August 3, 2004

10-Run Rule

In honor of Aaron's Baseball Blog's second anniversary, the Twins beat up on the Anaheim Angels by a score of 10-0 last night.

It was a great game all around, one of those wins that raises the level of optimism and confidence a few notches. Carlos Silva pitched well, giving up zero extra-base hits in his first career complete game shutout, and the defense was outstanding behind him, getting an amazing six double plays (thanks in part to the fact that Silva gave up 11 singles).

And, of course, the offense exploded for 10 runs. Everyone in the starting lineup except Cristian Guzman got a hit, Torii Hunter, Corey Koskie, Henry Blanco and Justin Morneau all went deep, and Luis Rivas and Jacque Jones even drew walks.

A few thoughts on the game, which put the Twins at 60-45 and kept them five games ahead of the White Sox in the AL Central ...

- The hype surrounding Silva was completely out of control after he started the season 5-0, and then everyone jumped off the bandwagon and actually turned against him when he went 4-7 over his next 15 starts. Add it all up though, with the ups and downs, and Silva is now 10-7 with a 4.23 ERA on the year.

Silva has made 22 starts, after starting just one major-league game before this season, and he's averaged 6.4 innings per start. He hasn't been quite the ground ball machine I thought he would be, giving up 18 homers and allowing quite a few more fly balls than he had with the Phillies, but he's still keeping the ball on the ground and, most importantly for a guy who isn't overpowering, throwing strikes.

Silva is never going to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, mostly because he doesn't strike anyone out, but he's strong and durable, he throws strikes, and he should be a very nice back-of-the-rotation guy for the Twins for quite a while.

Oh, and remember all the people complaining that the Twins traded away Eric Milton for Silva this offseason? Well, Milton has a nice record because of extremely good run support in Philadelphia, but his ERA is 4.64 in 130 innings, while Silva's is 4.23 in 140.1 innings. Milton makes $9 million, Silva makes $340,000. Milton is a free agent after the season, Silva is under the Twins' control for several more years. Great trade.

- Morneau has really been struggling since all the Doug Mientkiewicz trade rumors started swirling around, so it was great to see him deposit a pitch over the fence in straightaway center field last night. He now has 10 career home runs and 34 career RBIs in 201 at-bats, which works out to about 30-35 homers and 95-100 RBIs over the course of a full season. Over the last 10 years (1994-2003), no Minnesota hitter has had as many as 30 homers in a season and only five have driven in at least 100 runs.

The more and more I watch Morneau, the more and more I see Jim Thome. Now, obviously he's nowhere near as patient as Thome, but there are still similarities. For one thing, Morneau takes that same, all-or-nothing, come-out-of-his-shoes, turn-into-a-human-corkscrew cut on any pitch he thinks he can drive. He's shown more of an ability to take the ball to the opposite field than I expected, but he still completely uncoils when he makes his mind up about pulling a pitch.

Beyond that, Morneau seems to have a lot of patience on pitches thrown away, but struggles quite a bit laying off anything up and inside. That is exactly the situation with Thome; throw him something off the plate and he'll spit at it, but throw him something up and in and he'll try to hit the ball 500 and, most of the time, he'll miss. Morneau has looked silly on quite a few balls up and in that are way out of the strike zone, but, like Thome, he has shown what he can do when a pitcher tries to come up and in and misses.

Basically, if you try to come "up and in" and you end up only coming "in," Morneau will make you pay. You might call that a mistake hitter and you might say that's an exploitable weakness, but Thome has hit 412 mistakes in his career and hasn't been exploited very often. If Morneau can ever learn to simply lay off half of the pitches that come up, in and out of the strike zone, he's going to be one hell of a hitter.

- After going 1-for-3 with a walk last night, Rivas is hitting .255/.283/.399 on the year. During the two years of this blog's existence, I've spent countless words on bashing Rivas, but because I haven't done a lot of that lately, I get quite a few e-mails wondering why.

Here's why ... If I haven't convinced someone that Rivas stinks yet, it's a lost cause. He stunk in the minors, he stunk in 2001, he stunk in 2002, he stunk in 2003 and he's stinking in 2004. Sure, he's young, but he's made absolutely zero improvements in his game in five years, and you could make the case that he's actually regressing as a player.

If you want to read some anti-Rivas stuff, you have two choices; you can either look at his statistics, which do a marvelous job bashing him all on their own, or you can do a search for "Luis Rivas" in the archives of this blog or The Hardball Times. Have fun.

- Henry Blanco has to be one of the streakiest awful hitters in baseball history. He started the year by hitting .313/.411/.604 in his first 15 games, before hitting a ridiculously awful .145/.185/.242 in May and an equally ridiculous and equally awful .154/.214/.192 in June. And now, since the start of July, he has hit .298/.312/.511.

The end result is still a horrible offensive season -- he's hitting .219/.274/.378, which makes him one of the worst hitters in baseball -- but it sure is amazing when he gets on one of his hot streaks and does an impression of an actual hitter. Blanco has also thrown out 53.3% of attempted steals, while Matthew LeCroy is 1-for-15 throwing runners out, which is why, if Joe Mauer isn't back for the playoffs, you'll see Blanco behind the plate an awful lot.

- This thing about starting Shannon Stewart in left field while Lew Ford is the designated hitter is really beginning to bug me. Ford is a better leftfielder than Stewart, plain and simple, and Stewart just came back from missing several months with a foot injury.

Ron Gardenhire has said that Stewart is in charge of saying when he wants to play in the field, but that appears to me like an example of the inmates running the asylum. If you have one guy who has a foot injury and is a mediocre (at best) defensive leftfielder and you have another guy who is injury free and an above-average defensive leftfielder, who really cares who wants to play where? If I see one more bloop single fall in front of Stewart or one more double shoot by him on its way to the gap, I think I might punch my TV, and that's not good for anyone.

- I have very high hopes for Jason Bartlett, in part because he represents an opportunity for me to no longer have to watch Guzman or Rivas, but he looked really bad last night. Of course, he deserves to be given some slack considering he hadn't played a single inning since being called up on June 28, which means last night was his major-league debut.

My hope is that, during this offseason, Terry Ryan comes to Ron Gardenhire with a hat and three pieces of paper with the names "Punto," "Cuddyer" and "Bartlett" printed on them, and says, "Ron, just pick two of these three and they'll be your starting middle infield next year."

- Is Anaheim's infield of Darin Erstad, Adam Kennedy, David Eckstein and Chone Figgins one of the most powerless ever for a legitimate, contending team in this era? Those four have combined to hit 13 home runs in 1,348 at-bats this year.

Even with Erstad missing time with injuries, the Angels have gotten a grand total of four home runs in 419 at-bats from their first basemen this year, which is by far the worst total in the American League. Every other team -- including the Twins and, up until recently, Mientkiewicz -- have at least twice that many, and the White Sox lead the league with 30 long balls from first base.

The Angels rank ninth in the AL with nine homers in 371 at-bats from their second basemen (the Twins have 10) and are the only team in baseball without a homer from their shortstops (the Twins have seven). They rank a respectable ninth in the AL with 15 homers from third basemen, thanks mostly to the damage Troy Glaus was able to do before going down with an injury.

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