May 8, 2007

Twins 7, White Sox 4

  • I give FSN play-by-play man Dick Bremer a lot of criticism for various things, but his reaction to Justin Morneau's game-winner homer was perfect. It was a three-run bomb yanked into the upper deck in right field, so from the moment it left his bat there was no doubt about how the extra-inning game was going to end. All of which is why I enjoyed Bremer's relatively calm, matter-of-fact, almost defiant call: "There it goes ... my goodness!"

    For all the overly hysterical talk of Morneau's disappointing start, one MVP-like performance has him hitting .274/.357/.524. That doesn't look as pretty as last season's .321/.375/.559, but it's equally as effective once the league-wide drop in offense is taken into account. Plus, with eight homers and 21 RBIs through 32 games, he's on a 40-homer, 110-RBI pace. Morneau has hit those eight homers in 124 at-bats, while the rest of the team has combined for 10 homers in 984 at-bats.

  • His potential game-winning line drive in the ninth inning last night was snared by right fielder Jermaine Dye, but Jason Bartlett continues to look very good at the plate since starting the season in a brutal 1-for-20 slump. Over the past 23 games, Bartlett has gone 24-for-75 with six doubles, seven walks, and three steals. For those of you without calculators handy, that works out to .320/.393/.400, which is a step up from hitting .309/.367/.393 in 99 games last season.

    I've been beating this drum since last season, but given the current state of the Twins' lineup it's clear that Bartlett shouldn't be hitting in the No. 9 spot at this point. Since being called up from Triple-A last June, Bartlett has hit .300/.360/.378 with 14 steals over a 129-game stretch, which is almost exactly the kind of production you'd expect from someone who batted .326/.395/.462 while spending three years at Rochester. In other words, he can hit.

    Just as importantly, he's also back to playing good defense. Not only did Bartlett begin the season 1-for-20 at the plate, those first seven games also included four errors at shortstop. He's mishandled just two plays in 23 games since then, all while showing solid range and turning a number of difficult double plays. In case you're wondering, Juan Castro is hitting a very Juan Castro-like .115/.179/.154 for Wayne Krivsky's Reds.

  • While Bartlett and seemingly everyone else was doing their part in a late-inning comeback, Jason Kubel looked awful in two trips to the plate. With Bartlett representing the tying run at second base in the eighth inning, Kubel came in as a pinch-hitter and took advantage of David Aardsma's lack of warm-up time by getting ahead in the count 2-0. After two straight foul balls evened the count at 2-2, Kubel swung at and missed a ball that was down and out of the strike zone.

    Torii Hunter bailed him out moments later with a game-tying single up the middle, but it was an awful at-bat for Kubel in a huge spot. His next at-bat was even worse. With the game-winning run on second base in the form of Luis Castillo, Kubel bunted Andrew Sisco's first pitch foul after Castillo took off on a steal attempt and could have walked into third base safely. He then failed on another bunt attempt before striking out swinging on a 3-2 pitch right over the plate.

    Kubel deserves patience after having two straight seasons ruined by significant knee problems, but I had high hopes for him this year and he's been horrible. He's hitting .239/.290/.305 with zero homers in 98 plate appearances and his at-bats have looked every bit as bad as the .595 OPS. The good news is that his defense in left field has improved dramatically since early in the season, so there's hope that he can show similar improvement at the plate as the injuries disappear into the rear-view mirror.

  • Boof Bonser's sixth-inning throwing error led to three runs and for a while it looked like it would cost the Twins the game. Despite that, it was nice to see him finally pitch like he did down the stretch last season, attacking hitters, throwing strikes, and missing bats. Bonser surprisingly walked 20 batters in his first 31.2 innings after handing out a total of 24 free passes in 100.1 innings last season, but threw 70 of his 95 pitches for strikes while issuing just one walk last night.

    He coughed up an early one-run lead by serving up a homer to Joe Crede in the third inning, but it was a solo shot and giving up long balls is always going to be a part of Bonser's game. He recovered to strike out five of the next 10 hitters following Crede's homer, ending the night with seven strikeouts in seven innings. For the year, Bonser has racked up 39 strikeouts in 38.2 innings. That works out to 22.4 percent of Bonser's plate appearances ending in a strikeout, which is up 12 percent from last year.

  • I'm generally of the opinion that hitting streaks are vastly overrated, but if you're going to extend your streak to 22 games like Hunter did last night, doing it by tying the game with an eighth-inning, two-out single is the way to go. Hunter is now hitting .342/.377/.632 on the year and is on pace for 30 homers, 75 doubles, 110 RBIs, 110 runs, and 35 steals. Plus, he's been able to do all that despite drawing a total of four non-intentional walks in 122 plate appearances.

    Hunter has never been much for walking, but came into the season with 6.1 percent of his career plate appearances ending in a non-intentional free pass. That number has dropped to 3.3 percent so far this year, but Hunter's extreme hacking actually started down the stretch last season. After showing the most plate discipline of his career by drawing 37 non-intentional walks in the first half last year, Hunter drew just a half-dozen in 254 second-half trips to the plate.

    Of course, he also hit .296 with a .551 slugging percentage, 17 homers, and 49 RBIs during that nearly walk-less 62-game stretch. Add it all up and Hunter has drawn a grand total of 11 non-intentional walks (while striking out 72 times) in his last 376 plate appearances. Those hacktastic ways can probably be forgiven though, because he's hit .311 with a .577 slugging percentage, 23 homers, 24 doubles, 71 RBIs, 57 runs, and 13 steals over those 93 games.

  • Morneau's first homer--the second-inning shot off Javier Vazquez, rather than the 10th-inning bomb off Nick Masset--mercifully ended the Twins' streak of 189 straight plate appearances without a homer.

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

    No Comments

    No comments yet.

    Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.