September 14, 2005

Liriano's First No-Decision

I realize at this point that I come up with a new way to describe just how awful the Twins' offense has been this season nearly every day, but bear with me on just one more: I am now at the point of simply rooting for starting pitchers who pitch well to get no-decisions. I've given up all hope of starters picking up wins, and am instead just hoping they don't get tagged with undeserved losses.

That's not to say Francisco Liriano deserved a win in his first major-league start yesterday afternoon -- he only lasted five innings and gave up two runs -- just that I was very glad when the Twins scraped together enough runs to take him off the hook for the eventual loss. If Liriano is lucky, he'll finish his first season 0-0.

For most of the year the Twins failed to score runs because their hitters, who weren't all that great to begin with, underperformed. However, I'm not so sure that's the case any longer. When a big-league lineup includes Jason Tyner, Juan Castro, Michael Ryan, and Luis Rivas you can't realistically expect to score more than a couple runs.

Yes, three of the other guys who started yesterday's game -- Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Bartlett -- have been disappointing, but they could have lived up to expectations and they'd still be surrounded by utility men and Triple-A filler. Without a star hitter like, say, David Ortiz, a lineup has to rely on depth. Instead, the Twins lack sluggers, no one but Joe Mauer gets on base, and multiple spots per game are filled by guys who should probably be batting sixth at Rochester.

Consider that the Twins have now given 1,247 at-bats to Castro, Rivas, Ryan, Tyner, Nick Punto, Luis Rodriguez, Terry Tiffee, Brent Abernathy, Bret Boone, and Corky Miller. There isn't a single player in that group who could realistically be called anything more than a utility man or fifth outfielder on a good day, yet they have managed to combine for 25% of the team's at-bats while hitting .245/.294/.336.

When a team struggles the tendency is to look at the better players on the roster and blame them for underachieving. That's easy with the Twins, as Morneau, Cuddyer, Shannon Stewart, Jacque Jones, and Lew Ford have each had poor seasons. However, they haven't done significantly more damage to the team's ability to put runs on the board than some of the lesser names. There's room for blame there, just not room for all of it.

Plus, it's a whole lot easier to actually fix a problem that involves finding upgrades for the guys in that 25% group. In other words, will it be easier for the Twins to give up on Morneau and find a top-notch veteran first baseman for next season or simply find a way to use 1,247 at-bats that doesn't involve Rivas and Boone? The latter, of course, and the first step toward getting the offense back to semi-respectability is improving at the margins.

Well, that and putting an end to making guys like Sean Douglass look like Roger Clemens. Douglass entered yesterday's game with a 6.49 ERA on the season and an 8.08 ERA in the second half. Here's what he had done in his previous six starts:

OPP      IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR
TOR 6.2 7 6 6 0 2 2
BOS 4.0 5 5 5 4 1 1
TOR 6.1 8 4 4 1 4 2
BOS 3.0 9 7 7 2 3 2
CHW 4.2 8 8 8 3 4 2
KC 2.0 4 4 4 1 4 1

As a friend of mine once said after looking at the group of girls across the dance floor from us at a junior-high party, "That's a whole lot of ugly." Add it all up and you get an 11.47 ERA in 26.2 innings, with 41 hits allowed, including nine homers, and an 18-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That's about as bad as a pitcher can be while remaining in a major-league starting rotation.

So what did Douglass do against the Twins?

OPP       IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR
MIN 6.0 4 1 1 1 3 0

Six innings of four-hit, one-run ball, and not a single home run allowed. Of course.

I can't even count the number of times the Twins have been held in check by someone like Sean Douglass this season. And by that I mean someone who should be pitching to Jason Tyner, Michael Ryan, and Luis Rivas in the International League.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- Ten Things I Didn't Know Last Week (by Dave Studeman)
- How Not To Use Statistics: Why David Ortiz Shouldn't Be MVP (by Larry Mahnken)

Today's Picks (100-89, +$1,025):
Chicago (Buehrle) -180 over Kansas City (Greinke)

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