April 2, 2007

Twins 7, Orioles 4

Notes from Game 1 of 162 ...

  • Johan Santana appeared to be in midseason form for the first few innings, but eventually ran into some trouble and continued his annual tradition of starting the season slowly by giving up four runs over six innings. Santana's April struggles used to worry me, but at this point Twins fans should know better. Take a look at how poorly Santana has fared in his first start of the season since becoming a full-time member of the rotation:
    YEAR      IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR
    2004 4.0 4 2 2 1 1 0
    2005 5.0 5 4 4 1 6 0
    2006 5.2 10 4 4 1 3 1
    2007 6.0 7 4 4 2 6 1

    For those of you without calculators handy, that works out to a 6.10 ERA for Santana's debut starts. Injuries to Ramon Hernandez and Jay Payton forced the Orioles to start five left-handed hitters against Santana, which would normally be a good thing thanks to guys like Corey Patterson and Paul Bako typically being pretty helpless against southpaws. However, Santana is unique in that he consistently fares much better against right-handed hitters because of his world-class changeup.

    Sure enough, Baltimore's lefties combined to go 4-for-12 with four doubles and two walks against Santana. Despite that, last night's uneven performance is Santana's best in four debut outings, which I suppose could mean that he's on pace for the best year of his career. In the past, many of Santana's April struggles have come in starts where he simply didn't look very good, but last night's effort against the Orioles was pretty solid.

    He didn't really "deserve" the win, but given the poor run support Santana has received over the years I'm always glad to see him balance the scales a bit by picking up a cheap victory. He also matched his April win totals from both 2004 and 2006, which is pretty amazing given that those were his Cy Young-winning seasons (and saw him win a total of 37 games after April). Prior to last night, Santana was 6-5 with a 4.42 ERA in 132.1 career April innings.

  • Santana hasn't lost at the Metrodome since August 1, 2005, a span of 24 home starts during which he's gone 17-0.
  • Justin Morneau looked outstanding at the plate, smacking a solo homer to left-center in the second inning and going the other way again in the fourth inning, lining a single past third baseman Melvin Mora. He later lined a ball over Nick Markakis' head and up against the right-field baggie, but was thrown out (or at least called out) trying to stretch it into a double. Morneau was also thrown out at the plate following his fourth-inning single, but the blame for that goes to third-base coach Scott Ullger.

    Ullger made a habit of getting runners thrown out by laughable margins last year, most of the time in situations where holding them at third base was the overwhelmingly smart play. He's apparently decided to pick up right where he left off. Sending Morneau seemed like such an obviously horrible decision that Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven immediately assumed that Morneau had mistakenly run through Ullger's stop sign, mentioning it several times.

    When a replay later showed that Ullger did nothing to deter Morneau from trying to score, and certainly never put up a clear stop sign, the issue was promptly ignored. In the world of Bremer and Blyleven, where good play is hyped as great play and poor play is ignored at all costs unless it involves a young player, ending the discussion of what transpired is about as close as you'll get to legitimate criticism of Ullger.

  • Had Ullger held Morneau at third base, the Twins would have had the bases loaded with one out in the fifth inning of a tie game, which is exactly the type of situation that screams for conservative baserunning. Despite that, the guy who should be most upset at Ullger is actually Bako, because Morneau crashed right into him once it became clear that the play at the plate wasn't going to be particularly close.

    Bako held onto the ball, avoiding the same fate as Jamie Burke, but got a bloody chin for his troubles and seemed a little out of it for the rest of the game. He had a costly passed ball that allowed the go-ahead run to score in the fifth inning and nearly threw the ball into right field on Jason Tyner's sixth-inning steal attempt. Normally I'd make a joke here and say that there's a method to Ullger's madness, but I honestly don't want to give anyone ideas.

  • Morneau looked good going the other way, but seeing Torii Hunter flash power to the opposite field was even more encouraging. Morneau showed last year that a big part of his game is driving outside pitches, but Hunter often tries to pull the same type of offerings with little success. Hunter's hot streaks seem to coincide with driving balls off of and over the right-field baggie, so perhaps he's taken note of that and made some adjustments. Of course, his plate-discipline "adjustments" have never stuck.
  • Rondell White's sprawling catch in left field no doubt made all kinds of highlight shows last night and he somewhat managed to avoid re-injuring his shoulder in the process, but the more remarkable feat was his fourth-inning walk. Seriously. White went 142 plate appearances without drawing a single non-intentional walk last year, coaxing his first free pass on May 17, and ended up drawing a grand total of nine non-intentional walks in 355 plate appearances.
  • Bremer and Blyleven referred to Erik Bedard as "young" no fewer than a dozen times, with Bremer talking him up like the second coming of Sandy Koufax (or Santana) early on. That talk quieted pretty quickly once the Twins started knocking him around, but it never should have started in the first place. Bedard was born on March 5, 1979. Not only does that make him 28 years old, it makes him older than Santana. Eight days older, to be exact. Santana was born on March 13, 1979.
  • I'm not sure how much space I'll be devoting to Win Probability Added this year, but for now I'll pass along that the Twins' WPA MVP for Opening Day was Morneau (.284), followed by Nick Punto (.153), and Hunter (.088). WPA pegs Jason Bartlett (-.096) as the least valuable player, followed closely by Santana (-.089) and Michael Cuddyer (-.072). None of them dragged the Twins down much though, because Bedard's -.448 dwarfs their combined negative contribution (-.257).
  • The Twins are now 1-0 when I watch the game from the living room of my new house while sitting in a leather chair and eating popcorn. That can't possibly be a coincidence, right?

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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