Game #51: Twins 9, White Sox 2
In a game full of good moments from the Twins, perhaps the most encouraging was Jason Kubel smacking his second homer and later narrowly missing his third homer when Rob Mackowiak made a catch up against the wall in left field. Mackowiak's grab continues a season full of hard-hit balls off Kubel's bat finding gloves, but he's still slowly starting to build up his numbers. Since snapping a 0-for-12 streak on May 10, Kubel has hit two homers and seven doubles in 55 at-bats.
After failing to record a victory in his first seven starts, Boof Bonser picked up his fourth straight win last night. Bonser's control has been surprisingly shaky at times, but for the most part he's been a solid No. 2 starter behind Johan Santana. Bonser has a 3.61 ERA and 68-to-30 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 62.1 innings, making him 11-7 with a 3.98 ERA and 150-to-54 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 162.2 innings spread over 29 career starts.
After Bonser used 102 pitches to record the first 20 outs, Pat Neshek, Carmen Cali, and Ramon Ortiz combined to get the final seven outs on a total of 16 pitches as the White Sox hacked their way off the field. The game wasn't really in doubt with the score 9-2 in the seventh inning, but Neshek came in for Bonser anyway with Paul Konerko at the plate and the bases loaded, retiring him on one pitch to end the threat.
When Neshek enters a game, the first batter he faces has gone 1-for-19 (.053) with nine strikeouts. Opponents have hit 4-for-40 (.100) against him with runners on base, including 2-for-21 (.095) with runners in scoring position. After Konerko's ground out last night, Neshek has set down all four batters he's faced with the bases loaded. Of course, I could also simply point out that batters are hitting .145 against Neshek overall and leave it at that.
Like Kubel, Justin Morneau came close to hitting a pair of homers, settling instead for a two-run shot and a double off the very top of the baggie in right field. He later added a two-run double down the right-field line, giving him a four-RBI night. Both the homer and near-homer came off left-hander John Danks, which is noteworthy given that Morneau came into the game batting just .212/.278/.424 against lefties. The reigning MVP is now on a 50-homer, 135-RBI pace.
While Morneau piles up huge numbers, Michael Cuddyer deserves a ton of credit for the job he's done getting on base in front of him with Joe Mauer sidelined. He drew just six walks in 133 trips to the plate as the cleanup hitter, but has walked 14 times in 69 plate appearances since replacing Mauer in the No. 3 spot. After going 3-for-4 with a walk last night, Cuddyer has a Mauer-like .486 on-base percentage hitting third, along with a .357 batting average and .661 slugging percentage.
It'll never happen, but I'd love to see Ron Gardenhire leave Cuddyer in the third spot even after Mauer returns, with Mauer hitting second and Morneau cleaning up. That arrangement would get the team's three premiere hitters additional plate appearances while removing Nick Punto's inept bat from a table-setting position. Incidentally, while the rest of the lineup went 15-for-32 (.469) with six extra-base hits and seven walks last night, Punto went 1-for-6 while leaving seven runners on base.
Ozzie Guillen chose to intentionally walk Torii Hunter following both of Morneau's doubles, including once with the Twins up 9-1. That gives Hunter a total of four intentional walks, which is twice as many as he had all of last season and just three short of his career-high. Meanwhile, he's drawn just six non-intentional walks in 201 plate appearances, which would be by far the worst walk rate of his entire career. Of course, he's also hitting .314 with a .574 slugging percentage and does things like this.
In an amusing bit of synergy, as Ortiz pitched the final inning with a seven-run lead in his new mop-up role, LaVelle E. Neal III confirmed that Kevin Slowey will be called up from Triple-A to replace him in the rotation. Slowey will debut Friday against Oakland, which is an interesting first matchup for him because the always patient A's rank second among AL teams in both walks and pitches seen per plate appearance.
That's normally a bad scenario for a young pitcher, but Slowey is a strike-throwing machine and with a grand total of just 35 walks in 285 career innings few prospects in baseball history have shown better control while coming up through the minors. Assuming Slowey and his excellent control don't fall victim to first-start nerves, the A's patient approach plays right into his hands and it's a very favorable debut matchup for the 23-year-old right-hander.
Jason Bartlett's throws to first base have been erratic and his hands have been anything but sure, but his range up the middle continues to impress. Whether he's knocking choppers down to keep them in the infield or actually making plays like he did on A.J. Pierzynski's grounder up the gut last night, Bartlett gets to balls behind second base (and into shallow center field) that Cristian Guzman and Juan Castro wouldn't have even come close to.
To be more specific about the balls up the middle that Bartlett gets to on a regular basis, Castro would stare at them from five feet away and Guzman would wave his glove at them as they bounced past. Bartlett has made some ugly errors, including botching a would-be double play in the seventh inning last night, but I'll gladly take a somewhat error-prone shortstop with good range like Bartlett over a supposedly sure-handed statue like Castro any day.
Unless the defender in question commits an obscene number of errors, shortstop is largely about simply getting to as many balls as possible. Bartlett does that extremely well, particularly going up the middle, and nine errors in 375 innings is certainly not disastrous. If he can eventually learn to cut down on his mistakes once he gets his hands on balls, he has a chance to be an outstanding shortstop. He's also hitting .280 with a .370 on-base percentage since beginning the season 1-for-20.
Luis Castillo was hitting .273/.322/.309 when he headed to the disabled list in mid-April, but after going 3-for-5 with a walk he's batting .368/.412/.396 with 24 runs in 25 games since returning. Castillo is up to .335/.386/.366 overall, which is a sizable improvement over last season's .296/.358/.370 once the league-wide drop in offense is taken into account. Oh, and in case you didn't buy into my anti-error speech regarding Bartlett, last night marked the one-year anniversary of Castillo's last error.
Do you think Pierzynski realizes that the Twins pulling off a double steal two games in a row while being up five runs both times was almost surely done entirely for his benefit?
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.