July 25, 2006

Twins 4, White Sox 3

Now this is fun.

One night Joe Mauer smacks his first career homer off a left-handed pitcher, a three-run bomb that propels the Twins to a 7-4 win. The next night Jason Bartlett delivers his first long ball of the season, another three-run shot that allows the Twins to hold on for a 4-3 victory. This afternoon I fully expect Jason Tyner to hit a game-winning grand slam.

I'm going to keep this entry relatively short, because by the time many of you read this today's game will have already been played. I'd feel silly going on and on about last night's win and what it means for the Twins' playoff chances, only to have Carlos Silva give the game back by the time some of you return from your lunch break.

Here are some notes I typed up while watching arguably the most exciting game of the season ...

  • The White Sox's battery last night is perhaps the worst in baseball at controlling the running game. Coming into the game, runners had gone 38-for-44 stealing bases off Jose Contreras over the past two years and a remarkably awful 31-for-32 off Sandy Alomar Jr. Given how vulnerable Chicago was to steals, the Contreras-Johan Santana matchup, and the Twins' speed-dominated lineup, I expected Ron Gardenhire to give just about everyone the green light.

    That was the case right away, as both Luis Castillo and Nick Punto swiped second base during the first-inning rally that ultimately came up short. However, after that the Twins ran just once more on Contreras, with Tyner getting thrown out at second base in the fourth inning. In all, the Twins had six runners on first base with second base open in Contreras' seven innings--Tyner twice and Castillo, Punto, Michael Cuddyer, and Rondell White once each--and ran half the time.

  • Jim Thome's first-inning solo blast was extremely impressive, even with the wind in Chicago making nearly every fly ball a potential homer. Thome was behind 1-2 against the best southpaw in baseball, got fooled by a changeup to the point that he was completely out in front on his swing, and still managed to clear the fence in dead center field by a good 20 feet. In 138 career games against the Twins, Thome has now hit .325 with 46 homers and 106 RBIs.
  • Cuddyer showed off what other teams will soon learn is one of the best outfield arms in baseball, gunning down Tadahito Iguchi when he tried to go first-to-third on Thome's single in the sixth inning. Instead of having runners on the corners with one out and Paul Konerko at the plate in a tie game, Santana was able to pitch to Chicago's cleanup hitter with no one in scoring position and two down. Konerko grounded out to end the threat.

    Cuddyer later showed off some leather in right field, making a sprawling grab on A.J. Pierzynski's broken-bat line drive with two runners on base in the bottom of the ninth. If he fails to make either of those plays, there's a very good chance the Twins lose the game. Cuddyer is still a little shaky at times in right field, but he makes enough outstanding plays to make me think he can develop into a major asset defensively.

  • The heavy winds blowing out to left and center field would normally have been very bad news for Santana, who is among the most extreme fly-ball pitchers around. However, while he did give up two homers, Santana limited the potential damage by uncharacteristically getting 10 of his 14 non-strikeout outs on the ground.

    I normally disagree with the notion that people like me would benefit much from having interview access to players after games, but this is one of the rare instances where it would have been nice. I'd like to know whether or not Santana made a conscious effort to keep the ball on the ground because of the weather conditions (as opposed to it being due to coincidence or Chicago's powerful lineup).

  • Santana improved to 12-5, which ties him for second in MLB in wins. Santana also moved his career mark to 71-30, which is good for a .703 winning percentage that's tops among all pitchers with at least 100 decisions since Spud Chandler went 109-43 (.717) for the Yankees in the 1940s. Last but not least, Santana is now 3-0 since the All-Star break, which gives him the following combined second-half pitching line since moving into the rotation full time in 2003:
    GS      W     L     WIN%      ERA        IP      SO
    47 33 3 .917 1.99 318.0 332

    Not bad.

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