May 15, 2005

Twins Drop 2 of 3 to Rangers

The Twins played poorly during their three-game series against the Rangers this weekend, but thankfully managed to escape with a win in yesterday's game to avoid getting swept. They are now 21-15 on the year and just one game behind where they were last season after 36 games (22-14). Perhaps more importantly, yesterday's win contained several encouraging individual performances.

The star of the game was Shannon Stewart, who made an outstanding catch defensively and went 2-for-4 with four RBIs at the plate, including a three-run homer into the seats in left field that put the Twins ahead for good in the bottom of the sixth inning. Stewart entered the game hitting .276, which isn't bad, but he wasn't walking very much and wasn't hitting for very much power. The result was an uninspiring .276/.336/.362 overall line from a guy who hit .312/.382/.457 in his first two years with the team.

A two-hit game obviously isn't going to be the cure for a slow start, and Stewart's overall numbers are still below where you'd expect them to be at the end of the season, but it was really nice to see him hit some pitches with authority yesterday. After a .263/.318/.323 April he is now hitting a very Stewart-like .309/.377/.491 in May. Having him on base 35-38% of the time in front of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau would mean an awful lot for the Twins' offense.

And speaking of guys getting on base in front of Mauer and Morneau, the Twins' new #2 hitter, Nick Punto, went 3-for-4 yesterday. The three-hit game raised his batting average to just .256, but that comes along with a .326 on-base percentage that is right around league-average and would be a career-high for Luis Rivas.

Like I said last week when Ron Gardenhire went public with Punto being the new everyday second baseman, Punto is nothing great, but he's good enough and he's not Rivas. Plus, how can you not like a player who seemingly gets half the dirt in the Metrodome on his uniform during every game.


Michael Cuddyer also had a three-hit game yesterday, raising his batting average to .257. Like Stewart, Cuddyer hasn't shown a whole lot of power so far, but he had two doubles yesterday and is now hitting .257/.315/.345 on the year. That's horrible, of course, and he still has just one home run in 113 at-bats, but Cuddyer is now hitting .350/.395/.450 with four doubles in 40 May at-bats, after an absolutely dreadful April.

On the pitching side of things, it was nice to see both Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan bounce back after rough outings Friday night. Nathan had some bad defense played behind him and gave up an earned run (three of them, to be exact) for the first time this season Friday, but came back yesterday with a 1-2-3 ninth inning (with two strikeouts) for his 11th save of the year. Rincon was even better in his second appearance since coming back from his suspension, striking out the side on 15 pitches in the eighth inning.

And last but not least, Brad Radke recovered from serving up another early home run to give up just two runs in seven innings, picking up his fourth win of the season. The bad news is that Radke handed out his second walk of the season to Mark Teixeira in the sixth inning. The good news is that his strikeout-to-walk ratio is now at 36-to-2 in 63 innings this year, keeping him on pace to break the all-time strikeout-to-walk ratio record that is held by Bret Saberhagen.

A few mainstream Twins links from the weekend ...

  • A St. Paul Pioneer Press article from yesterday showed that Gardenhire thinks four at-bats is a meaningful sample size. On why he started Rivas against Kenny Rogers Saturday: "Luis is 2 for 4 off Rogers." Rivas, of course, went 0-for-3 against Rogers. The only thing worse than ignoring stats is using the wrong stats.
  • Sunday's Minneapolis Star Tribune had a brief but interesting glimpse into Jason Kubel's ongoing recovery from an exploding leg, written by the Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, La Velle E. Neal.
  • Jim Souhan's column from Friday's Star Tribune that, among other things, reveals Souhan as a possible believer in the theory of Defense Independent Pitching Statistics. Souhan writes:
    When a pitcher puts a ball in play, he loses control of events. He might be rewarded with a great fielding play or snakebit by an error. A long flyball might ride the wind toward the shortest fence in a hitters' park for a cheap home run, or die on the warning track in dead center field in a Death Valley such as Comerica Park.

    Pitchers exercise most the control over walks and strikeouts and, by that measure, what the Twins staff is doing is amazing.

    The Twins have recorded 205 strikeouts while issuing 51 walks, a ratio of 4.02. The next-best ratio in the big leagues belongs to Houston, at 2.53.

    That disparity is a credit to the entire Twins organization, for drafting and acquiring quality arms, developing confident and healthy pitchers, and emphasizing throwing strikes.

    All of that sounds simple and obvious, but if it were, everybody would be so successful.

    Very logical thoughts, of course, and also very interesting coming from Souhan because DIPS is -- gasp! -- a sabermetric theory. Souhan better not let his secret get out though, because the Baseball Writers' Association of America might have to take away his membership.

  • Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Old(er) Man Franco (by Aaron Gleeman)

    Today's Picks (33-22, +$1,195):
    Milwaukee (Davis) +110 over Washington (Armas)


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