April 20, 2003

Lost weekend

Yesterday was not a real good day to be a Minnesota sports fan. In fact, unless you like hockey (which I don't particularly), the whole weekend pretty much sucked.

The Twins dropped their third straight game to the Yankees and the Timberwolves lost the opening game of their best-of-seven series with the Lakers.

The Timberwolves had their best season in franchise history, winning 51 games and claiming home-court advantage in the playoffs for the first time. Much was made of how important that home-court advantage was and they had the scratch and claw their way up through the Western Conference standings all season long to end up with the #4 seed. But guess what? It took them exactly 48 minutes to give up the thing they had worked all season long to get, and, really, it was over after about 10 minutes. The Lakers came out hot, outscoring the Timberwolves 39-23 in the first quarter and, although Minnesota was able to cut it to five points in the third quarter, the game was never really in doubt. The Lakers won 117-98 and Shaq and Kobe combined for 71 points.

The Wolves played well on offense. They scored 98 points, which I would have taken prior to the game if you would have offered it to me. Kevin Garnett had 23 points, 14 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals. The team shot 50% overall, made more free throws than LA and only turned the ball over 11 times. Sounds pretty good, right?

Well, they also couldn't do anything to stop the Lakers from scoring.

Los Angeles shot 55.0% from the floor, including 10-19 (52.6%) on three-pointers. They also made 19-24 free throws (79.2%), including 10-13 from Shaq, who shot 62% on the year and 54% for his career. And the Lakers only turned the ball over 10 times.

Basically, scoring 98 points against the Lakers is a good thing and you have to think going into the game that, if you do so, you have a good chance to win. However, you are never, ever going to beat the Lakers anywhere - Minnesota, LA, Mars, wherever - if you let them score 39 points in the first quarter and 117 for the game.

So what can the Wolves do in game two and beyond? Probably not a whole lot. One thing in their favor is that it is extremely unlikely that the Lakers will shoot 52.6% from three-point land again and Shaq probably isn't a real good bet to go 10-13 from the line again anytime soon.

Offensively, the Wolves were pretty good. The one thing they need to be able to do better is get Wally Szczerbiak more shots. He went 5-9 from the field yesterday, which is very good, but there is no way he should only be taking nine shots in a playoff game. It's not anyone's fault though (other than Wally), because he simply has trouble getting himself open at times and he is definitely not the kind of player that can create his own shots effectively, especially with someone like Kobe guarding him.

I figured the Lakers would dominate the Wolves and even said so in this space on Friday, but it is still disappointing when it actually happens.

I saw the post-game press conference and Kevin Garnett showed once again why he is one of the most likeable, honest, entertaining players in the NBA (and my favorite player). He got asked some stupid question about "what happened" during the game and here is how he responded:

"They shot the s--- out of the ball. That's it really. They just shot the living s--- out of the ball."

No s--- KG, no s---.

And then there are the Twins. Oh boy...

There are three major things that they cannot seem to do at all this season:

1) Work counts/take pitches/get good pitches to hit.

2) Get hits with runners on base.

3) Avoid giving up home runs in bunches.

Yesterday was yet another perfect example of all three things working against the Twins.

1) Work counts/take pitches/get good pitches to hit.

They worked a total of three walks and struck out nine times. Mike Mussina breezed through seven innings of work needing only 104 pitches and then Jason Anderson and Randy Choate needed only 11 and 7 pitches to get through the 8th and 9th innings.

2) Get hits with runners on base.

Doug Mientkiewicz singled with 1 out in the 2nd inning, but was stranded on first base. In the 6th, Chris Gomez started the inning with a single and Corey Koskie walked to put 2 men on base with 0 outs. The next 3 batters went foul out, ground out, ground out and they didn't score a run.

A.J. Pierzynski started the 7th with a double and he did end up scoring, but not as a result of any hitting. Mike Mussina had 2 wild pitches - one that let A.J. go to third and one that let him score. Even in the 9th inning, Bobby Kielty reached on an infield single with 1 out and Matthew LeCroy ended the game with a double-play.

The only time in the entire game that they got a hit with a runner in scoring position was in the 4th inning. Let's take a look at what happened then...

Gomez leads off with a single and Koskie walked, putting 2 men on with 0 outs (exactly what happened in the 6th inning too). Then Torii Hunter struck out (looking!) and Mientkiewicz flew out to left. So they went from 2 on and 0 outs to 2 on and 2 outs and didn't even move the runners over. Kielty then walked to load the bases. The next hitter, Pierzynski, finally got a hit with a runner on base for the Twins, smacking a single through the hole between 1st and 2nd base, and scoring Gomez from third.

Now we're cooking, right? RIGHT?! Well, no. A.J. somehow managed to round first base too much, which drew a throw from Jorge Posada, at which point A.J. took off for second base and got in a run-down. Koskie had to do something or Pierzynski would have been easily tagged out to end the inning, so he made a run for the plate to try to score...and was thrown out by 10 feet.

So, they had 2 on and 0 outs and then had bases loaded and 2 outs and they scored a total of 1 run and had 1 incredibly stupid baserunning mistake end the inning.

3) Avoid giving up home runs in bunches.

Kyle Lohse served up a 3-run homer to Jason Giambi in the 1st inning and a solo-shot to Bernie Williams in the 4th.

I'm not saying they should have beaten the Yankees yesterday. After all, they are the Yankees and Mike Mussina is a very good pitcher. However, those 3 things not only hurt them yesterday, they have been absolutely killing the Twins all season long...

1) Work counts/take pitches/get good pitches to hit.

The Twins have never been a patient team and Ron Gardenhire talked about wanting his guys to be even more aggressive this season. Well, guess what? They are currently 29th out of 30 teams in major league baseball in walks, with 44 in 18 games (2.44/game). They are ahead of only one team, Tampa Bay, and the 1-16 Detroit Tigers are one spot ahead of them, with 46 walks.

That isn't very good company to be in and the lack of walks don't even tell the whole story, because they don't completely show how many dozens of times the Twins have swung at the first or second pitch in an at bat or have swung at a crappy 3-1 pitch that would have been ball four. I don't care that they aren't walking (although that would be nice), but I do care that they seem to have absolutely zero plan at the plate and are content to swing at whatever crap the pitcher throws up there during the first few pitches of a given at bat.

2) Get hits with runners on base.

This is perhaps the most frustrating apsect of their season so far. After all, you would think that a team based so heavily on high batting averages and doubles-hitters would be able to get base hits with runners on base. Instead, in the rare times when they have gotten people on base, they have stranded them.

They are hitting .243/.293/.363 with runners on base (25th in MLB) and .210/.267/.325 with runners in scoring position (29th in MLB). When you are only getting on base 31% of the time, like the Twins are, you simply are not going to win many games hitting like that when you do get some ducks on the pond.

3) Avoid giving up home runs in bunches.

This is the back-breaker. You keep some games close and maybe you somehow manage to actually get a hit with a runner on base and then *BAM*, you give up a 3-run homer.

Twins pitchers have given up 22 home runs in 18 games this year, which ranks 8th in the AL. 8th in the AL doesn't seem so bad, but let's examine the homers allowed a little more closely...

Twins starters have given up 19 homers in 98 innings.

Twins relievers have given up 3 homers in 53 innings.

So, they aren't giving up homers in the late innings, which is certainly nice. But the starters are serving up long-balls like they have "LIMA" sewn onto the backs of their jerseys. They have given up a homer every 5.2 innings, which is getting them behind by some big margins early in games - which is exactly what happened yesterday. I mean, they were down 3-0 after 3 batters!

I promised last week that I wouldn't overreact to a few losses in a row anymore and I am really trying my hardest not to. I don't think losing games to the Yankees is a big deal at all. That said, the 3 areas that the Twins are doing poorly in are basically the 3 most frustrating areas, at least from a fan's point of view.

They look undisciplined at the plate and aren't getting anyone on base. When they do get someone on base, they can't get any hits. And their starting pitchers give up big leads early in the games, as the other teams tee off on them.

As you can probably tell, I am really sick of playing the Yankees!

Elsewhere around baseballl...

I caught a little of the Cubs/Pirates game yesterday afternoon and saw Salomon Torres hit Sammy Sosa right in the head with a fastball, which resulted in Sosa's batting helmet practically exploding and a huge chunk coming off of it.

Sosa went down right away, but immediately looked out at the mound, which made me think he was in the right frame of mind. I mean, if you get hit in the head with a 90 MPH fastball, your helmet explodes and you fall to the ground, don't you think it is a good sign that you want to glare at the pitcher and not, say, drool all over yourself and scream "Mommy"?

Sammy left the game and I haven't heard the info yet on whether or not he'll miss a game or two this week.

This incident gives me a chance to discuss one of my biggest pet peeves in all of sports.

You see, Sosa got beaned on the very first pitch of his second at bat of the afternoon. What happened in his first at bat? You guessed it, he hit a homer.

Now, I don't know for sure if Torres meant to hit Sosa (he claims he didn't) and I certainly hope that, if he did mean it, he didn't try to hit him in the head. However, regardless of that, I know for a fact that there are times when a player hits a homer and a pitcher intentionally hits him with a pitch in the next at bat. And that always pisses me off.

Tell me how much sense this makes...

A hitter's job is to help his team score runs. One of the best ways to do that is to hit a pitched baseball over the fence in the outfield.

A pitcher's job is to prevent the other team from scoring runs. One of the best ways to do that is to not allow the pitches you throw to be hit over the fence in the outfield.

So, a batter comes to the plate and does his job by hitting a homer. In turn, that means the pitcher did not do his job, by allowing the homer. And what happens the next time that batter comes up? He is punished by the pitcher by being struck with a baseball traveling 90 miles an hour, because he did what he was supposed to do and the pitcher screwed up.

Turn that around. Let's say Sosa comes to the plate and Salomon Torres strikes him out. Would it be okay if, the next he came up, Sosa threw his bat at Torres? Of course not, but what's the big difference? In both cases, one person did their job well and the other didn't. And in both cases the one that messed up responds by throwing something at the other person.

My feelings on this have absolutely nothing to do with Torres and Sosa. However, if Salomon Torres did intentionally throw at Sosa, he should be ashamed of himself. Why? Because he is Salomon freaking Torres and Sammy Sosa is Sammy Sosa!

How about instead of throwing baseballs at Hall of Famers that hit home runs off your team (it wasn't Torres that served up Sosa's homer, but his teammate Josh Fogg), you actually try to get them out? What an interesting concept...

It's not as if this type of thing goes on in other sports. When is the last time you saw Tracy McGrady get his shot blocked by Shaquille O'Neal and respond by throwing the ball at O'Neal on the next possession?

When Randy Moss beats a defensive back for a deep touchdown, does the defensive back get to knock him down the next time he comes out onto the field?

When a hockey player scores a goal on a goalie, does the goalie wait until he skates by again and hit him in the back with his stick?

Of course not, because all of those things would be ridiculous. Yet, no one seems to care when a batter does his job and hits a home run off a pitcher that isn't doing his and gets rewarded with a fastball in the back (or the head) the next time he comes to the plate.

The only happiness I got out the Torres/Sosa situation was that, it being a National League game, Torres had to actually bat later in the contest and Cubs' pitcher Juan Cruz immediately plunked him in the leg.

Pittsburgh skipper Lloyd McClendon came running out of the dugout to argue with the ump because he thought Cruz did it on purpose and should have been thrown out of the game. Gee, I wonder what Lloyd would have done if Salomon Torres was actually a good player and Juan Cruz decided he would bean him in the head?

On a completely unrelated note: The weekend wasn't a total loss, because this blog went over the 60,000 visitor mark yesterday. I want to thank everyone who stops by to check out what I have to say and I also want to thank all the other bloggers out there for telling their readers about the site. My next goal is a 20,000 visitor month and I think we are getting really close...

By the way, here's a new, great blog to check out:

Universal Baseball Blog, Inc.

It is quickly becoming one of my favorites because Ben, the author, writes really well and he writes damn near as much stuff as I do - which is really saying something! 🙂

Today's picks:

New York (Wells) -160 over Minnesota (Reed)

Toronto (Lidle) +160 over Boston (Burkett)

Total to date: + $1,310

W/L record: 40-36 (Horrible on Friday and incredible on Saturday, for a total of 8-4 and +450 for the two days)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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