May 3, 2006

The Cure

Joe Mays has been horrible since 2001, yet the whole time there are many people who have held out hope that he could rediscover whatever allowed him to win 17 games with a 3.16 ERA that season. Apparently ERAs of 5.38, 6.30, and 5.65 in the years since weren't enough to convince everyone that his finding that again isn't possible, because the Royals handed him $1 million plus incentives to stink for them this season.

If Mays' 0-3 record and painful-to-watch 11.07 ERA in five starts coming into last night's game didn't hammer the point home, then I'm guessing getting knocked around by the Twins just about put the issue (and Mays' career) to rest. Mays hasn't been able to get major-league hitters out for going on five years now, and last night he couldn't get the Twins out either.

The Twins have not only struggled to score runs over the past two years, they've done so while making a seemingly endless stream of marginal starting pitchers look like Cy Young Award candidates. This year alone they've been shut down by Joel Pineiro (9 IP, 2 ER), Nate Robertson (7 IP, 0 ER), Runelvys Hernandez (7 IP, 1 ER), Scott Elarton (7 IP, 0 ER), and Jason Johnson (7 IP, 0 ER), not to mention the guys you'd expect like Mark Buehrle and Roy Halladay.

Last night, for one of the few times over the past 189 games, the Twins' hitters looked legitimately dangerous. They took borderline pitches to get themselves into hitter's counts and then punished the pitcher with hard-hit balls into the gaps when he grooved something over the plate. It was amazing to watch, if only because I'd forgotten what it was like to see a team that could hit with some power.

When they were done hammering Mays (and Jimmy Gobble, who relieved him in the fourth inning), his final line looked like this:

 IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR     PIT
3.1 8 6 2 0 1 1 51

Eight hits, including a homer to dead-center field and two well-struck doubles, all while making just 10 outs. Watching the Twins beat up on Mays so efficiently and so convincingly was what I imagine it must be like for Yankees fans or Red Sox fans or Indians fans, who get to see their favorite team put together good at-bats and do damage on a regular basis against starters like Pineiro, Robertson, Hernandez, Elarton, and Johnson.

It's sad that the Twins' rare offensive outburst had to come against Mays, because he always struck me as a nice guy who has worked very hard to come back from various arm injuries over the years, and I'm guessing he would have liked nothing more than to have a good start in Minnesota. Perhaps even sadder is that I have no illusions (or maybe delusions) of last night's performance by the lineup carrying over to future games.

The Twins showed that they can crush a guy who has zero life remaining on his fastball, exhibits very little command of anything, is clinging to a big-league job with the worst team in baseball, and has the confidence of me at the Playboy Mansion. Unfortunately, they've shown far too often that they can't do similar damage against merely bad pitchers, against whom the Twins revert back to hacking at crap and putting softly-hit balls in play when they're not striking out looking on fastballs over the plate.

In fact, as soon as the Royals mercifully yanked Mays from the game in the middle of the fourth inning the Twins went right back to looking inept at the plate. Kansas City relievers Jimmy Gobble, Mike Wood, and Ambiorix Burgos--who entered the game with career ERAs of 5.33, 5.36 , and 3.79, respectively-- combined to post the following pitching line once Mays left:

 IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR     PIT
4.2 1 0 0 0 4 0 51

Same old, same old.

The Twins' lineup showed last night that it can do serious damage against a completely helpless pitcher. The bad news is that by the time the Royals pop up on the schedule again Mays is likely to be out of the rotation (or out of baseball altogether) and the hitters showed that they still can't continue the damage against anyone with even a modest ability to record outs in the major leagues.

Similarly, Brad Radke managed to get out of the first two innings unscathed last night and showed that he can shut down a lineup that is Triple-A quality. The bad news is that one of the few big league-quality hitters in the Royals' lineup, Matt Stairs, took Radke deep, and the bulk of his starts going forward aren't going to be against teams with Kerry Robinson as their leadoff man.

And yes, only the Royals could be so bad that beating them 6-1 is depressing.

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