April 4, 2006

Blue Jays 6, Twins 3

I watched last night's game with Bat-Girl and about 50 of her closest friends, so I don't have my usual copious assortment of notes and observations. I'll give you the short (or at least less long) version, though ...

The Twins got three hits from Shannon Stewart, a homer from Tony Batista, and two errors from the Blue Jays ... yet still lost with Johan Santana on the mound. That's all kinds of wasted good stuff, although I wasn't expecting much against Roy Halladay and Santana is certainly prone to early-season struggles.

I thought Santana looked decent early, but was clearly having trouble commanding his off-speed pitches. He was able to work out of a couple jams, but eventually the bloop singles started adding up and Bengie Molina's homer really hurt. As ugly as Santana's outing was, that's basically par for the course with him early in the year. In fact, take a look at how his first start of 2005 compares to what he did last night:

 IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR     PIT
5.2 10 4 4 1 3 1 98
5.0 5 4 4 1 6 0 94

This year's first start was more discouraging, because he doesn't give up double digit hits very often and had only three strikeouts, but Santana being knocked around last night isn't quite as a concerning as it would be for most other aces. More concerning is that the rest of the team also looked pretty rough both offensively and defensively.

The non-Stewart portion of the lineup combined to go 2-for-27 with zero walks and six strikeouts, Batista showed a noticeable lack of reaction time and range at third base, and Luis Castillo looked surprisingly sloppy at second base. I was also shocked to see Castillo strike out twice in three at-bats against Halladay, because he struck out a grand total of 24 times in 327 at-bats (7.3 percent) batting left-handed last season.

I was disappointed to see Castillo bunt Stewart over to second base in the first inning. I understand wanting to put a run on the board against Halladay, especially with Santana pitching, but Castillo bunting there defeats an awful lot of the purpose of having him in the first place. Why not see if he can actually get on base himself -- he did that 39.1 percent of the time last year, after all -- which would create a rally with the team's best hitter coming to the plate.

And if Castillo wasn't actually sacrificing in that spot -- which seems possible, I suppose -- he might want to stop trying to bunt for a hit when the third baseman is standing 15 feet from the plate. All of which is why I would much rather see Castillo leading off and Stewart batting second, just so the temptation to play for a single run early in the game isn't there for Castillo or Ron Gardenhire.

Considering that it was the first game of the season and the Twins were facing one of the best pitchers in baseball, it was mostly just good to see a Twins game that counts for the first time in six months. There were also some good moments, like Stewart perhaps showing that last season was indeed just an off-year, Batista showing that he has the power to take one of the best and most extreme ground-ball pitcher in baseball deep, and Gardenhire showing that he's willing to pinch-hit for Juan Castro.

But aside from those few things, it was a bit of downer. It's tough to get pumped up for Opening Day (or at least Twins Opening Day) only to watch Johan get knocked around and the hitters pound the ball into the Rogers Centre turf all night (Halladay recorded 16 ground-ball outs). Thankfully the company at Bat-Girl's get-together was significantly less depressing and there's another game tonight.

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