September 8, 2005

Twins Notes

I had an odd experience Monday. My mom had the day off from work for Labor Day and took the opportunity to sleep in. Meanwhile, I was up at 6:45, before the alarm even went off, and working by 7:05. It was like we had entered into some sort of bizarro world, where what I had experienced for the first 22 years of my life was flipped 180 degrees.

Suddenly I was up bright and early, working. And suddenly my mom, who has gotten up at six in the morning every weekday for as long as I can remember, was nestled comfortably under the covers. Even my trusty Boston Terrier, Samantha, abandoned me for a cozy spot in my mom's bed, leaving me alone with my laptop and daily NFL news beat for Rotoworld.

In other news, school started Tuesday and for the first time I couldn't care less.

Onto the Twins notes ...

  • Francisco Liriano's big-league career got off to a rough start Monday, as he fell behind the first batter he faced, Gary Matthews Jr., and then gave up a long solo homer on a 3-1 fastball right over the plate. That wasn't how I envisioned his first appearance going, of course, but in the long run the homer isn't nearly as important as the incredible two-strike sliders he threw to strike out the next two batters.

    Lost in the bomb he served up to Matthews is the fact that Liriano was throwing extremely hard, flashed a nasty breaking ball that appears to have several thousand strikeouts in its future, and recovered from a rocky beginning to set down three straight hitters. With Johan Santana locked up through 2008, Carlos Silva still arbitration-eligible, and Scott Baker now firmly entrenched as a starter, the future of the Twins' rotation is looking pretty nice.

  • The Twins' pitching staff showed a lot more restraint and patience when it came to the team's pathetic hitting than I did, but the infighting appears to have started now. Brad Radke said he was "suicidal" over the lack of offensive support, adding that "it's to the point where it just drives you crazy." Silva took it one step further after the team was shut out again Monday, seemingly lashing out at both the offense and defense:
    It is hard to get a loss like this. The only thing I know, man, is that every time I go out there, I give 100 percent because I like to win and I hate to lose. It looks like a lot of guys in here don't want to play the game the right way. ... If you throw nine innings with one run and lose 1-0, you lost. That's nice to say, 'I pitched nine innings and only gave up one run,' but what happens the other times? If someone thinks that way, and I know a lot of guys think that way -- just worried about pitching and worry about yourself -- it is not going to work.

    It's a shame the pitching staff can't perform in a vacuum, because they deserve a lot better than what they're getting this season and aren't receiving nearly enough credit for the amazing job they've done. If the pitching staff's frustration over the lack of offense ever starts hurting their pitching, then the hitters have really screwed things up royally. Perhaps that's what Kyle Lohse and Radke came blame their brief and horrendous outings this week on.

  • Aside from looking at him or watching him (attempt to) run, a simple look at Matthew LeCroy's hit totals is one way to tell how slow he is. LeCroy has smacked 14 homers this year and also has 45 singles, but he has just four doubles. I'm guessing your average mammal would have turned at least 5-6 more of those singles into two-baggers.

    Remember when I said LeCroy was miscast as an everyday player? Well, he was on a hot streak at the time and I got quite a few e-mails from people telling me I was wrong. Turns out, I wasn't. LeCroy hit .244/.327/.433 while playing regularly last month and has batted .220/.299/.327 against right-handed pitching on the year. He's a lefty-masher, that's all.

  • I gushed about Joe Mauer's hitting last week (at which point he proceeded to go into his worst funk of the season), but here's an overlooked aspect of his game: The Twins have allowed the second-fewest stolen bases in baseball this season, behind only Yadier Molina and the Cardinals. And not only have Mauer and Mike Redmond allowed just 39 steals all year, they rank third in baseball with a 45% success rate throwing out runners. That's shutting down the running game.
  • Jesse Crain is really starting to worry me. He continues to keep runs off the board and vulture wins from the bullpen, but he now has a measly nine strikeouts in 28 second-half innings and has walked 15 batters during that same span. Not striking anyone out is concerning enough for a guy who racked up strikeouts like few other pitchers in the minors, but not striking anyone out and walking a batter every other inning is simply a recipe for disaster.

    I don't care what you think about Crain or DIPS or the importance of strikeout rates, he simply can't continue to pitch this well with what is now an even 38-to-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 96.2 major-league innings. Sadly, I doubt anyone within the organization will preemptively address the problem, since Crain has a 2.36 ERA on the year, including 2.25 since the All-Star break, and is 10-4 with a .213 opponent's batting average.

  • I am amused by how the local coverage of the team -- both on TV and in print -- continues to act as if the Twins are right in the thick of the postseason race. The fact is that they are now 5.5 games back of the Wild Card, with three teams in front of them for a playoff spot. That wouldn't be a huge problem if it were, say, July, but there are only 23 games remaining in which to make up that ground.

    Think of it this way: The Twins need to finish the year by going 17-6 just to reach 90 wins. Not only is that unlikely, considering it would be a .739 winning percentage for a team that has won at a .525 clip thus far, it still wouldn't even come close to guaranteeing them a playoff spot. In fact, the Yankees would have to play barely over .500, going 13-11 to the finish the year, and they'd end up with 91 wins. To get to 91 victories the Indians have to go 13-10 and the A's would have to go 14-9.

    It's not that the Twins can't finish incredibly strong and a team like the Yankees can't slump down the stretch, it's that the Twins must finish incredibly strong and all three teams in front of them must play .500 or worse ball for the last three weeks of the season. The odds of that happening are slim and none, and slim probably left town with the Rangers.

  • Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Ten Things I Didn't Know Last Week (by Dave Studeman)
    - You Can Count on It (by Dan Fox)

    Today's Picks (97-86, +$1,055):
    New England -7.5 (-110) over Oakland


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