July 27, 2004

Game Two to Minnesota

Some random thoughts I had while watching the Twins beat the White Sox last night ...

... Shannon Stewart led off the game with a single and then Cristian Guzman sacrificed him to second base. I absolutely hate this play. If the game were tied and it was the late innings, that's one thing, but to give up an out to advance one base in the top of the first inning is just stupid, even factoring in how well Johan Santana has been pitching of late.

Incidentally, the Twins did not score a run in the first inning.

... While I'm on that subject, I hate batting Guzman #2. Once Joe Mauer comes back, I'm really hoping Ron Gardenhire shifts Guzman to #8 or #9 and moves Lew Ford up to #2. That would put the Twins' four best hitters in the first four spots in the lineup, which is exactly how it should be.

Not only does Ford have speed and bunting ability, just like Guzman, he has the added ability to actually take pitches, work counts and draw walks, all things Guzman has never been able to do.

A top five of ...

1) Shannon Stewart - R

2) Lew Ford - R

3) Joe Mauer - L

4) Justin Morneau -L

5) Torii Hunter - R

... will score some runs. I've always felt Hunter's best spot in the lineup was the five-hole and, although there are some theories about a team's best hitter batting second that make sense to me, I generally think the best guy (Mauer) should bat third and the second-best guy and/or best power-hitter should bat fourth.

Morneau would have a ton of RBI chances batting behind Stewart, Ford and Mauer, all of whom should get on base between 35% and 40% of the time.

By the way, those five guys are the ones I have a feeling the Twins will be going to war with over the next 2-3 years (and beyond, for Mauer and Morneau). I can't imagine that the other four spots in the lineup, including guys like Guzman, Luis Rivas, Jacque Jones and Corey Koskie, are nearly as secure when you're talking about who will be with the team in the future.

... Bert Blyleven and Dick Bremer are being so coy and secretive about all the Mientkiewicz trade stuff. Blyleven actually said the following during the first inning last night: "When I got to the ballpark, I saw Doug's name in the lineup, but then an hour later, Justin Morneau was at first base. So Doug is getting the night off."

Puh-leeze. The night off? He hasn't played since Saturday. Only a blind man could see what's going on with Mientkiewicz and conclude anything except the fact that he is about to be traded. He hasn't played in three games. He hasn't started, he hasn't pinch-hit, he hasn't come in as a defensive replacement. What exactly would he need a day off from?

Blyleven and Bremer are clearly listening to someone who has told them not to comment on any of the trade rumors. I can certainly understand that, but it's still a little disappointing. I'm never a fan of ignoring the elephant in the room.

... I'm not the world's biggest fan of Rick Anderson, the Twins' pitching coach, but he basically gets a free pass from me because he's the man who taught Johan Santana his devastating change-up. Without that pitch, Santana is just another guy with a great arm. With the pitch, he's one of the most dominant lefties in baseball and, at times (like his last 10 starts) completely unhittable.

Here's exactly what Santana has done over his last 10 starts ...

  IP      ERA     W     L      SO     BB     OAVG

76.0 1.42 7 2 100 17 .123

Yes, you read that right: Johan Santana has held hitters to a .123 batting average over his last 76 innings. Hitters are 31-for-252 against Santana during that stretch, which is so extraordinary that, for once, I am at a loss for words. One-twenty-three.

Just to put his 10-start run of complete dominance into some sort of context -- which is admittedly very difficult -- consider the following two stat lines ...

  IP      ERA      SO     BB     OAVG

76.0 1.42 100 17 .123
82.1 1.20 137 20 .133

Now, you know the first line belongs to Johan over his last 10 starts. The second line? None other than Eric Gagne, owner of one of the most dominant pitching seasons of all-time and the 2003 National League Cy Young award.

By the way, the Johan bandwagon is completely filled up. I'm serious. You should have hopped onboard when I told you to a couple years ago.

... I like Jason Bartlett as a prospect and I am hoping he takes over for either Guzman or Rivas as a starter next year, so I was shocked and pleased to hear all the praise Tom Kelly had for Bartlett after watching him at Triple-A. It seems to me that Kelly saying nice things about a young player -- especially one who has yet to play an inning in the big leagues -- is a pretty rare occurrence.

For the record, I'm hoping next year's double-play combo is Bartlett and Michael Cuddyer, but I'd also be just fine with Bartlett and Punto (assuming he's healthy). That combo would cost about 5% as much as a Guzman/Rivas combo would and ... well, it would be tough for them to not produce at least similar numbers.

... Remember yesterday when I wrote that I loved the way Lew Ford sprints out of the batter's box on every ground ball and how impressed I was with the amount of infield hits he has this year? He got another one last night, hitting a high-chopper to third base that Joe Crede couldn't field cleanly (not that it would have mattered ... Lew would have been standing on first base).

... Corey Koskie got hit with three pitches last night, which apparently tied a major-league record. He was plunked in his second, third and fourth plate appearances of the evening. Now, in what has been a heated rivalry and testy series, you might expect that fact to create some controversy or trouble.

In this case though, I'm pretty sure none of the beanings were intentional. And, if they were, I'm not sure why Koskie would be the one getting hit three times. That said, I'll be very surprised if there aren't at least 2-3 hit batters in today's game.

Koskie ended up with a really cool line for the game: 0-1 with a walk, a strikeout, three hit by pitches, two stolen bases, and a run scored. The strikeout came in his last trip to the plate. On the 11th pitch of the plate appearance -- on a 3-2 count -- Koskie took what looked to me like a very obvious ball down and away, and was rung up by the ump.

It's hard to complain about a called third strike in a 7-1 game, but I'm guessing Questec is going to say that call was awful. Plus, I wanted to see Koskie go 0-for-0 with five times on base.

... J.C. Romero has been fantastic since being demoted to Triple-A last month. Since returning to the big leagues, Romero has thrown 13.1 scoreless innings. He has a 13-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio and has given up just seven hits. I'm skeptical, but it's nice to have Good J.C. back for however long it lasts.

... There is nothing that makes me smile quite like the fireworks in Chicago when Carlos Lee hits a solo homer to pull the White Sox within five runs in the bottom of the ninth.

Well, okay, maybe the fireworks when Carl Everett homers to bring Chicago to within four runs with one out in the bottom of the ninth made me smile just a tiny bit more.

... Finally, I got a ton of e-mails yesterday about Torii Hunter's collision with Jamie Burke at the plate on Monday night.

I actually found most of the e-mails sort of amusing. The majority of them were from White Sox fans and basically started arguing with me about something I hadn't even commented on. I got one during the early innings of the game last night that said, "It was a cheap shot and you know it Aaron. He could have easily slid in safely without being thrown out. Burke wasn't even blocking the plate."

Now, I don't mean to pick on the person who sent that specific e-mail, because he's actually a good guy, but I say plenty on this blog and on The Hardball Times for people to argue with or get angry about, without getting upset about things I never even commented on. In fact, I didn't say one word about the collision yesterday and just posted the picture because it was a pretty incredible picture.

That said, I do think it was a cheap shot. It's not at the level of some other cheap shots, in that Hunter did nothing technically illegal or against the rules. But it was still a cheap shot. I believe he could have scored fairly easily without crashing into Burke, and I believe Hunter crashed into him because it was the White Sox.

Still, it was a far closer play than a lot of the e-mails from Chicago fans are saying, and Chicago's own manager, Ozzie Guillen, said he had no problem with the play: "I know if that had happened for my side, I'd be high-fiving my players. If they don't like it, that's a message. That's the way I learned how to play the game. That's the way I want them to play the game."

It's not the first time a player crashed into the catcher on a play where he probably could have scored without doing so, and it won't be the last time. If the Twins needed Hunter to do that to get pumped up about playing the White Sox, then fine. If the White Sox need to use their anger against Hunter to get pumped up about playing the Twins, fine.

Take-out slides at second base, pitchers intentionally hitting batters with 90 MPH fastballs, bench-clearing scuffles, collisions at home plate -- this stuff all falls under the "cheap shot" umbrella if Hunter's actions do. As long as you're willing to admit that, I'm willing to admit that Hunter's actions were wrong.


Minnesota 56 44 .560 ---
Chicago 52 45 .536 2.5

Game 1: Minnesota 6, Chicago 2

Game 2: Minnesota 7, Chicago 3

Game 3: Carlos Silva (9-7, 4.48) vs. Esteban Loaiza (9-5, 4.85)

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

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