April 20, 2005

Twins 5, Royals 4

Last night's game wasn't on TV in the Twin Cities, and while I thought long and hard about heading to the Metrodome to catch Johan Santana in action for the first time this season, I decided against it once I realized the Kansas City broadcast feed was available thanks to the miracle of technology. Instead, I watched the game while eating Chinese food and working on my Rotoworld column for this week.

Some notes ...

  • The Royals' announcers were obsessed with meaningless statistics. Before the first pitch had even been thrown, the fact that Kansas City started the season 3-0 with Alberto Castillo in the lineup was mentioned three different times, with one of the times accompanied by a fancy on-screen graphic. A little later, one of the announcers said, "Terrence Long, who is in the lineup tonight, is a .400 career hitter against Santana." Then, a few moments later when the lineup was shown, the same guy said, "Long is 6-for-15 lifetime against Santana."

    Well, Castillo was in the lineup and the Royals lost, and Long went 0-for-3 with a strikeout against Santana. In the announcers' defense (one was former Kansas City pitcher Paul Splittorff and I didn't catch the other guy's name), they were very tolerable considering they were announcing for the team the Twins were playing. And if that doesn't make sense to you, you've obviously never watched your favorite team play the White Sox on WGN.

    With that said, they gushed over Castillo each time he came to the plate in such a way that I can't even fathom the things they would say about him if he wasn't a horrible player. They made a guy with a .295 career slugging percentage in 10 major-league seasons sound like Johnny Bench. Also, at one point the play-by-play guy actually said the following words: "The Royals had been having a dickens of a time scoring runs."

  • Johan's wife apparently gave birth to their second child less than an hour before the game started. My mom's reaction? "He didn't take the day off to be with his wife, huh?" Thankfully, no.

    My theory about Santana has always been that you can tell when he's really pitching well when he gets a lot of weak pop ups to right field. Strikeouts are also an indicator of him feeling good, obviously, but he has shown in the past that he can get strikeouts even when he's not quite right. Within the first two innings last night, Santana got both Tony Graffanino and Eli Marrero to pop up weakly to Jacque Jones in shallow right field.

    Santana induced another weak pop up to right field against Joe McEwing in the third inning, but it dropped for a base hit. Last year, when Santana was really rolling, those were all gobbled up for outs. This year quite a few of them are falling for hits, which is why his batting average against isn't very Santana-like. McEwing's blooper really hurt, because instead of the inning being over, David DeJesus and Graffanino followed with consecutive singles, scoring McEwing, and Mike Sweeney scored himself, DeJesus, and Graffanino with a three-run homer down the left-field line.

    Santana was missing high and outside all night to right-handed hitters, and I'm wondering if the blister on his middle finger is hurting his grip and control. He managed to get back on track after the ugly third inning, but it ended up being yet another "except for" start. As in, Santana was incredibly dominant and pitched extremely well, except for those four straight hits in the third inning.

    Santana's final line: 7 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 10 SO. He didn't pick up the win and his ERA rose 0.32 points to 4.32, but Santana did improve his strikeout-to-walk ratio to an amazing 37-to-2 in 25 innings on the year. For those of you without a calculator, that works out to 13.32 strikeouts per nine innings and 18.5 strikeouts for every walk.

  • The Official Whipping Boy of AG.com, Luis Rivas, made a great play in the first inning on a sharp grounder off the bat of Sweeney that appeared to be headed into right field for a base hit. Rivas did a full out dive, snared the ball, popped up, and made a strong throw to nail Sweeney at first base. About 10 seconds before the play, I was thinking to myself, "Geez, this is a really bad defensive infield tonight."

    Of course, Rivas later become the first middle infielder I have ever seen lose an infield flare "in the lights." It was one of the strangest, most awkward fielding plays I have ever had the misfortune of witnessing. Incidentally, Rivas is now hitting .250/.290/.250. That's zero extra-base hits and one walk, if you're curious.

  • Juan Castro, who is one of the worst offensive players of this or any era, once again batted second in the Twins' lineup last night. This makes no sense whatsoever, and I don't care what position Castro plays, how comfortable he is batting in that spot, or how good he is "handling the bat." If he was that good handling the bat, he wouldn't be a career .226/.269/.331 hitter. And why, exactly, is a guy with a .269 career on-base percentage batting directly in front of the team's best hitter?

    The Twins' disturbing lack of bench strength was exposed last night when Castro was left in to bat with two men on base and two outs in the eighth inning of a 5-4 game. The bench at that point? Two no-hit catchers, Mike Redmond and Corky Miller, and two middle infielders, Nick Punto and Jason Bartlett. Meanwhile, Michael Restovich is batting like .750 with the Rockies.

  • Here's an obvious thought that just came to me during Lew Ford's first at-bat last night: Assuming Jones leaves as a free agent this offseason, Ford could take over in right field. That means designated hitter would be left open for Jason Kubel, who despite being the Twins' "rightfielder of the future" will be coming off a major knee injury. A year at DH could be pretty nice for Kubel, and obviously I like the idea of Ford getting some time in the outfield for once. What this has to do with last night's game is anyone's guess.
  • Torii Hunter is in an amazing zone on the bases. He is now 7-for-7 stealing bases on the year, and at least three of them have come without the catcher even making a throw to second base. Dating back to the second half of last season, Hunter is 23 for his last 26 (88.5%). Prior to that, he was 57-for-92 (62.0%). Of course, Hunter's steal mattered very little last night, because Jones hit a two-run homer into the upperdeck in right-center three pitches later.
  • Hunter also collected three hits to raise his batting average to .259, but came up empty in a pretty big spot. With two runners on base and two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, he took a slider right over the heart of the plate for a called third strike. In fact, take a look at MLB.com's pitch-location chart for the entire at-bat:

    At least he stayed away from that first pitch out of the strike zone, right?

  • Hunter's poor at-bat with two men on was just the tip of the iceberg. After stranding about 3,000 runners in the two-game series with the White Sox, the Twins' futility with runners in scoring position unfortunately carried over to last night's game.

    Matthew LeCroy and Hunter led off the fourth inning with back-to-back singles and Jones walked to load the bases with no outs and Ford up. Ford laid off two breaking balls out of the strike zone to run the count full. Then, just as the Kansas City announcers informed everyone that the Twins were zero for their last eight with the bases loaded, Ford popped up the 3-2 pitch into shallow left field for an easy out. Terry Tiffee followed with an equally easy inning-ending double play.

    Make that 0-for-10, including an astounding six double plays. That means the Twins had gotten zero hits and used up 16 outs in the last 10 times they were in the single most beneficial situation a team can possibly be in. In the sixth, after Hunter doubled and Jones was intentionally walked, Ford drew a 3-2 walk to once again load the bases, this time with one out and Tiffee up. He failed to get a hit, but at least made his out in medium center field, so Hunter could tag and score from third to tie the game. Rivas then finished the inning with a ground out, stranding two runners.

    The Twins finally broke through in the eighth inning, when they loaded the bases for yet another time with one out. Shannon Stewart was up and he hit another vomit-inducing, here-comes-a-double-play grounder to shortstop, but this one miraculously snuck past Angel Berroa and into left field. It broke the 0-for-10 streak with the bases loaded and scored Ford from third base with the go-ahead run.

    Al Newman sent Tiffee home from second base too, but Long threw him out at the plate easily. It was a poor decision by Newman, as the grounder was hit right in front of Tiffee, so he had to actually hold up for a second to make sure it got through without hitting him in the leg. No one will remember that though, since Joe Nathan shut things down in the ninth to preserve the one-run lead and get the win.

  • Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Ten Things I Didn't Know Last Week (by Studes)

    Today's Picks (18-11, +$790):
    Boston (Clement) +110 over Baltimore (Lopez)
    New York (Mussina) -125 over Toronto (Chacin)
    Oakland (Harden) -110 over Seattle (Franklin)

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