Monday, April 27, 2009

Twins Show Up; Win Series

After an embarrassing two game series against Boston, the Twins needed to rebound and try to move up in the AL Central. Entering their three game series in Cleveland, the Twins were 7-9 and 1½ games back in the AL Central. I know it’s probably not as important to worry about standings this early, but when you play division rivals, every win matters.

After a decent outing against Los Angeles his last time out, Nick Blackburn threw a stellar game to open the series. With the Twins starting pitching struggling as of late, they needed some good outings during the series. This would be tough because the Indians are a very good hitting ballclub, but have gotten off to a very rocky start. Blackburn would last seven innings, giving up one earned run off six hits, while striking out four batters. Recently called up Jose Mijares would relieve Blackburn in the eighth and pitch a scoreless inning. Although it wasn’t a save situation, Joe Nathan would get some work by pitching a scoreless ninth.

Justin Morneau tacked on his fourth homerun off the season in the fourth inning off Cleveland pitcher, Fausto Carmona to make it a 3-1 score at the time. The Twins would also get RBIs from Jason Kubel, Joe Crede and Jose Morales. Morales as been a pleasant surprise to the Twins, who are eagerly awaiting Joe Mauer’s return from his back issues.

If you thought Nick Blackburn’s performance Friday night was something to talk about, Kevin Slowey “one-upped” Blackburn. Kevin Slowey, who fixed a mechanical problem that noticed after his second start, pitched a near complete game shutout. We all know Kevin Slowey is the command guru of the Twins five starting pitchers and today he backed that up. In eight innings of work, he gave up one earned run off eight hits. Of the 114 pitches he threw, 84 of them were called for strikes. He would go on to strike out seven batters and walk none. Slowey would attempt to go for the complete game shutout, but he would give up three straight singles to load the bases, before being relieved by Luis Ayala.

If there is one Twins hitter that has surprised me the most this season, it has to be Jason Kubel. He has been on fire since the Los Angeles series when he hit for the cycle. He would take on two more homeruns in this game, one of which game in a back-to-back effort with Joe Crede in the ninth.

With the Twins trying to go for the sweep, they sent Glen Perkins to the mound. In his first three starts, Perkins lasted eight innings each time. Today was a different story. In his first start away from the Metrodome, Perkins lasted just five innings, giving up four earned runs off seven hits. The positive from the Twins pitching today was their bullpen. They pitched three scoreless innings in an attempt to give the Twins hitting a chance to comeback.

As many Twins fans know, the Twins always struggle when they have runners in scoring position with zero or one out in a critical situation. Well that arose in the seventh inning. Down 4-2 and runners on 2nd and 3rd, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel both came up to the plate and both of them struck out swinging. I almost expect this to happen when we have the bases loaded or runners in scoring position with no one out or one out. The only high note for the Twins offense today was Jose Morales. Hit hot hitting would continue has he would go 4-for-4 to raise his average to .375.

The Twins will now head home and try to take advantage of a struggling Tampa Bay team. The Twins also announced that Joe Mauer could make his return during this series at some point, rather than the Kansas City series. The Twins would send Jose Morales down to Triple-A Rochester, while Mike Redmond jumps back into his normal back-up role.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Twins Off To Slow Start

Before I share my thoughts on the season thus far I want to apologize for the lack of updates. It has been a rough start to the season and there has been very little to write about, but I am aiming to write more in hopes that it brings good luck to the Twins.

Despite the Twins being just two games back in the A.L. Central, they sure haven’t been playing that well. The Twins are currently 7-9, while the Indians are 5-10. This is very interesting because both the Twins and Indians were expected to be atop of the Central. But then again we are only less than a month into the season, so we have a long ways to go.

The Twins starting rotation as struggled to return to their 2008 form, when they surprised the entire MLB as being one of the youngest, but most productive rotations. With the same exact rotation that the Twins had last year, they are getting opposite results. The Twins starting pitching has a combined record of 4-8 with a dreadful 5.59 ERA. They have given up the most earned runs of any starting rotation so far, by allowing 59 earned runs.

Scott Baker, who started the season on the disabled list, was expected to come into the 2009 season as the staff’s #1 pitcher. Through his first two starts, he has managed to give up 12 hits and strikeout just five batters. Well you may be wondering, “What’s so bad about the 12 hits?” Of those 12 hits, seven of them have been homeruns. Baker, as well as most of the Twins starting pitching, has had trouble with his command issues. He has been leaving way too many pitches up in the strike zone. Now, I’m not saying we should get all worried about the pitching yet, but if this is a sign to come, then it could be a very long season.

On the other hand, Glen Perkins has been brilliant. Through three starts he has a record of 1-1 with an ERA of 1.50 and 12 strikeouts. He has yet to allow more than two runs in any start this season. He has really been the only starting pitcher who has been consistent thus far. I think Perkins will be pleasant surprise this year and could prove himself even more as he looks to improve upon his 12-4 record last year.

On the other side of the plate, the Twins hitting has been up and down to start the season. They are hitting just .255 as a team. This is no surprise though, as the Twins tend to start off slow and eventually end up with one of the best team batting averages each year. The only thing I feel the Twins, as a team, need to work on is their ability to get runners home when they have the bases loaded and zero or one out. They always tend to leave the runners stranded.

If I had to pick one hitter that has been the best for the Twins thus far, it would have to be Jason Kubel. Through 14 games as DH, Kubel is batting .327 with two homeruns and a team-leading 12 RBI. His biggest accomplishment as a Major Leaguer came on April 17th against the LA Angels. Down 9-7 with two out in the 8th inning, Kubel stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded. Kubel had already gotten a single, double and triple, so all he needed was a homerun to complete the cycle. After taking a first pitch strike, Kubel launched a deep, eventual game-winning grand slam to the upper deck in right field. To complete the cycle by hitting a grand slam was the highlight of not only his career, but for the Twins this season. In the series against the Angels, Kubel went 8-for-14 (.571) with one homerun and 7 RBI. Look for him to have a solid season as the Twins primary Designated Hitter.

On a happier note, the Twins are expected to get Joe Mauer back on May 1st. This is of course assuming everything in his rehab assignment goes without any setbacks. He probably won’t be as effective when he first returns, but once he gets going, I expect this lineup to become more dangerous and really help Morneau drive in more runs.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Twins Offense Lackluster Again; Drop Second Straight

After a very disappointing outing by Francisco Liriano, the Twins looked to get back on track and take the series win. With Nick Blackburn on the mound, the Twins offense would have to get going. Because we all remember what happened last time Blackburn pitched in Chicago. He pitched a gem, giving up the only run of the game that sent the White Sox to the playoffs and the Twins back home.

Blackburn pitched very well up until the 5th inning when he would start running into trouble. After giving up one run in the 5th inning to tie the game, the Twins had to get more runs on the board. Well, as we have seen early on in the season, the runs come in spurts. This happened to be one of those spurts where no runs were put on the board. Jim Thome would hit a homerun off Blackburn in the 6th inning, to make it a 3-1 White Sox lead. This was like déjà vu all over again, as Thome’s homerun would be the eventual game-winning hit. The White Sox would tack on three more runs to make it a 6-1victory and take the series.

Meanwhile on the other side, Mark Buehrle pitched another solid game against Twins. He went 6⅓ innings, giving up one run off two hits, while striking out five. The lone run came off the bat of Delmon Young as he hit his first homerun of the season in the 2nd inning. It’s nice to know someone on the Twins wants to try to help the team out by getting a hit.

The Twins will now head back to Minneapolis for a four game series with the Toronto Blue Jays. Kevin Slowey will open the series for the Twins, while Jesse Litsch will get the start for the Jays.

In other Twins news, Scott Baker will be making his season debut on Wednesday after make a minor league start. In his minor league start for the Ft. Myers Miracle, Scott pitched seven innings giving up one run on five hits and struck out three. So he looks to be ready to jump back into the rotation.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Colon Shuts Down Twins Offense

After scoring 12 runs last night in game one of this three game series, the Twins failed to score a single run tonight. This really doesn’t come as a shocker as a majority of the time when the Twins score several runs, they tend to not score the next night. With Francisco Liriano on the mound for the Twins, I was hoping for a solid start and a series opening win.

Unfortunately the White Sox had other ideas. Liriano was not his normal self today. Liriano had difficulty with his command as he walked four batters and only struck out three. The struggles really came in the fourth and fifth innings. He would give up a combined five runs in the two innings. However, he would be pulled from the game with two outs in the fifth inning. Matt Guerrier would relieve him and get out without giving up too much more damage.

However, on the other side, Bartolo Colon was spot on for the White Sox. The former Cy Young winner pitched six solid innings, giving up only three hits. Colon has only made 32 starts over the last couple years, so he is no where near his Cy Young form. Today had to be very encouraging for Ozzie Guillen and the rest of the White Sox staff.

The Twins have been struggling to find runs early on in the season, but these divisional games are very important, so they need to start swinging the bat better. The Twins will go for the series win tomorrow when they send Nick Blackburn to the mound to face off against Mark Buehrle.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Twins Overpower White Sox Bullpen

R.A. Dickey made the start for the Twins due to Scott Baker being placed on the disabled list to star the season. R.A. had a decent outing giving up three earned runs in five innings of work. He would run into trouble in the second inning when he gave up a two RBI-single to Josh Fields, which brought in Paul Konerko and Alexei Ramirez. He would then give up a solo homerun to Paul Konerko in the third, but that would be the end of the damage against Dickey.

The story of the night was the return of Joe Crede to U.S. Cellular Field, where he called home for nine seasons as a member of the White Sox. As he stepped up to the plate for the first time, former teammate Brian Anderson had them play “All Out of Love”. Crede would go on to hit a solo homerun in that at-bat. The crowd instantly booed him after the ball cleared the left field fence. This to me is a sign of respect as the fans knew how much he meant to that organization and the clutch hitting he provided, especially in the 2005 World Series championship year.

The Twins would later strike major damage to put the game out of reach. With Clayton Richards now pitching in the 7th down one run, all he had to do was keep the White Sox within reach. Well Justin Morneau had other ideas. He would hit his 2nd homerun of the season to make it a 5-3 game. Mike McDougal would come in two batters later and load the bases with no out. That was all manager Ozzie Guillen had to see, before bringing in D.J. Carrasco.

Facing his first batter, Carrasco would face Delmon Young. Delmon Young, who has been struggling this year, would hit a 2-run single to center, which brought home Kubel and Cuddyer, who both walked. Jose Morales would continue his hot hitting at U.S. Cellular field in his short career by hitting a single to center to load the bases yet again. Up came Nick Punto to get some RB Is for himself. This time he flared a pitch down the left field line scoring Crede and Carlos Gomez, who ran for Delmon. The Twins would go on to add two more runs before the carnage in the 7th was over.

In the 7th inning alone, the Twins scored 7 runs off six hits. This was just what the Twins needed after not getting many scoring opportunities last night against the Seattle Mariners in their series finally. The Twins later scored one more run in the 9th to make it a 12-5 victory for the Twins. This was a very important win, as is any divisional game, but to come out of the gates like this really makes a statement on the other teams in the Central.

The Twins will send Francisco Liriano in their Saturday afternoon game against Bartolo Colon.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Washburn Outduels Perkins: Series Split

With the Twins looking to take the series victory over the Mariners, Glen Perkins got the call to start. Perkins left everything he had on that mound when he left the mound after the eighth inning. I believe Perkins will be the sleeper in the Twins young rotation and his performance today was just what makes it possible.

In eight innings of work, Perkins gave up one run on five hits while striking out four batters. Of the 106 pitches Perkins threw, 72 of them were strikes. This was probably the best start out of the Twins pitchers thus far. Yes, it’s early, but to see that kind of pitching this early on is a great sign. The only mistake Perkins made was in the first inning when he gave up a RBI-single to Adrian Beltre to make it a 1-0 game early on.

However, Jarrod Washburn was even better going against Perkins. He would only give up five hits in eight innings of work, while striking out four. So what we saw was a mirror image of each other. This was truly a game that fans of defensive duels would love. The Twins just weren’t able to get many scoring chances.

The Twins will now travel to Chicago for a three game series. R.A. Dickey will start for the Twins, as the White Sox send Jose Contreras to the mound.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Morneau Homers Twins to Victory

Four homeruns later the Twins come out on top to win their second straight. With Kevin Slowey on the mound for the Twins, you would have thought there would be a good chance of few runs by the Mariners. Slowey is known for his excellent command around the plate. Some actually compare him to former Twin, Brad Radke, as Radke was a command master during his tenure with the Twins. Well, Slowey got off to a shaky start, but shook it off to notch his first win of the season.

After giving up two homeruns by the fourth inning, Slowey calmed down and proceeded to retire the last seven batters he faced. Kevin ran into the most trouble in the fourth inning. Up 4-2 at that point, he surrendered a solo homerun to Jose Lopez. Yuniesky Betancourt followed that up with an RBI double to center and then later broke the 4-4 tie on a wild pitch by Slowey.

The bullpen then took over in the seventh for Slowey as Craig Breslow came in to pitch one scoreless inning to hold the Twins lead at 5-4. Jesse Crain then came in the 8th to try to get the game to Joe Nathan for the save opportunity in the 9th. Crain was able to get through the 8th and set up what would eventually be Joe Nathan’s 200th save as a member of the Minnesota Twins.

Justin Morneau seemed to be over the tightness in his back he reported at the end of Spring Training. He would give the Twins an early 2-0 lead in the 1st after hitting a 2-run homerun. Denard Span would add his own 2-run HR in the 2nd inning to break a 2-2 tie. However, Justin would later put the team on his shoulders and get an RBI double in the fifth to tie the game.

The winning run would come off the bat of Jason Kubel as he would also hit an RBI double in the fifth inning. Carlos Silva, the Mariners starter pitcher and former Twin, would be pulled after the 5th inning after giving up six earned runs in five innings of work. The Mariners bullpen would go toe-to-toe with the Twins bullpen and not allow a run the rest of the game.

The Twins will send south-paw, Glen Perkins to the mound this afternoon against Jarrod Washburn in the series finale.

On a side note, Joe Mauer took batting practice with the Ft. Myer club and then caught a bullpen session thrown by Scott Baker. Joe reported no soreness after batting practice and the bullpen session. This is great news as he is expected back by the end of April or early May.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Casilla Carries Twins to First Win

“Don’t give up...Don’t ever give up!” Those are not only the words of the great Jim Valvano, but also the words that go through Twins fans thoughts when the Twins are down late. Those words sure came to life last night as the Twins and Mariners squared off in game two of their four game series.

With Erik Bedard and Nick Blackburn on the hill, this was sure to be another very good pitching matchup. Last time Twins fans saw Nick Blackburn in the regular season was when he pitched in the tie-breaking game against Chicago. However, during the off-season he had minor knee surgery and had some swelling late in Spring Training. Some were wondering if he would be on his game tonight.

Nick never quite looked comfortable out there. He pitched five innings, giving up four earned runs off eight hits and only striking out one batter. Blackburn isn’t known as a strikeout pitcher, but more as a groundball pitcher. So the one strikeout is nothing to worry about, but you would still like to see that number higher. The most trouble came in the 4th inning when Endy Chavez, acquired from the Mets in the J.J. Putz trade, singled to right, which brought in Wladimir Balentien and Yuniesky Betancourt to make it 4-0 game.

Here is where that famous line “Don’t give up...Don’t ever give up!” comes into play. Down four heading into the bottom of the 5th, the Twins knew they had to get something going as Blackburn likely wouldn’t make it past the 6th. With runners on 1st and 3rd, Denard Span would hit a single to right, which drove in Carlos Gomez. Two batters later, Michael Cuddyer singled to center which drove in Nick Punto and Denard Span to make it a 4-3 game.

The Twins bullpen would hold the Mariners scoreless until the 9th when Franklin Gutierrez singled to center, which brought Wladimir Balentien home to make it a 5-3 game. Then the fun begins.

Brandon Morrow comes in to try to pick up his first save of the season. Last season, the Mariners blew 31 saves as a team, tied for most in the MLB with St. Louis. So this game was far from over. Morrow would walk three batters to load the bases with no one out, which caused first year manager, Don Wakamatsu, to make a pitching change. In came Miguel Batista to try to get out the jam. The Twins had other ideas.

Denard Span stepped up to the plate for his fifth at bat. He had gone 2-for-4 previous to this at-bat. Span would hit a high chopper in front of the plate to Adrian Beltre, who smartly held onto the baseball. Carlos Gomez would score on the play to pull the Twins within one run of a tie. Alexei Casilla stepped up to the plate looking to be the hero of the game. It took less than 5 seconds for him to be the hero of the night. On the first pitch he hit a liner up the middle to score Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher to win the game for the Twins.

The way the Twins won this game makes them one of, if not, the most exciting team to watch in the Major Leagues. The Twins will try to continue this momentum as they send Kevin Slowey to the mound to face off against former Twin, Carlos Silva.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Griffey and Co. Beat Twins To Open Season

After what appeared to be a fairly good Spring Training for the Twins despite the injuries, they weren’t able to produce against Seattle in the Season Opener. With a fantastic pitching matchup between Felix Hernandez and Francisco Liriano, this was expected to be a very good game to watch. Well it certainly was, for Seattle fans as the Twins bats were unable to produce much.

King Felix, as Hernandez is referred as, was able to keep the Twins bats quiet for the most part. He lasted eight innings, giving up one earned run on five hits while walking three and striking out six. The most important stat of his outing was that Felix was able to hold the 3-6 hitters (Cuddyer, Morneau, Kubel and Crede) to just one run off two hits in 14 combined at-bats while on the mound. If you are an opposing pitcher and can hold those four to just two hits, you have taken the threat out of the lineup.

Not only was the Mariners pitching spot on throughout the night, but so was their offense. With Ken Griffey Jr. back in Seattle, they look to improve upon what was a very miserable season in 2008. Ken Griffey launched a solo homerun in the 5th inning to extend the Mariners lead to 2-0 at the time. That was Griffey’s 41st homerun against the Twins, the most against any opponent in his career. What makes that really amazing is that he played nine seasons in the National League before returning to Seattle.

He wasn’t the only one to hit the long ball. Franklin Gutierrez would hit a two-run homer off Liriano in the 6th inning, which put the Mariners up 4-1 and the game out of reach.

Francisco had a decent outing despite being told he was going to be the Opening Day starter just a few days before hand. He didn’t surrender any walks, whereas he had some control issues in Spring Training, so that was very nice to see. However, with Baker out two weeks, he will have to step up and be the leader of this rotation until Scott returns to full form.

Look for the Twins to try and bounce back when Nick Blackburn takes on Erik Bedard in game two of this four game series tomorrow night.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

2009 Season Preview; Opening Week

The Minnesota Twins begin their 2009 season on Monday, when they start a 4 game series against the Seattle Mariners. This will be the last Opening Day at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome as the Twins will move into Target Field in 2010. But looking outside right now, I can only imagine going to Opening Day and have there be snow on the ground still. But that’s beside the point. The Twins are now finally able to put that devastating one game playoff loss to the White Sox behind them.

The Twins had an off-season that actually didn’t irritate a lot of fans. For the first time in a few years, they didn’t sign an older player who has very little left in their tank. Instead, they brought in Joe Crede, who will fill a much needed hole at third base. This was hands down the highlight of the off-season. Although it took more than a month to get the contract figured out, it was well worth the wait. The only question about this signing is, how Joe’s back will hold up.

Another story that was very interesting to follow throughout the off-season was the competition for the bullpen spots. With Boof Bonser going down early on in Spring Training with a shoulder injury that would require surgery and make him miss the entire 2009 season, the Twins had many options and have finally made their decision. To be honest, I don’t have total confidence in our bullpen this year. Although the bullpen did look good during Spring Training, we all know the teams don’t play their starters all game.

I believe the relief pitcher to watch this year will be Jesse Crain. He has recently added the “slurve” to his pitching repertoire. That will allow him to mix it up when he needs to and I can see him being the set-up man for Joe Nathan. Look for him to have a very solid season, as he could prove himself to be that 8th inning guy over Matt Guerrier and Luis Ayala.

Then there is the outfield dilemma. What do you do with four good outfielders with only three spots available? Delmon Young, Denard Span, Carlos Gomez and Michael Cuddyer are all very capable of starting for the Twins, but how do you keep all four happy about their playing time? Well, for Michael Cuddyer, he didn’t have to wait long. Ron Gardenhire named Cuddyer his starter in right field early on. So then that left two spots for Young, Span and Gomez. Some people thought that Carlos Gomez should start the season in Triple-A Rochester. I strongly disagree with their opinion on that. Gomez is one of, if not, the most exciting center fielders to watch and has blazing speed. As we all know Gardenhire is a defensive coach and so Gomez would seem ideal for center field.

So it appears Span and Young could split time in left field, as well as Span getting some starts in center. But I would much rather have 4 good out fielders than three ok outfielders. If one of them is in a slump, then you have that fourth guy to step in.

Where there is good, exciting news, there is always bad news. Early on in the off-season, we learned that Boof Bonser would be lost for the 2009 season due to shoulder surgery. This was a big loss to the Twins bullpen as he was expected to be the long relief pitcher and rebound from a not so good 2008 campaign.

Next up was Joe Mauer. Joe had surgery to remove a kidney obstruction that he had since birth. The surgery was successful, but Joe was having back soreness and was unable to participate at all in Spring Training. This is a huge blow for the Twins, as he will likely miss up to the first month of the regular season. With him out, Mike Redmond and Jose Morales will be sharing catching duties. Although, Redmond will likely get most of the starts behind the plate.

Then when the Twins thought they were all healthy for Spring Training, ready to head home to Minneapolis, Scott Baker is placed on the disabled list. This was a complete surprise to me, as I had heard nothing of any type of soreness or problems. Baker reported some tightness in his throwing shoulder during his last Spring Training start. At first the Twins didn’t think he would have to miss anytime, but they later felt it would be a good idea to let him rest his shoulder before the long season began. R.A. Dickey will jump into the rotation as the #5 starter while Baker is on the DL.

So with all the news, injuries, and transactions that took place during the off-season, I am very confident that the Twins will be a better team than last years. I expect them to build off that season-ending loss to the White Sox. My prediction is that the Twins will go out with a bang in the last season at the “Dome” and win the AL Central by 3 games. Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City and Chicago will follow in order to round out the AL Central.

Here is to an exciting last season at the Metrodome and to a hopefully good, exciting MLB season.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Nick Adenhart Killed in Car Accident

Today is a very sad day not only for the Los Angeles Angels organization, but for Major League Baseball as a community. Around 12:30 this morning local time, Nick Adenhart of the LA Angels was killed in a hit-and-run accident. He was riding in the car with three other people when they were T-boned in the middle of an intersection. Nick was transfered to UC Irvine Medical Center, where he later died.

Nick had a career record of 37-28 with a 3.87 ERA in his minor league career. He pitched three games for the Angels in 2008 going 1-0 with a 9.00 ERA and made the team coming out of Spring Training this year. Nick was ranked as one of the best pitching prospects in the Majors.

I hopefully speak for the rest of the baseball world by saying our prayers are with the Angels organization and Nick's family.