August 17, 2004

Beating the Yankees

It sure is fun to beat the Yankees. Not only because they're the Yankees, not only because the Twins are in a dogfight for the American League Central championship, not only because the Twins have been struggling lately, but because Minnesota came into the game 1-16 over their last 17 games against New York, dating all the way back to the 2001 season.

Quite frankly, I was sick and tired of watching the Twins get their asses handed to them every time they went up against the Yankees. After watching the Twins pound out 13 hits and eight runs on the way to an 8-2 win last night, I'm pretty sure I could get used to this sort of thing. And I don't just mean the winning part. I mean the part about actually having some sort of offensive attack and the part about not being completely dominated by a team in every facet of the game.

Now, in New York's defense (as if they need it), they were without both Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez, and they may come back to win the next two games by a combined score of 57-2. Still, I'm just happy the Twins won a game, which, coupled with Cleveland's 16-4 loss to Texas, means they will enter this weekend's series against the Indians with a division lead of at least 1.5 games.

A few thoughts on the game ...

- Justin Morneau's solo homer off Javier Vazquez in the third inning was one of the most impressive shots I've ever seen hit in the Metrodome. It came just a few feet from hitting the white curtain in the upperdeck in the right field, a mark I can remember being hit by just one person: Jim Thome.

- Now, before I get all hot and bothered about Morneau, let me point out one of his major flaws right now, which is the fact that he's not drawing any walks. He received an intentional pass from Vazquez last night, his fourth intentional walk on the year. Because of that, his walk total of nine doesn't look extraordinarily bad, but he has actually drawn just five walks on his own in 160 plate appearances.

That's beyond bad, especially for a guy with 11 homers in 149 at-bats and a .537 slugging percentage. You'd think he'd just sort of luck into a walk every 20 plate appearances or so simply because pitchers are a little scared of him, particularly in a lineup that doesn't have a ton of other power threats.

From watching Morneau for 60-70 games now, I don't think his problem is that he's necessarily impatient, as much as he is far too willing to expand the strike zone. That's something I have no doubt he'll get way better at, and really it's tough to complain about a 23-year-old rookie who is hitting a homer every dozen at-bats. Still, when you've got as much power as he has, it's very important to make the pitcher throw you something you can clobber.

- Not that I'm complaining, but the New York's lineup is a whole lot less scary when it has a bottom third of John Olerud, Miguel Cairo and Enrique Wilson, who sport slugging percentages of .371, .429 and .351, respectively. When healthy, the thing that makes a lineup like New York's so difficult to face is the fact that there aren't any easy stretches.

With the Twins, opposing pitchers get to put it on cruise control when they face Luis Rivas, Henry Blanco and Cristian Guzman, but if ARod doesn't get into another fight and Giambi comes back from his various ailments, the Yankees only have one easy spot in the lineup -- second base.

- Just when people were starting to turn on Corey Koskie, he goes 3-for-5 with a homer and two RBIs against Cleveland on Monday and follows it up by going 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs against New York last night. While everyone congratulates Guzman for being an awful player, the fact is that Koskie, even before his recent offensive outburst, has been far more valuable to the team than Guzman this year.

Now, with his back-to-back three-hit games, Koskie is up to .246/.343/.467 on the year, which is very close to the .278/.374/.464 numbers he put up from 2001-2003. Koskie has been worth about 15-20 more runs than a replacement-level third baseman offensively this year, while Guzman has been right around the replacement level. Throw in Koskie's very good defense at third base and Guzman's very mediocre defense at shortstop and it's not even a contest.

- How in the world can a team with a payroll nearing $200 million have a bullpen that includes C.J. Nitkowski, Scott Procter and Tanyon Sturtze? Although I suppose, if you go with the premise that the Yankees are going to make the playoffs regardless of their middle relief, it doesn't really matter what their bullpen consists of beyond 2-3 guys in the postseason. And, certainly, Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill setting up Mariano Rivera is more than acceptable for a team with any payroll.

- Amazingly, a .269 on-base percentage and Ron Gardenhire complaining publicly about his work ethic can't keep Rivas out of the lineup. At this point, I'm resigned to the fact that Rivas would have to murder multiple members of Gardenhire's family in order for Michael Cuddyer to be given consecutive starts at second base. Among the 229 major league hitters who have at least 275 plate appearances this season, Rivas' .269 on-base percentage is the worst.

New article at The Hardball Times: News, Notes and Quotes (August 18, 2004)

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