April 5, 2006

Twins 13, Blue Jays 4

What a difference a day makes.

It looked for a while last night like the same problems that plagued the Twins last season were still with them. Brad Radke couldn't get out of the first inning without allowing multiple runs. The hitters appeared to be working under some sort of a time limit at the plate. When someone actually got on base they were quickly erased on a double play. And everything that came off a Twins' bat was pounded into the ground.

And then suddenly the hits started pouring in. Sixteen in all, plus four walks, totaling 13 runs. To understand how amazing that is, consider that the Twins averaged 4.2 runs per game last year and scored in double digits just seven times all season. Their season-high was 12 runs and that didn't come until early August.

Not only did the Twins score more runs in the second game of the 2006 season than they did in any game during the 2005 season, they did all their scoring in the final six innings after falling behind 4-0 early. I could say something cliche like they "were due," but considering the team's offensive futility last season that would be like saying the Washington Generals "were due" to beat the Globetrotters.

Some notes on the Twins' first win of the season ...

  • After Radke predictably gave up three runs in the first inning and then pitched a scoreless second frame, Twins play-by-play announcer Dick Bremer threw it to commercial by saying, "And a much better second inning for Radke." Exactly how many times do you think Bremer has uttered those exact same words over the past decade? Fifty? Seventy-five? More?
  • Luis Castillo looked significantly better at the plate, in the field, and on the bases, although he once again attempted to drop a bunt down the third-base line with the third baseman standing about 15 feet from the plate. I just don't see how that's a good play if the third baseman is going to be so close all the time, although it does make it easier to hit the ball past the drawn-in defense later.

    Interestingly, Twins color commentator Bert Blyleven can't say "Castillo," instead saying his last name as "Castino" at least five times. I'm not sure if it's simply one of many last names Blyleven struggles with or if he's actually confusing Castillo with former Twins infielder John Castino. In either case it's sure to get very annoying.

  • Two games are nothing to get worked up about good or bad, but so far Shannon Stewart has been extremely impressive. I was skeptical that he could bounce back after a disappointing 2005 season given his age and injury concerns, but he's looked very good in both games. Now if Ron Gardenhire will just swap him and Castillo in the lineup, perhaps some of Stewart's extra-base hits will drive multiple runs in.
  • For much of the game Twins hitters appeared to be focused on taking controlled swings and simply going with the pitch right back up the middle. Even Justin Morneau came up with a nice single to center field with runners on base, which was a nice contrast to the "must ... pull ... ball" approach he had for much of last season.

    Eventually hitting coach Joe Vavra will have to move the focus to hitting for some power, but for a team that has struggled to do any sort of damage at the plate, it's good to start simple and try to get rid of some bad habits. And if Vavra can convince Morneau that not pulling everything is a good idea, the Twins should double his salary.

  • Tony Batista didn't get a chance to show off his limited range at third base last night, but he did come up empty in a big RBI opportunity. With the Twins trailing 4-2 and runners on second and third with one out in the fourth inning, Batista fell behind 0-and-2, worked the count full, and then swung through a breaking ball that would have loaded the bases. Batista was the only starter who didn't collect at least one hit.
  • A lot of people acted like Bengie Molina was Mike Piazza after he hit a two-run homer off Johan Santana Tuesday, but Molina is going to really hurt the Blue Jays' pitching staff if he continues to act disinterested in actually catching the ball. You'd be hard-pressed to find a major-league catcher with worse fundamentals behind the plate.
  • Torii Hunter's ankle appeared to be working pretty well when he sprinted home to score in the seventh inning on one of Molina's passed balls. And the ankle looked even better as Hunter jogged around the bases after his eighth-inning grand slam.
  • Joe Mauer went 3-for-4 with three runs scored, and also stole his first base of the season (off a good-throwing catcher, no less). Despite being a 6-foot-4 catcher with a history of knee problems who is probably even taller than his listed height, Mauer is now 15-for-16 stealing bases during his career.
  • Late in the game Blyleven made a joke about his pubic hair, which I believe is a first in Twins broadcasting history. The potential for that sort of thing is why you should never turn the game off, even in a blowout.
  • I was glad to see Francisco Liriano get a chance for a multiple-inning appearance, but was a little disappointed that Gardenhire didn't leave him in to get the three-inning save. Liriano had thrown only 28 pitches through two innings and the Twins were leading 13-4.

    I understand wanting to get Matt Guerrier some work, but Liriano looked great and it would have been nice to see him finish things. In 15 years, when he's got 200 wins, having one save on his record would have been amusing. Incidentally, Liriano now has 36 strikeouts and seven walks in 25.2 big-league innings. He might be pretty good.

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