May 8, 2006
Rangers 6, Twins 4
Last night's game was broadcast on ESPN, which gave me a chance to listen to friend of AG.com Jon Sciambi do the play-by-play in his always excellent style. It also gave color commentator Rick Sutcliffe a chance to show that he hasn't kept very good tabs on the Twins of late. After Torii Hunter made a horrible decision on the bases to get doubled off of first base, Sutcliffe said it was "not something you expect to see from the Minnesota Twins."
While true at some point in the last decade, that's clearly no longer the case. The Twins routinely make bone-headed plays on the bases, often look sloppy in the field defensively, and frequently fail to run hard on ground balls and pop ups. Whatever mandate on hustle that Tom Kelly left with the Twins stuck with Ron Gardenhire for a while, but has gradually lessened to the point of being almost non-existent.
Later, when discussing the Twins' problems preventing runs this season, Sutcliffe opined that "you can't blame it on the Twins' defense, because they're the best in the league." Of course, what Sutcliffe failed to mention is that the Twins being "the best in the league" is based solely on their low error total and completely ignores the fact that they've been horrible at actually turns balls in play into outs all year. True to form, balls were blooping in and bouncing past fielders all game.
Moments later Sutcliffe quoted Tony Batista's prior RBI totals as evidence that "he's been a very good player," which is like quoting McDonald's "millions served" totals as evidence that their food is good for you. I'm not Sutcliffe's biggest fan, but I don't mean to pick on him specifically. Rather, listening to someone unfamiliar with the team spout such hogwash really helped explain why so many people have trouble spotting the Twins' current problems.
The defense, particularly on the left side, is horrible. Because of Batista's miniscule range moving laterally and Juan Castro's circular routes to grounders in the hole, anything hit more than a foot to Batista's left ends up rolling into left field. Similarly, anything hit in the air to left field is an adventure, as Shannon Stewart tracks the ball like he's on skates with his eyes closed.
And whether by ground or by air, once Stewart picks a hit up off the grass his rainbow throws to the cutoff man allow runners to consistently take extra bases. Regarding Stewart's shaky defense, here's an interesting note from the Minneapolis Star Tribune about Torii Hunter's sprawling catch to preserve Johan Santana's no-hitter Sunday:
Magglio Ordonez led off the fifth inning with a drive toward the left-center field gap. With his team leading 3-0 and Santana still perfect, Hunter was shading Ordonez to right field.
How far did he run? Well, Twins first base coach Jerry White, who oversees the team's outfield instruction, said the ball actually should have been caught by left fielder Shannon Stewart.
"That was Shannon's ball," White said. "When Torii moves [toward right-center], Shannon should move, too."
The infuriating stance that the defense is great as long as no one makes errors ignores the fact that you literally can't make an error when you don't actually get in position to field the ball. If you just let it roll past you or fall in front of you, there's no danger of hurting the team's fielding percentage. That Sutcliffe doesn't realize how misleading the Twins' error total is doesn't surprise me, but that people who watch this team on a regular basis are unable to look past the errors to see a horrible defense is astounding.
A few other thoughts while watching the Twins drop to 13-19, including 3-13 on the road ...
vs LHP vs RHP
AVG OBP SLG AVG OBP SLG
Reyes .271 .336 .394 .294 .388 .454
Shouse .198 .247 .311 .332 .401 .488
Cuddyer has looked good in right field despite playing third base for much of last season, displaying decent range and a top-notch throwing arm, and is hitting .323 with a 1.002 OPS on the year. Since May 1 of last season he's batting .281/.350/.475 with 14 homers and 29 doubles in 412 at-bats. Yet for all the Twins' offensive struggles Cuddyer has yet to receive as many as even 425 at-bats in a season and has just 62 at-bats in 32 games this year.
Gardenhire pinch-hit Luis Rodriguez for Batista leading off the ninth inning, which brings up the obvious question of why Batista starts over Rodriguez in the first place. Then Gardenhire let Punto hit with one out while Lew Ford sat on the bench, despite Gardenhire spending much of last month saying that Ford was one of the team's best hitters. As usual, the lack of consistency and logical thought in Gardenhire's decision-making is depressing.