Tsuyoshi Nishioka's rough first week with the Twins got considerably worse this afternoon, as he suffered a fractured fibula when Nick Swisher slid very hard into second base to break up a potential double play. There's no official timetable yet for his return, but Nishioka will be out for at least a month and Luke Hughes has been called up from Triple-A to replace him on the roster. It's a good opportunity for Hughes to show he belongs, but what a shame for Nishioka.
• Joe Nathan's velocity wasn't much better last night, as he continued to work at 89-91 miles per hour with his fastball, but compared to his first post-surgery outing Sunday his command was vastly improved and he relied far less on off-speed stuff. Oh, and throwing a fastball past Derek Jeter to end a game is always fun.
• At some point the starting pitchers will have to avoid digging a big hole right away, but Brian Duensing recovered well from a rough first two innings. He allowed four runs in seven innings overall, but that's actually a pretty solid effort considering the Yankees averaged 4.6 runs per seven innings at home last season.
• I'm curious to see if Ron Gardenhire will make a habit out of turning to Matt Capps for more than one inning now that he's not holding him back for ninth-inning leads. Early in his career Capps was very durable, logging 160 innings in 161 appearances during his first two seasons, but once he became a full-time closer in 2008 his usage lessened considerably.
• Old friend Luis Ayala got the Yankees out of a jam in the 10th inning, which is remarkable for a guy who was washed up when the Twins signed him in 2009. Ayala followed up a 5.71 ERA in 2008 with a 5.63 ERA in 2009 and then didn't pitch in the majors at all last season, yet there he was getting high-leverage work for baseball's only $200 million team. I'm just glad I didn't have to make good on this promise. Are the North Stars still good?
• Speaking of payrolls, USA Todaycrunched the numbers and found that the Twins rank ninth in Opening Day payroll at $112.7 million. That's second in the AL Central behind the White Sox at $127.8 million and the Tigers aren't far behind at $105.7 million, making it the only division with three $100 million teams. Of course, with the Indians at $49.2 million and the Royals at an MLB-low $36.1 million it's also the only division with two teams under $50 million.
• Justin Morneau has had plenty of hard-hit balls through five games, but an even better sign for his comeback from last year's concussion might be that he can remember all these different choreographed, teammate-dependent handshakes:
My favorite is making it rain with Danny Valencia, which should be the title of a show on FSN.
• Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribunewrote that the Twins are more involved with statistical analysis than their reputation suggests and based on his quotes vice president of player personnel Mike Radcliff certainly sounds very open to sabermetrics, but as of last year the front office's highest-profile decision-makers had only a rudimentary understanding of most new-school numbers and Christensen says they "have yet to hire a full-time statistical expert."
• According toBill Lankhof of the Toronto Sun the Rockies "were all set to pick" Denard Span with the ninth overall selection in the 2002 draft, but instead took Canadian lefty Jeff Francis. I have no clue who the Twins may have nabbed at No. 20 had Span not been there, but some of the players picked in the next 10 spots were Jeremy Guthrie, Jeff Francoeur, Joe Blanton, and Matt Cain. They did well to get Span, obviously, although it didn't always look that way.
• I was encouraged by Gardenhire benching Michael Cuddyeragainst a right-hander Monday, but we'll see if that was an acknowledgment that Jim Thome and Jason Kubel are far superior options versus righties or merely a convenient day off for Cuddyer.
At this point writing about postseason losses to the Yankees has me feeling like Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day, except there's no Andie MacDowell to hit on while going through the same frustrating story over and over again. I'm not sure what's left to say, really, but here are some notes from Game 2 of the ALDS ...
• For all the media-fueled talk of Francisco Liriano being untrustworthy in big games and Carl Pavano being less likely to implode they basically turned in identical performances versus New York. Liriano struck out seven and allowed four runs on nine baserunners in 5.2 innings, while Pavano struck out three and allowed four runs on 11 baserunners in six innings. Unfortunately neither performance was particularly good.
• Of course, Pavano's line (and the game in general) would've looked much different had home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt called what appeared to be a pretty obvious strike three on Lance Berkman in the seventh inning. Instead he called it a ball and Berkman connected on a go-ahead (and ultimately game-winning) double on the next pitch. Berkman later came around to score, putting the Yankees up 4-2.
Via replays and various pitch location charts the call was perhaps somewhat less obvious than it initially appeared, but Pavano's pitch was pretty clearly a strike and even more clearly was a pitch that's almost always called a strike. However, it was also far from the only questionable ball/strike call Wendelstedt made all night and in fact his strike zone was wildly inconsistent for both sides and ... well, let's say "unique." Plus, in Game 1 a bad call went the Twins' way.
• From the moment Ron Gardenhire left the dugout there was absolutely zero that doubt he'd end up getting tossed from the game. Typically pitching coach Rick Anderson makes all trips to the mound that don't involve a pitching change and Gardenhire has a long history of incidents with Wendelstedt, so clearly he headed out there with the intention of venting his frustration with the umpire and perhaps even with the goal of getting tossed.
• Jon Rauch deserves some praise for wriggling out of the bases-loaded, one-out jam against Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano in the seventh inning, just as he probably deserved more praise than he received during the regular season for converting 21-of-25 save opportunities before the closer role was yanked away and for his 3.12 ERA and 41-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 57.2 innings overall.
• Lost in the talk of pitching matchups and rotation orders is that the Twins' lineup has been inept during the 2-11 playoff stretch against New York, scoring 3, 1, 1, 1, 2, 6, 4, 5, 2, 3, 1, 4, and 2 runs. That works out to 2.8 runs per game, which won't equal many wins regardless of the pitching. To put that in some context, the average AL team scored 4.5 runs per game this year. Against the Yankees the Twins have more than four runs twice in 13 playoff games.
• Coming into the series I felt that two factors being somewhat overlooked were the strength of the Yankees' bullpen even beyond Mariano Rivera and how facing four left-handed starters in five games put the Twins at a big disadvantage because they relied so much on left-handed bats Joe Mauer, Jim Thome, and Jason Kubel. Both factors have sadly played out pretty much as expected in the first two games. They face a right-handed starter Saturday in Phil Hughes.
• I'll be co-hosting "Twins Wrap" on 1500-ESPN following (hopefully) both games in New York, talking with Darren Wolfson and taking phone calls starting about an hour after the final out. Win or lose the shows will likely last for at least an hour and maybe two hours, so I'd definitely love to hear from some AG.com readers, if only for the sake of my sanity.
Everything was perfect last night, except for that damn final score. I arrived at the jam-packed Kiernan's Irish Pub in time to see the final three innings of Roy Halladay's no-hitter, eventually made my way to fantastic Target Field seats just past third base, sat in gorgeous weather at a ballpark that was absolutely rocking ... and drove home depressed after watching a story that I've seen too many times before.
Some disjointed notes on another gut-wrenching playoff loss to the Yankees ...
• I didn't like Orlando Hudson bunting after Denard Span singled to lead off the game, just as I didn't like the various times when that situation played out the same way in previous playoff games against the Yankees. Giving up an out and playing for one run just doesn't make much sense when you're facing such a potent lineup. With that said, it's ultimately a pretty marginal situation strategically and I didn't have any major issues with the in-game tactics.
• On the other hand, I thought Joe Girardi did the Twins a favor several times with his bullpen management, first by leaving CC Sabathia in despite having David Robertson all warmed up in the sixth inning and then by using Boone Logan in a way that led to Jim Thome coming to the plate as the go-ahead run versus a righty. Sabathia wriggled out of his jam with the game still tied and Thome struck out, but Girardi's moves in those spots were questionable at best.
• Francisco Liriano was thisclose to out-dueling Sabathia and putting together a great playoff debut, cruising through five very impressive innings, but things unraveled in the sixth inning. Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, and Jorge Posada doing some damage is far from surprising, but Curtis Granderson tripling off the wall in right-center field was shocking given his career-long struggles against lefties and Liriano's dominance against lefties.
• Jesse Crain was knocked around in his final appearance of the regular season Friday, giving up four runs against the Blue Jays, but prior to that he had a 1.06 ERA and .171 opponents' batting average in 51 innings spread over his previous 54 appearances. Perhaps his ugly end to the regular season was a sign that he'd serve up a back-breaking homer to Teixeira, but it would be crazy to not trust a guy who had one bad game following four months of dominance.
• Hudson has made his share of head-scratching plays on both sides of the ball all season, but his going from first to third on Joe Mauer's third-inning squibber showed a ton of smarts and hustle. And it ultimately led to a run.
• In the seventh inning Mauer slashed a line drive into the foul territory along the left-field line and a guy sitting in the row in front of me reached out and snatched it out of the air with his bare hand as if he were catching a set of car keys someone had tossed him underhanded. It sounded like a cross between a gun shot and slapping a slab of meat, yet when asked a few minutes later if it hurt his response was simply: "A little bit."
• Pinch-running for both Jason Kubel and Danny Valencia in the eighth inning is an example of over-managing. Kubel wasn't even the tying run and Valencia is certainly fast enough to run for himself. And if the Twins were going to win the game there was a good chance those two spots in the batting order would come up again, at which point Jason Repko and Matt Tolbert are hitting. A huge deal? No, but needlessly finicky.
• Thome has been so amazing that it felt weird to see him fail to come through in a couple big spots. He struck out on a ball in the dirt with two men on in the seventh inning and popped up to end the game after the umpires gifted the Twins a 28th out. J.J. Hardy also came up empty in two key spots, including whiffing off an incredibly wobbly Sabathia with the bases loaded. They weren't short on chances, but the Twins went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
• Tonight's matchup: Andy Pettitte (129 IP, 4.05 xFIP) vs. Carl Pavano (221 IP, 4.01 xFIP)
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