July 28, 2004

They Gone! (sorry, I couldn't help myself)

Well, that was fun. My pre-series pessimism proved totally unwarranted, as the Minnesota Twins went into Chicago and took all three games from the White Sox.

After riding great pitching performances from Brad Radke and Johan Santana in the first two wins, yesterday's victory came in one of those coin-flip games where one team catches a break or two or makes a big play or two, and comes away with the win.

For instance, late in the game, the Twins were saved by their defense. Corey Koskie and Michael Cuddyer completed a miraculous double play with runners on first and third and one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, when a mistake would have let the runner on third base score to end the game.

Koskie made a nice grab on a hard grounder, but his throw to second base was a little off-target. No matter, Cuddyer grabbed it and, in the face of a hard-charging Jamie Burke (who no doubt wouldn't have minded laying a Minnesota player out after being crushed by Torii Hunter two days earlier), made a strong, accurate throw to Justin Morneau at first base for the second out.

And then, in the bottom of the 10th, Timo Perez led off with a gapper into right-center, but Torii Hunter chased it down and made a great diving catch for the first out.

On the flip side, the Twins were given extra life with two outs in the top of the 10th inning when Jose Valentin dropped a Jacque Jones pop up. Jones drove in the go-ahead run (that proved to be the game-winning run) with a single two pitches later.

There were some other interesting moments in the game, chief among them Justin Morneau having not one, but two home runs that were initially ruled home runs called back by the umpires. One ended up being a double and one ended up being a foul ball. Incidentally, can you imagine how much of a boost Justin Morneau's stock with Twins fans would have experienced had he gone deep twice against the White Sox?

As for the subject of a lot of e-mails I got immediately after the game ... I didn't have a problem with Ron Gardenhire bringing Terry Mulholland into the game in the 10th inning (I'm a big fan of going with a "second starter" once the game goes into extra innings), but I think Mulholland's appearance unfortunately says that Grant Balfour is potentially going to be included in one of the many trades the Twins are rumored to be discussing.

Balfour has been pitching a lot of late and has become a favorite of Gardenhire's, but he didn't pitch at all in the Chicago series. Either he's about to be shipped somewhere or he's hurt, because that spot in the 10th yesterday was practically begging for him to come in. I hope I'm wrong, and that's certainly not as obvious as Mientkiewicz not playing in the Chicago series, but it's still strange, at the very least.

I hate to be the party pooper (although I'm quite good at it), but I'm a little worried that the Twins will have a let-down coming off this big series win over Chicago. They can't let up at all, because their schedule is about to get incredibly difficult.

Twenty-nine of the Twins' next 32 games are against teams that are above .500. Meanwhile, the White Sox head to Detroit for four games and they play two three-games series against the lowly Royals, with a series against the Indians in-between. In other words, the White Sox are 3.5 games back and the Twins just forced a major momentum shift, but they're not out of the woods yet. They're not even close.

Oh, and to cover another frequent e-mail topic ... Kris Benson is starting to get incredibly overrated. That's not to say he's a bad pitcher, because he's not, but because he's seemingly the only decent non-Randy Johnson starting pitcher on the market this year, the Benson hype is getting out of control.

He's pitched well over the last couple months, but the fact is that he has a 4.22 ERA this year, he's averaging just 5.6 strikeouts per nine innings pitched, and he's got a 1.9-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Benson had a 4.97 ERA last year, he had a 4.70 ERA in 2002, he had a 3.85 ERA in 2000, he had a 4.07 ERA in 1999, and he has a career ERA of 4.26. In other words, he's Kyle Lohse, when Kyle Lohse is pitching well.

Don't believe me?

                             ERA      AVG      OBP      SLG      GPA

Kris Benson in 2004 4.22 .272 .332 .398 .249
Kyle Lohse in 2003 4.61 .268 .307 .431 .246
Kyle Lohse in 2002 4.23 .259 .332 .437 .258

Again, is that a nice pitcher? Sure. Is that a great pitcher, one who should be the subject of about a hundred trade rumors and half the e-mails being exchanged among Twins fans? Uh ... no.

I'd trade Doug Mientkiewicz and Michael Restovich for Benson just because Mientkiewicz doesn't have much value to the Twins given their current logjam at 1B/DH/LF/RF, and Michael Restovich has even less value to them given the same circumstances.

But if we're talking about giving up Michael Cuddyer or Grant Balfour or Jesse Crain or Francisco Liriano or some other young player who could help the team at some point in the next five years, I think it's a major mistake.

By the way, here's the scheduled pitching matchup for this Sunday afternoon against the Red Sox ...

Pedro Martinez vs. Johan Santana

Am I the only one who is way too excited about this already?

New article at The Hardball Times: Top 50 Prospects: July Checkup (Part One)

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

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