 4
If the Twins beat the Tigers and no one sees it, did it really happen? Because FOX Sports Net was contractually obligated to show the embarrassment that is the Timberwolves rather than the three-time defending American League Central champions last night, the majority of Minnesotans missed the 8-4 win over Detroit. Fortunately for me, I was able to watch the game thanks to the miracle of technology ...
In what is becoming the early theme of the 2005 season, the Twins' starting pitcher could not record three outs without allowing a run yet again last night. This time it was Kyle Lohse, who gave up a first-inning homer to Brandon Inge on the ninth pitch of the game. Fortunately for Lohse and my sanity, the Twins' lineup broke their own early season trend by exploding for five runs in the bottom of the first.
Here's how Detroit starting pitcher Jason Johnson's night went:
And that was it. Well, presumably he took a shower and maybe smashed a few things in the locker room, but you know what I mean. I think it's probably safe to say you're really having a bad night when the number of pitchers warming up in the bullpen equals the number of outs you've recorded in the game.
After getting Shannon Stewart to lead off the game, Johnson allowed eight straight Minnesota hitters to reach base, the first seven of them on hits. With that said, I was surprised when Detroit yanked him. Johnson looked extraordinarily bad, sure, but taking out your starting pitcher after a third of an inning is really a disaster. I suppose the move worked out pretty well though, as Detroit got 7.2 innings of three-run relief and only had to burn through three additional pitchers.
The amazing thing about the five-run inning is that there was the potential for a lot more damage. Johnson left the game down 5-1, with the bases loaded, one out, and Stewart at the plate. Matt Ginter came in and Stewart hit a line drive off him that was snagged and turned into a double play to end the threat (that's right, Stewart made all three outs in the first inning). When Ginter came strolling in from the bullpen, I had visions of a double-digit inning dancing through my head.
The Twins wasted a similar opportunity in the second inning after loading the bases against Ginter with no outs, as Jason Bartlett led off with a single and Joe Mauer and Terry Tiffee followed with back-to-back walks. Torii Hunter then popped a pitch up in the infield for an easy first out, and Jacque Jones grounded into an inning-ending double play. If the Tigers could have mounted a little more late-inning offense, last night would definitely have been one of those games that leaves a team kicking themselves for not putting the opponent away.
Setting aside the fact that Tiffee went 2-for-4 with a double, a homer, and 3 RBIs (a tough fact to set aside, admittedly), is there some rule I'm not aware of that says the Twins' first baseman has to bat cleanup, regardless of who it is? Matthew LeCroy batting cleanup against right-handed pitching while subbing for Justin Morneau is bad enough, but Tiffee batting cleanup in his first game after being called up from Triple-A seemed pretty ridiculous (before his two hits, I mean).
Jones continued his hot hitting last night with a mammoth homer off Johnson in the first (I'm not sure why I feel the need to say it was in the first, since Johnson only pitched in the first). It was one of those pitches that Jones turns on and yanks into right field, before emphatically dropping his bat and sort of hopping out of the batter's box. After reaching the upperdeck, I'm pretty sure the homer bounced down the tunnel and into the concourse, which must have been interesting for the people waiting in line for popcorn and a Dome Dog up in the nosebleed section.
I'm always pleased to see someone -- in this case Nick Punto -- getting a start over Luis Rivas at second base. Punto was the eighth straight hitter to reach base in the first inning when he walked, and he drew another one to lead off the bottom of the eighth. He also did a nice job defensively, working well with Bartlett on two double plays.
Speaking of Bartlett, I'm not ready to compare him to Ozzie Smith or anything, but it's amazing how different his play at shortstop is than Cristian Guzman's. Bartlett is sprinting after bloopers in short center field, diving to knock grounders up the middle down, sliding and popping up to make plays in the hole, and all sorts of other things I don't remember Guzman doing much of. Now, I'm certain my memory is doing Guzman a bit of a disservice, and I don't think Bartlett is a huge improvement over him yet, but I think he will be. It also helps that he's hitting .360.
While Lohse's final line wasn't very good (6.1 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 6 SO), he looked very impressive at times last night. His breaking ball was really diving down and out of the strike zone, and the Tigers were chasing it all game. He got Craig Monroe to strike out in the fifth inning by throwing him two identical sliders that broke sharply down and away. He still needs to keep it up for more than a couple innings at a time at some point, but Lohse sure looks good when he can do something other than try to throw straight-as-an-arrow low-90s fastballs past everyone.
And finally, Juan Rincon is such a stud that it's not even funny. He got all three of his outs last night on strikeouts, giving him the following season line:
IP H R ER BB SO HR OAVG
6.0 3 0 0 2 12 0 .150
The man is just sick right now. Dating back to the second half of last year, Rincon has 64 strikeouts in his last 44 innings (13.1/9). He also has 118 strikeouts in 88 innings (12.1/9) since the start of the 2004 season, during which time he's held opponents to a .179 batting average.
Today at The Hardball Times:
- Ten Things I Didn't Know Last Week (by Studes)
- The Devil's Advocate: A Major Disaster (by Larry Mahnken)
Today's Picks (11-6, +$580):
Chicago (Hernandez) -100 over Cleveland (Elarton)
Toronto (Halladay) -120 over Texas (Astacio)