Twins 2, Royals 1
I have nothing to babble about today, so let's get right to last night's win ...
Johan Santana's performance against the Royals last night would have fit right in with his second-half run from last season, which was great to see considering it was his first start this year where he managed to get past the third inning without allowing a run. Santana got his first three outs on infield pop ups, which I've always contended is a sign that he's feeling very good on the mound. Through three innings, Santana had five outs on strikeouts and four outs on infield pop ups, which is about as well as a game can start for him.
His final line:
IP H R ER BB SO HR PIT
8.0 5 1 1 1 8 0 112
A thing of beauty, and he improved his record to 4-0 while lowering his ERA to 3.55. Santana also now has a ridiculous 45-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which would have been an even more ridiculous 45-to-2 if not for the intentional walk he handed out to Mike Sweeney. Oh, and he hasn't lost in 20 starts dating back to last season, during which time he is 17-0. Or as I "discovered" when THT's Craig Burley tried to trip me up after I announced that stat to him last night, 18-0 over his last 22 starts counting the postseason. In other words, Santana hasn't lost since the Twins were shut out by Detroit on July 11, 2004.
While Santana was great last night, he got some help from what was a really awful Kansas City lineup. It included two of the worst hitters in all of baseball in Joe McEwing and Alberto Castillo, along with replacement-level bats in Terrence Long and Emil Brown. Eli Marrero is a good utility guy, but he's lacking offensively as a first baseman, which is where started last night. Matt Diaz has a good minor-league resume, Angel Berroa hits okay for a shortstop, and Tony Graffanino is a solid platoon guy against lefties, but the lineup was basically just Sweeney and a bunch of guys trying to string some singles together.
Speaking of Brown, he is the perfect example of why we should never, under any circumstances, pay attention to spring-training stats over a previously established level of performance.
EMIL BROWN G AVG SLG
Prior to Spring Training 209 .200 .302
During Spring Training 26 .389 .704
Since Spring Training 17 .173 .345
Someone please remind me to bring Brown's name up next year when a .200 career hitter is batting .400 in spring training and some silly team is considering giving them a starting job in the outfield.
I have never seen a pitcher complain about balls and strikes as much as Jose Lima did last night. And I actually thought the home-plate umpire gave him a pretty good-sized strike zone -- none of the pitches Lima made exaggerated gestures about looked to be even close to strikes. But I guess the complaining worked, because Lima pitched his best game of the season and held the Twins to just one run in 7.2 innings.
I love bunting down the third-base line when the third baseman is playing back, a play Nick Punto executed flawlessly on a 3-1 pitch in the top of the first inning. It is such an underutilized play, and when you do it correctly there is absolutely nothing the other team can do about it. Joe Mauer followed the bunt single with a deeeeeep fly ball to center field, which Punto nicely tagged up and advanced to second base on. It paid off when Justin Morneau blooped a 1-2 pitch into shallow left field for a single to score Punto, putting the Twins ahead 1-0.
Jacque Jones followed with a walk, his 11th of the season. That brought Matthew LeCroy up to the plate for the Twins' league-leading 27th at-bat of the season with the bases loaded. Following in the tradition of the previous 26 at-bats, LeCroy fell behind 0-2 before he struck out looking on a pitch that clipped the outside corner. Luckily for LeCroy there were already two outs, so he couldn't ground into a double play. (Mauer later grounded out on the team's 28th bases-loaded at-bat.)
Shannon Stewart was a late scratch with a bruised foot, so Ron Gardenhire moved Lew Ford to left field and, of course, put Ford in Stewart's vacated leadoff spot. Because as we know all too well by now, Gardenhire's lineup is determined solely by each player's defensive position. Ford played left field, so he led off. Punto subbed for Jason Bartlett at shortstop, so he hit second (just like Juan Castro has when starting at shortstop). LeCroy, who had only batted cleanup before last night, took over for Ford at designated hitter and not only didn't hit cleanup, he batted in Ford's #7 spot.
Shortly before Luis Rivas popped up the second pitch he saw from Lima in the second inning, Bert Blyleven said, "Rivas has been struggling at the plate." Yes, for going on six years now. It's really one hell of a slump.
Punto's play on the hit-and-run in the fifth inning is one of the better plays I've ever seen a shortstop make. He had to recover from going to cover second base to make the play in the hole, field it cleanly, and then unload a strong throw to first base. Morneau made a nice stretch on it, too.
The Twins caught a break when Tony Pena declined to bring Andy Sisco in to face Morneau with Mauer on first base and two outs in the eighth inning. There's just no way leaving Lima -- already at 105 pitches -- in to face a left-handed slugger with a huge platoon split is the correct move, especially with a 6'9" southpaw with a mid-90s fastball like Sisco warmed up in the bullpen (and pitching extremely well this year).
Morneau fouled off five straight pitches to start the at-bat and then singled past a diving Berroa and into left-center to put runners on first and third. Then, with Torii Hunter (a right-handed hitter) due up, Pena yanked Lima for Sisco. It worked, as Hunter struck out, but plenty of dumb moves work in sports. Fortunately, pulling Sisco in favor of rookie Ambiorix Burgos, who has barely pitched above Single-A and has barely shown any control anywhere, didn't work out quite as well.
And finally, say it with me now ... LEWWWWWWWWW!
Today at The Hardball Times:
- News, Notes and Quotes (April 27, 2005) (by Aaron Gleeman)
- Business of Baseball Report (by Brian Borawski)
Today's Picks (25-14, +$1,205):
Chicago (Garcia) -130 over Oakland (Saarloos)