April 5, 2005

Twins 8, Mariners 4

Well, that wasn't quite how I envisioned Johan Santana getting his first win of the season, but it'll do. Some notes from last night's exciting, come-from-behind win ...

  • Just a brutal start to the game, particularly coming on the heals of Brad Radke's three-run first inning on Opening Day. Santana needed 34 pitches to get three outs, as the Mariners started the game by going single, walk, double, double, ground out, single. He managed to escape with "only" four runs allowed by getting Randy Winn on a grounder to third base that Michael Cuddyer made an excellent play on, and then striking Miguel Olivo out swinging to end the inning.

    Santana then got Wilson Valdez, Ichiro!, and Jeremy Reed to each ground out for a 1-2-3 second inning. It was looking just like Santana's early struggles from last season, when he a) couldn't finish hitters off when he got them to two strikes, and b) got the majority of his outs on grounders. Both things are in direct contrast to what happens when Santana is rolling, when he's basically a strikeout-and-pop-up machine.

  • Thankfully, Santana began pitching like himself starting in the third inning, allowing a leadoff single to Adrian Beltre and then retiring the next nine hitters he faced, including five on swinging strikeouts. Staked to a sudden 7-4 lead when the Twins' lineup plated seven runs in the top of the fifth, Santana called it an early night, leaving after just five innings and 93 pitches. His final line:
     IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR     PIT
    5.0 5 4 4 1 6 0 93

    Not horrible, and certainly not as bad as it looked like it would be in the middle of the first inning. The good news is that Santana had the following line once Seattle scored the fourth run of the first inning:

     IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR     PIT
    4.2 1 0 0 0 6 0 68

    The bad news, of course, is that he did give up four runs in the first inning. Plus, a concerning sign despite his getting on track is that he ended the game with eight ground ball outs and just one fly ball out. During the first two months of last season, when Santana was struggling, he had 77 ground ball outs and 72 fly ball outs, for a 1.1-to-1 ground-to-fly ratio. After that, when he went on his incredible run of dominant starts, Santana had a ground-to-fly ratio of 0.8-to-1. In other words, the more balls you see in the air when Santana starts, the better (which makes sense when you think about how he pitches).

  • In what was initially looking like another punchless game from the offense, everyone in the starting lineup ended up with at least one hit as the Twins dinked and dunked their way to 13 singles (and one homer). It just took a little while for them to get warmed up, and things didn't officially get rolling until Matt Thornton made what will probably be one of his final appearances in a Seattle uniform (at least judging by Mike Hargrove's face when he made the trip to the mound to take him out).

    Thornton had some bad breaks go against him -- namely Joe Mauer's hit-and-run single and Justin Morneau's check-swing blooper -- but he's also left-handed and gave up a long homer to Jacque Jones, a sin for which there is no excuse. Jones had two homers in 155 at-bats against lefties last year, giving him a grand total of nine homers in 628 career at-bats against lefties entering last night's matchup with Thornton.

    This is obviously easy to say in hindsight, but I was very surprised by how quick the hook was for Gil Meche. He looked good early on, ran into some trouble giving up singles in the fifth inning, and then got yanked in favor of Thornton, who immediately let the game slip away. Not that I'm complaining or anything.

  • Mauer struck out three times, which is very surprising, but he continues to impress the hell out of me with his approach at the plate. So calm, so patient, so selective. The walks haven't started to pile up quite yet, but they will very soon. And, of course, equally encouraging is the fact that he caught his second straight game without incident.

    I expect him to sit out tonight's game, not only because it is the team's third in three days, but because Seattle is starting lefty Bobby Madritsch and the team has a day off on Thursday. So if Mauer sits one game against a tough matchup today he actually gets two days off, which is perfect for the early going. Mike Redmond needs to make his debut at some point anyway.

  • The bullpen is in midseason form, as Jesse Crain, J.C. Romero, Juan Rincon, and Joe Nathan combined for four innings of scoreless baseball, allowing just two hits and a walk while striking out four. Romero's 1.2-inning outing was particularly good to see, as you never know what sort of control he'll have. He threw strikes, got outs, and even made a very nice defensive play.
  • I have decided that one of my goals for the 2005 season is to watch Ichiro! as much as possible. I don't have anything to say about him that hasn't already been said, but the guy is really amazing to watch. Especially once he's not hitting against the Twins.
  • Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Five Questions: Cleveland Indians (by Robert Dudek)
    - Five Questions: Tampa Bay Devil Rays (by Craig Burley)
    - Game in Review: Reds vs. Mets - A Fan's Perspective (by Mike Mundy)

    Today's Picks (3-4, -$150):
    Los Angeles (Perez) +115 over San Francisco (Rueter)
    Oakland (Saarloos) +135 over Baltimore (Cabrera)
    Boston (Wakefield) +160 over New York (Mussina)

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