July 31, 2006

Twins 15, Rangers 2

One day after scraping together a late-inning rally from little more than a bunch of choppers and the Tigers' mistakes, the Twins' lineup welcomed Torii Hunter back from the disabled list and exploded for 15 runs against the Rangers. Luis Castillo and Jason Tyner combined to go 0-for-8, but the other seven starters amazingly went 18-for-31 (.581) with 15 RBIs and 14 runs scored.

It was good to see the Twins tee off on a soft-tossing rookie, because over the past few years guys like John Rheinecker have given them trouble far too often. It was also good to see the hitters keep pouring it on after the Rangers brought in hard-throwing right-hander Joaquin Benoit and tack on a couple extra runs against left-hander Ron Mahay.

Lost in the avalanche of runs is that Carlos Silva turned in an outstanding performance against one of the league's top offenses:

 IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR     PIT
7.0 6 1 1 0 4 1 102

Silva attacked hitters by pounding strikes early and often, struck out more than three batters for just the fourth time all season, and reversed his recent trend of morphing into a fly-ball pitcher. Fourteen of Silva's 21 outs came via either strikeout or ground out, and by the time Mark Teixeira took him deep for a solo homer in the seventh inning it was already 15-0.

Given the inconsistency from Scott Baker and Boof Bonser, and Terry Ryan's apparent reluctance to bring up Matt Garza from Triple-A, it's unclear if Silva was close to losing his spot in the rotation prior to last night. Whatever the case, he's no longer in any danger of a demotion, and Ryan's decision to trade Kyle Lohse yesterday while not picking up a veteran starter is looking pretty good.

Here are some other notes I typed up while watching the Twins' 61st win of the year ...

  • After last night, I wonder how many Twins fans changed their mind about what a mistake it was for the Twins not to trade for Carlos Lee. Lee looked absolutely lost in left field, losing several battles with the Metrodome roof while showing off his Shannon Stewart-like throwing arm, and went 0-for-3 at the plate.

    Lee is a fine (if overrated) hitter, but with Jason Kubel and Rondell White hobbled he'd have been forced into playing defense regularly on the Twins, which would be a disaster. Instead, the Twins stood pat and let Hunter returning from the DL be their addition at the trading deadline:

  • 2004-2006          AVG      OBP      SLG     AB/HR
    Carlos Lee .285 .345 .514 17.7
    Torii Hunter .272 .339 .462 23.5

    In theory the Twins could have had both Hunter and Lee, but that scenario would have included either Lee's (and everyone else's) nightmare of him playing left field at the Metrodome or him starting over Kubel and White at designater hitter. All of which isn't to say that picking up Lee wouldn't have helped the offense, but rather that his impact specifically on the Twins down the stretch would have been somewhat limited.

    Incidentally, Hunter went 3-for-5 with a homer, four RBIs, and three runs scored in his first game since July 15.

  • The Twins did make one trade yesterday, sending Lohse to the Reds for pitching prospect Zach Ward. I'm shocked that Lohse remained in Minnesota for this long considering the writing was on the wall for his exit since last season, and even more surprised that Ryan was still able to coax a quality prospect in return out of former assistant Wayne Krivsky.

    Lohse isn't as bad as he looked before being yanked from the starting rotation earlier this season and actually pitched fairly well out of the bullpen, but with Matt Guerrier coming back from the DL this week and the rest of the bullpen thriving, the need for an effective mop-up man was trumped by adding another intriguing young arm to the farm system.

    The deal further cements my belief that Krivsky leaving his job as Ryan's right-hand man is one of the best things that could have happened to the Twins. In fact, given what we now know about Krivsky's preference for washed up veterans and lopsided trades, I'm starting to reconsider exactly how much blame Ryan deserves for some of the team's more questionable moves over the past few years.

    Not only do I approve of Ryan resisting the temptation to overpay for a guy like Lee or Alfonso Soriano, I think he deserves a lot of credit for cashing Lohse in for as much as he ended up getting. Plus, during his in-game interview with television announcers Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven last night, I found Ryan to be his usual honest, level-headed, and intelligent self.

    Ryan expressed a clear and reasoned rationale for both wanting to acquire a bit bat and ultimately backing off from available deals to do so. During his half-inning in the booth, I found myself nodding in agreement with something Ryan said more times than I have while listening to Bremer and Blyleven all year.

  • In terms of what type of prospect the Twins got in Ward, here's a look at his numbers this season in the Midwest League:
     G     GS      ERA        IP     SO     BB     HR     OAVG
    20 18 2.29 114.0 95 37 2 .188

    The good news is that those are outstanding numbers pretty much across the board, particularly the .188 opponent's batting average and two homers allowed in 114 innings. The bad news is that Ward is already 22 years old, which makes his dominating hitters at low Single-A significantly less impressive than it looks.

    With that said, Ward was the Reds' third-round pick in last June's draft and Baseball America had the following to say about him earlier this season:

    All season, the Gardner-Webb product has done a fantastic job of inducing ground balls, and that was the case yesterday as he struck out seven and walked one while recording 11 groundball outs to just three in the air. One the season, Ward has a 3.55 ground ball/fly ball ratio in 72 innings.

    I'm hopeful that the Twins will push Ward a little more aggressively through the system, because there's no need for him to waste any more time in the low minors. At the very least he appears to have a good chance of becoming a quality reliever down the road and there's certainly enough potential there for a lot more. Not that they needed it, but the Twins' pitching depth just got even deeper.

  • FSN flashed an interesting graphic last night showing that Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano have combined to go 23-7 with a 2.57 ERA as starters, while the rest of the rotation is (or was, before Silva's outing) 22-29 with an ERA over 6.00. The graphic was intended to show how much of a dropoff there's been after Santana and Liriano, but I was surprised by the fact that the other starters have managed what is now a 23-29 record despite a six-something ERA.
  • Reports of the Twins' starting third baseman turning back into a pumpkin were greatly exaggerated, as the new-and-improved Nick Punto continued to be both new and improved by going 4-for-4 with a walk, three RBIs, and four runs scored. Punto is now hitting .320/.399/.423 in 81 games, which along with good defense and 11 steals makes him one of the five best third basemen in the league.
  • Who knew Josh Rabe could hit the ball that far?
  • Justin Morneau hit .239 last season and came into this year with a career batting average of .248 in 255 big-league games. He then batted just .208 in April and was hitting .236 when the Twins began their amazing 40-game stretch back on June 8. Since then he's been perhaps baseball's hottest hitter, and after going 3-for-4 last night now ranks sixth in the AL with a .321 batting average.

    Joe Mauer went 2-for-5 to increase his MLB-leading average to .368, but at the rate Morneau is going he may not even be leading his own team by the end of the month. Morneau also ranks second in RBIs, fourth in total bases, seventh in homers and slugging percentage, and eighth in OPS. Oh, and he's also hitting .308 against southpaws and has a higher slugging percentage against them than against righties.

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