Sunday, July 30, 2006

A win is a win is a win

It wasn't pretty, but it didn't have to be.

Through 7 innings, the Tigers were just in complete control of the game. They had drawn a poor performance from Santana (relatively speaking), they were hitting the ball solidly all around the field, and Bonderman was absolutely controlling the game, as the Tigers were up 3-0. I hate to say it, but I had already mentally counted is as a loss, and a sweep by the Tigers.

And then something happened. I think it can be best described with one word: Luck. Ok, they did it a couple balls sharply in that 8th inning, but for the most part, everything went right for the Twins. Aaron Gleeman outlined the inning like this:

- Infield Single
- Error
- Error
- Double
- Infield Single
- Balk
- Ground Out
- Fly Out
- Intentional Walk
- Triple
- Strikeout

It was just that type of inning for the Twins. And good thing, otherwise they'd be coming off of a sweep at home, having outdone all the good they did last week when they swept the Sox. Now they stand 1.5 back of the Yanks (and newly acquired Bobby Abreu), and things look much better.

And congrats to Pat Neshek, who got his first win of his young career. The young guy continues to impress.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Liriano excels, but Tigers win in 10

The first two runners Liriano faced scored against him, but that was all the Tigers could muster in 8 innings against Francisco. In all, Liriano went 8 strong, giving up 2 runs, and tying a career-best with 12 strikeouts. He allowed just 6 baserunners (3 hits allowed, 3 BB). If it weren't for one pitch he left up to Magglio Ordonez, it could have very well been 8 scoreless innings.

Instead, he left after 8 in a 2-2 ballgame, and the normally reliable Twins bullpen strugged through 2 innings, ultimately ending with Rincon giving up a run on a Craig Monroe base hit. Nothing was really hit solid all inning, and if anything would have gone right in the half-inning, Rincon would have got out of there unscathed. But he didn't, the Twins lose, and that's how baseball works.

Interesting to note how both of the times Detroit scored it started the same way - with a weak grounder past Castillo. Castillo can make some great plays at times, but sometimes I wonder about his range to his left. Sure, didn't look all that good last night. He did some really nice things offensively, but if he gets either of those, well, things are a lot different. Let's just say I agree that a younger Castillo may have made those plays.

But no use dwelling on that now. All around it was a very well-played game by both sides, which neither of them really making any big mistakes. Just a play here of there, and things could have changed. But that's baseball. Just frustrating becuase this is probably the game in the series that we were supposed to win, as even Tigers fans were a little surprised.

The other crappy thing about Friday night was that the White Sox managed to come back and win their game in the 9th, and the Yankees easily took care of the D-Rays. Which means the Twins lose a game on both. It's way too early to be thinking about any of that, but well, I'm human.

Today's matchup features the streaking Brad Radke (9-7, 4.74 ERA) vs. Nate Robertson (9-6, 3.70 ERA). This is a bigger game for the Twins than the Tigers, not only because of the standings, but because I believe Detroit has now won 8 of 10 against the Twins this year. I don't think the Twins will lose confidence or anything if they lose this game, but well, it'd be nice to have a shot at taking 2 of 3 from the best team in baseball with Johan Santana on the mound.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Interview with a Tigers fan

At one point I declared Ian from Sweaty Men Endeavors to be my superior in all things, and for one day at least, he will take over this blog.

With the Twins and Tigers starting a 3-game series today in Minnesta, I have asked Ian 5 questions I wanted to know about the Tigers, and he asked me 5 questions about the Twins (which you'll be able to see at his blog). So alas, here they are, helping you learn a little bit more about those MLB-leading Tigers.

Me: What's the single biggest reason for the Tigers surge from middle-of-the-pack to best team in baseball?
Ian: Pitching, pitching, pitching. Virtually every night, the Tigers get a quality start, so even when the lineup needs a few innings to put some runs on the board, they're still in the game. I think the starters also benefit from knowing they only have to go about six innings before the game is turned over to the bullpen, and those guys don't give up the lead very often. The whole staff is pretty relentless on the opposition. Just when those hitters think they might have Kenny Rogers figured out for their third trip to the plate, here comes Joel Zumaya firing rockets. The bullpen can give hitters a different look each time they're up. Considering how poor the pitching has been in Detroit over the years, it's really been amazing to watch.

Me: Should the Tigers make a big move and acquire a guy like Alfonso Soriano, Bobby Abreu, or Carlos Lee?
Ian: You know, I might be in the minority on this, but I lean toward the "If it ain't broke, why fix it?" mindset. It's not so much that I don't want to see the Tigers give up top pitching prospects, because that's one reason you build up that kind of commodity. And Dave Dombrowski's done a great job of keeping that pipeline fresh. The Tigers have just been playing so well that you almost can't imagine they could get better.

Yet there's also the side that says you have to go for it when you get the chance. Between the development of the younger players and the solid play from the veterans, everything's come together so well this season, and there's no guarantee it'll happen again. These windows don't stay open very long, so if the Tigers have a chance to make themselves a better team, one that contends for a championship, then they absolutely should do it. Even if it costs them a piece of the future. Abreu seems like he'd be the best fit with his left-handed bat, speed, defense, and on-base percentage. Yet Soriano - who's been the hot name, because you know Washington wants and needs to trade him - would be leading the team in virtually every offensive category if he were here.

Ultimately, I think the Tigers will make a move that looks underwhelming on paper - bringing in a Matt Stairs-John Mabry-David Dellucci type of player - but will fill an important role for the Tigers, giving them a left-handed bat that Leyland can shuffle among the corner outfield spots and first base.

Me: Todd Jones has struggled a bit this year, while younger guys like Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney have been more consistent? Who should the Tigers closer be?
Ian: I know Jones has taken a lot of flack from fans because it's never easy with him and he doesn't inspire a lot of confidence when he comes in for the ninth inning. But he's been very good lately, getting a lot of 1-2-3 innings, while lowering his ERA and WHIP numbers. Meanwhile, Rodney's been shaky and walking a lot of hitters. Many people think something's wrong with his mechanics. I think it was Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press who said Jones is simply best suited for the ninth inning because he relies on fooling hitters and getting them to make contact. If the bases are loaded with one out in the seventh, Jones won't come in and strike out the next two batters, which is what you need in that situation. That's what Zumaya does.

Sabermetricians have often said that managers shouldn't just save their best relievers for the ninth inning, because that's not always when they're needed most, and Jim Leyland is proving them right. As silly as this might sound, the Tigers would waste Zumaya if they only used him as the closer. He helps the team more in his current role, striking out batters in tough situations, or going two innings when needed. Some of Jones' saves might come after three fly balls caught on the warning track, but he somehow gets those last three outs.

Me: If the Tigers make the playoffs, who should get the ball in Game 1?
Ian: If the playoffs started next week, I'd make Justin Verlander the guy for Game 1. He's been the Tigers' best starting pitcher lately. His last six starts have been dominant. But there's a lot of concern about him eventually breaking down as he pitches more innings than he ever has before. Kenny Rogers might make the most sense, in terms of experience, but history says he's not very good in the second half of the season.

So that leaves Jeremy Bonderman. He's the best combination of experience and youth, with the kind of stuff that can mow down a lineup early in a game and set a tone for the rest of the series. And if he didn't work out, then you can bring in a veteran like Rogers to start in Game 2 and hopefully provide a steadying influence for the pitching staff. Jim Leyland has a lot of options to play with for a seven-game series. It's exciting to think about.

Me: Who's winning the AL Wildcard (be honest)?
Ian: At this point, it's hard to pick against the Twins. They looked dead in April and May, but very quietly (at least from Detroit's vantage point) began to make a run. And it was like people began tapping each other on the shoulders, saying "Hey, do you see what Minnesota is doing?" Then the Twins were like that horde you could see a few miles away on the horizon. What is that? Are they coming? We'd better get ready. But now, after sweeping Chicago, the day many of us anticipated has finally arrived. They're tied with the White Sox, right behind the Yankees in the wild-card standings, and to the Tigers fans that have been paying attention, the Twins look scary as hell - especially with that starting pitching.

Having said all that, however, I'm still going with the White Sox. I know they've been in a tailspin since the All-Star break, and their starting pitching - especially Buehrle and Garcia - looks messy right now. But to me, they've been the best team in the AL Central from the beginning. I still can't believe they're as far behind the Tigers as they are. I almost have to slap myself each time I look at the standings. And if Kenny Williams can make a big deal at the trade deadline - something he's been very good at in the past - I think they'll turn things around and get right back in this. Not that they're out of it, of course. It's more like they fell back into a race with the Twins and Yankees. And it's going to be fun to watch for the rest of this season.

Friday's game starts at 7:10 CDT.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

How sweep it is to be able to win on the road

Coming into the 6-game roadtrip: 17-29 on the road, 4 games out of WC behind White Sox

Coming out of 6-game roadtrip: 22-30 on the road, 0.5 games out of WC behind Yankees

Combine that with the best home record in baseball, and maybe we have something here. Like a 34-8 record in the team's past 42 games.

Although unquestionably a 3-game sweep of the hated White Sox in Chicago has to be the best part of the season so far. Especially since the Twins win on Wednesday featured the inconsistent (to put it nicely) Carlos Silva going up against the All-Star Mark Buehrle.

With the game knotted at 3, Justin Morneau jumped on the first pitch he saw from Mark Buehrle in the 5th for a deep HR to right, which gave the Twins a 5-3 lead they wouldn't give back. This was just another example of how much better Morneau has been this year against lefties, and it's showing as he now has 27 HR.

The bullpen was again strong, as it usually is. Pat Neshek did give up his first run of the year, which raised the ERA from 0.00 to a whopping 1.08. Reyes got 2 outs to put his ERA at 1.33, Rincon pitched a scoreless 8th to lower his ERA to 1.95, and Joe Nathan showed no ill-effects of his long inning Tuesday, as he pitched a perfect ninth for his 21st save and lowered the ERA to 1.47.

Best bullpen in baseball? I think so.

The Twins have the day off Thursday before heading back home for a 3-game set with Detroit. For more information on that series and both teams, you can check out Complete Sports. Francisco Liriano will look to continue his dominance Friday, while Brad Radke will get the ball Saturday, and Johan Santana will pitch the series finale. Let's home for similar results as we've gotten lately!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Running out of superlatives...

... for Joe Mauer.

3-2 ballgame, facing one of the toughest lefties in baseball, having never hit a HR off of a lefty in his career... well, how about a 3-run bomb to dead center field? I suppose that'll work.

And that was the ballgame, as it gave the Twins the 6-2 lead and with the Twins bullpen, effectively took the Sox out of the game. Also hitting HR fro the Twins in the 6th inning were Michael Cuddyer with a 2-run blast followed by a Justin Morneau solo HR, giving the Twins a lead they wouldn't relinquish. It's nice to actually see some power from the 3-4-5 hitters of the Minnesota Twins. That's something we haven't been able to say for a while.

Pitching-wise, Brad Radke continued to pitch great amid the news that he will retire at the end of the year. He gave up 2 solo HR, but otherwise he pitced 6 solid innings, and comes away with his 9th victory. He's now at 9-7, and the ERA continues to go down, now at 4.74.

The Twins are now just 2 (two) games out of the Wildcard... who'd have thought that midway through May? Johan Cytana will take the mound against the suddenly beatable Jose Contreras. Don't miss it!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Once again, The Sabean Special

We got our 5th example of The Sabean Special as the Twins beat the Indians 3-1 on Sunday, to take 2 of 3 from Cleveland in the series.

Liriano was only able to go 5 innings, as his pitch count got up to 95 quickly, but he did strike out 10 batters while giving up 1 run, to put his ERA at 1.93. Pat Neshek came on after him, and his impressive run continued with 1.2 shutout innings in relief. Dennis Reyes pitched to 2 batters and struck out both of them, Juan Rincon got 2 batters out in the 8th, and then Joe Nathan finished the job in the 9th.

Nathan allowed a leadoff single in the 9th before getting Joe Inglett to fly out. After that, he had had enough, and struck out Ramon Vazquez and Grady Sizemore to end the game.

The Win for Liriano pushes his record to 12-2, while Joe Nathan picked up his 19th save. All in all, when you can take 2 of 3 on the road against a talented team, that's something I'll take anyday.

The Sabean Special Count: 5

Brad Radke to retire at the end of the year

According to Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune, Brad Radke plans to retire at the end of the year due to a shoulder injury that would require surgery.

Brad Radke has compiled an outstanding record of 7-1 in his past eight starts even though he is pitching with a right shoulder that would need surgery after the season if he continues to play baseball.

Radke has been vacillating on whether he will retire, but he said he is building a new home in Florida and doesn't have plans for surgery. The veteran Twins righthander told me his plans now are to retire after this year.

Radke's been showing signs of decline, but this is certainly not good to see.

I think I speak for all Twins fans when I say I admire the effort Brad is giving, especially with the obvious pain in the shoulder. So here's to you Brd, one tough SOB. Hopefully he can finish out the year strong, and go on to live a long and happy life.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Twins: High octane offense?

Well, for one night at least.

14 runs, 18 hits, and 0 HR. I think the Twins might be the only team that can pull that off. But HR or no HR, the great offensive display was more than enough to get by a shady outing from Carlos Silva and give the Twins their 8th straight victory, putting them now only 3 games behind the White Sox for the Wildcard lead.

The Twins used an 8 run 4th inning to put some distance between them and Cleveland, and then tacked on a couple more in the 6th, 2 more in the 7th, and another one in the 9th for good measure. Though by that point the game was pretty well in hand, obviously.

I could list all of the solid Twins individual performances, but I'd pretty much have to list everyone from the offense. Put it this way - everyone had at least 1 hit except for Jason Bartlett... who hit 2 sac flies.

The biggest thing about this game, I think, is that the Twins actually won on the road. We all know about their 37-11 home record, best in baseball, but this win improves their record on the road to just 18-29, which isn't all that good. If the Twins can continue to play good baseball at home and at least go .500 on the road, thinks will be looking solid for the rest of the year. So this is at least a good start.

Saturday pits Scott Baker in his 2nd start since being recalled up against Jeremy Sowers for the Angels. Neither has an ERA under 5.89, so we could get a lot of runs again. As long as we get the same result, I'm certainly happy with that!

By the way, updated wildcard standings for anyone interested:

Chicago White Sox: 58-37 / -
New York Yankees: 55-39 / 2.5 GB
Minnesota Twins: 55-40 / 3 GB
Toronto Blue Jays: 54-42 / 4.5 GB

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Liriano outduels Kazmir

Francisco Liriano has already outdueled Roger Clemens this year. This time, it was his turn to outpitch Scott Kazmir, one of the top young pitchers in the MLB., which he did in the Twins 8-1 victory.

Ok, so he should have had the CG shutout, and would have had Terry Tiffee not committed a 9th inning error (is it too early to ask for Erubiel Durazo to replace Tiffee?), but 8 2/3 innings giving up only 3 hits and 1 unearned run, well, that's also swell. Liriano had some control problems in his last start, but there were no such problems on this night, as Liriano walked 0 batters and struck out 7. His MLB-leading ERA dropped down to 1.94, which is pretty good. As Aaron Gleeman writes, he is now 10-2 with a 1.58 ERA since he joined the rotation. For a very thorough and interesting analysis of how both pitchers were in this game, check out Seth Speaks.

Offensively... well, I can live with 8 runs. Justin Morneau continues to impress, with his 25th HR of the year. He's just the 7th guy since 1987 to do that for the Twins. He's also up to 78 RBI. Joe Mauer is also officially back on track, as he went 2/4 Tuesday with a couple RBI. After a slight dip in the BA, it's now back to .376.

The other big offense surprise this year has been Nick Punto, who has surprisingly been superb for the Twins. He kickstarted things with a triple in the first inning, had a sac fly later, and also had a 2-run single. All in all, 2/3 Tuesday to up the average to .311 to go along with a good OBP and solid defense at 3rd. Yeah, I'll take that. I think most Twins have about the same feeling as Twins Without Spin... as in, this was hard to see coming.

The one recurring theme in this point is that the young guys continue to produce, which is the biggest reason the Twins are back in the playoff race with at least some chance. Now at 5 straight wins, their record stands at 52-40, 9.5 games behind Detroit and 6 games behind the White Sox.

Hey, you never know!

Monday, July 17, 2006

3 out of 4 ain't bad

Just keep winning series'. That's all the Twins should be thinking now.

And with the 5-2 victory on Sunday, that's what the Twins were able to do on Sunday, is win the series.

They got the win thanks to good starting pitching, power from some unusual sources, and another nice night for Jason Tyner. Carlos Silva, coming off injury in his last start, Silva was on his game today, pitching 6 innings and giving up 2 runs. As it usually is when thing are going well, he didn't walk anyone. This improves his numbers on the year to [cringe] 5-9 with a 6.79 ERA. But hey, you have to start somewhere.

Offensively, the tone was set by a leadoff HR from light-hitting Luis Castillo, his 3rd of the year. Mike Cuddyer hit his 12th of the year in the 4th, and then the Twins got some luck to score a couple more in the 4th. After a Justin Morneau walk, Rondell White hit a 'Metrodome Double' to put runners at 2nd and 3rd. That was when Jason Tyner, who has been all that is man since the callup, had a 2-RBI single. Tyner is now batting .500 after 3 games.

Rondell White added an insurance run with a solo blast in the 7th (Rondell's 1st of the year, sadly), but it wasn't even necessary for the bullpen that has been stingy all year. Jesse Crain pitched a couple of scoreless innings for the hold, and Joe Nathan came on in the 9th for his 16th save, lowering his ERA to 1.66 in the process.

Around the division, Sunday was a perfect day for the Twins. The Tigers finally lost, as Joey Gathright had a big day as the Royals beat the Tigers 9-6, and the Yanks earned a sweep of the White Sox as Mariano Rivera got his 400th save.

The Twins are now 11 games behind the Tigers for the division and only 6.5 games behind the White Sox for the Wildcard (although the Yankees and Blue Jays also stand in their way.

Another positive for the Twins... if they win in the next few days, they're guaranteed to gain ground on either the Sox or Tigers, as they play each other. Scott Baker will start for the first time since he was recalled, and will go against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who will send Tim Corcoran to the mound. Other pitching matchups:

Tuesday: Francisco Liriano (10-2, 2.12 ERA) vs. Scott Kazmir (10-6, 3.27 ERA)
Wednesday: Brad Radke (7-7, 4.97 ERA) vs. Jae Seo (207, 5.07 ERA)
Thursday: Johan Santana (10-5, 2.93 ERA) vs. James Shields (4-3, 5.37 ERA)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

It must be the 2nd half of the season

How do I know? Well, besides looking at a calendar, I can just tell by the way Johan is pitching. The past of seasons he's been an unstoppable rebel force in the 2nd half of the year, and this isn't a bad start this time around. 7 IP, 2 ER, 7 K, and his 10th win of the year.

The big contributor on offense was once again Justin Morneau. 3/4 and a solo HR (#24 on the year). Wasn't it just last year that Morneau couldn't hit lefties to save his life? Good to see that Batting Average climb back over .300.

But besides Morneau and Santana, it wasn't just the usual suspects for the Twins contributing to this win. Nick Punto hit a big double early in the game. Jason Tyner had a couple more hits. Mike Redmond drove Punto in with a Sac Fly. Denys Reyes continued to mow down hitters with a scoreless 9th. It was a team effort here.

Unfortunately, some of that team may not be in the best of shape at the moment. Jason Kubel's still got sore knees, Lew Ford just went on the DL, and Shannon Stewart and Torii Hunter left the game early on Saturday. So uh, does anyone have a spare outfielder? Twins Without Spin made an interesting suggestion - maybe a little bit of Denard Span if Torii Hunter is forced to go to the DL. Sure, Span's in AA, but it might be interesting. One thing we do know is that Rondell White will be back. Let's hope he's gotten past the mysterious awfulness that plagued him earlier this year.

On another good note, the Yankees beat the White Sox again, putting the Twins just 7.5 games back of the Wildcard. So there's still a light at the end of the tunnel, however dim it may be.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Instant Offense

Ok, so it may be obvious that Jason Tyner is not a long-term solution in the OF. But I'm certainly not complaining about him being up here.

All Tyner did in his first day up from AAA after Lew Ford was placed on the DL was go 2/5, get 2 RBI, and hit the game-winning single in the bottom of the 10th. Tyner hasn't exactly been a star in his career, but for one night at least, he was the hero for the Twins.

Of course, much credit deserves to go to Brad Radke and the bullpen, who held the potent Cleveland offense to 2 run in the 10 innings. Brad Radke pitched very well for 7 innings, allowing only 2 runs on a HR by Jason Michaels. This finally brings the ERA down under 5, but more importantly he just threw the ball really well, and I don't think anyone will complain if we see more outings like this.

In the pen, Juan Rincon continued his sterling year with 1.1 scoreless innings, then Reyes came on to finish the 9th, and Joe Nathan pitched a shutout 10th to lower the ERA to 1.70 and improve his record to a perfect 6-0.

For other cool Twins stuff that doesn't relate to the game, check out Seth Speaks for a really cool interview with Twins prospect Kevin Slowey, who I declared the Twins best Minor League Pitcher of the First Half. Always great to get a feel for the young guys coming up!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Well, it was bound to happen

I suppose Liriano struggling in a start was bound to happen at some point. Thursday against Cleveland, it did. The culprits were mostly just Liriano himself having trouble finding the strike zone, and the Indians knocking a couple of balls out of the park against Liriano.

Liriano walked 3 men in 5 innings, but he also throw 40 balls (compared to 57 strikes) which really drove up the pitch count. He also gave up solo HR to Casey Blake, Jhonny Peralta, and Travis Hafner (the best hitter in the AL). By the time the smoke cleared, he had given up 5 runs (4 ER), and struck out 6 in his 5 innings of work, raising the ERA to 2.12 (which, if you're following along at home, is pretty darn good).

The Twins offense, despite valiant efforts later in the game, could not overcome this deficit. Cuddyer, Morneau, and Punto got some RBI, but the Twins couldn't muster quite enough big hits in the 6-4 loss.

One good thing coming out of this game is that Kyle Lohse pitched 2 shutout innings giving up only 1 hit, which should increase his trade value if any team out there is looking for any type of pitching. Sure, the ERA is over 7, but hopefully some team is really desparate! A million dollar arm and a ten cent head? Perhaps. But maybe that's enough for someone.

Twins face the Indians again Friday with Brad Radke taking the mound. Maybe the wily veteran can get the Twins off on another winning streak. Without Detroit winning again, something needs to happen soon if the Twins are to have any chance.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Twins Midseason Awards

Now that we just passed the All-Star Break, I figured now was a good time to do some Midseason Twins Awards. So let's have at it:

Twins MVP: Joe Mauer - Justin Morneau has been especially studly lately, but no one can top the job Mauer has done offensively and defensively in the first half. His batting AVG is tops in the Majors, his OBP is far and away best on the team, and he is 2nd behind only Morneau in SLG %. Defensively, he's been a rock behind the plate. What's not to like?

Twins Cy Young: Johan Santana - This is obviously up for much debate with the way that Liriano has pitched this year, but I'd still give it to Johan. Despite the ERA difference, I think the fact that Johan has pitched 43 more innings than Liriano (through no fault of Francisco) makes him more valuable. Add in the high K rate, and very good K/BB ratio, and I'll go with Johan.

Twins ROY: Francisco Liriano - Next.

Minor League Hitter First-Half MVP: Alex Romero - He has struggled mightily in the 20 games since he got called up to AAA, but he was hitting very well in AA to start the year. In AA he had hit a few HR, but was also hitting doubles, drawing walks, and was dangerous on the basepaths with 15 steals. At only 22, it's hopefully just a matter of time before he can start to hit better at AAA and eventually make it to the Big Show.

Minor League Pitcher First-Half MVP: Kevin Slowey - His numbers in A were downright disgusting - 1.01 ERA, 11:1 K/BB ratio - before he got called up to New Britain. Now, in 3 starts, the ERA sits at 3.00, but that 17 strikeouts/1 BB suggests things are going just fine for the 22 year old.

Who are your picks?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

It took an injury; but Liriano is in!

Ok, so he should have been in on the original picks for the All-Star game, or after the voting for the 32nd man when he got beat out by AJ Pierzynski, but as Twinkie Town says... better late than never!

As I wrote about on Saturday, Liriano currently leads the American League in simple pitching stats such as: Earned Run Average, Strikeouts per 9 Innings, and WHIP. So why was he left off? Only God knows, and maybe Ozzie. But that's not important right now.

The important thing is that because of Jose Contreras bowing out of the game, Francisco Liriano is officially an All-Star. It'll definitely be fun to see the young guy pitch in the big stage again, even if it means we'll have to wait a couple of days after the break to watch him start.

As you probably know, Liriano will be the third member of the Twins to make the All-Star team, joining Joe Mauer and Johan Santana. That's pretty good company.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

This man is not an American League All-Star

Another start, another dominating performance for Francisco Liriano. This time, it comes in the best hitter's park in the American League, with Liriano dishing out 7 sterling innings, stirking out 8, and lowering his ERA to 1.83. With the win, he is now 10-1, becoming one of just 11 pitchers in the American League with double-digit wins, even though he hasn't been starting all year. As usual, let's go over some numbers:

1. Francisco Liriano - 1.83
2. Johan Santana - 2.76

3. John Lackey - 2.88
4. Justin Verlander - 3.01
5. Roy Halladay - 3.02

AL K/9
1. Francisco Liriano - 10.39
2. Scott Kazmir - 9.73
3. Johan Santana - 9.51
4. Felix Hernandez - 8.51
5. Ted Lilly - 8.41

1. Francisco Liriano - 0.97
2. Johan Santana - 0.99
3. John Lackey - 1.02
4. Mike Mussina - 1.04
5. Roy Halladay - 1.05

Not too shabby.

Offensively, it wasn't a great day for the Twins, but they did pound out 14 hits. One of them was a solo HR by Torii Hunter, his 14th of the year. Jason Bartlett and Shannon Stewart got the rest of the RBI in the 4-0 victory.

In the rest of the division, the Sox lost again to Boston, putting Minnesota 8 games behind them for the wildcard. However, it appears the Tigers may never lose. They beat Seattle again, leaving the Twins still 11 games behind them at this point.

On the hill Sunday for the Twins will be Johan Cytana pitching against the always dangerous John Koronka! The Twins will look to head into the break into a high note, and maybe cut the lead down to 10.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

So much for that pitching

And things looked to be going so well on all fronts just a few days ago... but now, with another poor outing from Silva (and an injury), and a 3rd straight loss, dropping the Twins back to 11 games behind the Tigers, things once again look bleak as far as playoff potential goes.

As always seems to happen, the Twins definitely struggled in Texas, dropping the game 9-4 on Friday. Carlos Silva was able to get 5 (five) outs, and he allowed the same number of runs in that time. Willie Eyre came in and actually did worse, allowing 3 ER over 0.2 innings. (Free Scott Baker!) Things got better from there, but the damage was done.

But things weren't all bad on the pitching front... we got our first look at Pat Neshek, who definitely impressed, as expected. Neshek pitched 2 shutout innings and struck out one. As Aaron Gleeman says, we probably should have seen this earlier.

Offensively, the fireballer that is John Wasdin did enough for the win, namely going 5 innings. After that, the ragtag bullpen of the Rangers was easily able to hold the Twins down. Things weren't all bad - the 3 Js (Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, and Jason Kubel) - each took one of out the park, but they couldn't muster anything consistent. Morneau was the best of the day, as he also had an RBI double early in the game, to bump his RBI total up to 73 when he heard his 23rd homerun.

The loss leaves the Twins at 16-28 so far this year on the road (compared to 30-10 at home), which means that maybe it's about time to stop watching the Twins road games this year. I understand teams play better at home than on the road, but that is something else.

Anyway, the Twins send Francisco Liriano to the mound Saturday to face John Rheinecker of the Rangers. With "The Iceman" pitching Saturday, and Johan going in the series finale, the Twins need a couple of wins here to close it out before the break and get some momentum for the second half.

Friday, July 07, 2006

AJ Pierzynski must be better than Francisco Liriano

Ok, obviously that's not how these things work (like, not at all), but still, this seems like some kind of joke.

As mentioned elsewhere, I would understand certainly if Travis Hafner got the final spot over Liriano - Hafner is after all the best hitter so far this year in the AL - but losing to Pierzynski sucks. I still like AJ, but there's no way he desevres this over Liriano (now, he should have just been on over Pudge... thanks fans!)

Liriano is, after all, 9-1 with a 1.99 ERA, and he's struck out 94 batters in 81.1 innings pitched. I've gone over that before. Let's look at Pierzynski's stats:

.325 AVG/.369 OBP/.454 SLG/6 HR and 29 RBI. As I said, not bad numbers by any means. But downright laughable when you compare them to Hafner. So let's do that, because everyone needs to laugh more.

Hafner's OBP is 92 points higher than AJ's, his slugging his 198 points higher than AJ's, and he has 19 more HR and 51 more RBI than Pierzynski. I mean, it's not even close.

But I suppose I just sound like a sore loser.

In a way though, this probably helps the Twins in the regular season, because it should allow Liriano to start the first game after the All-Star break, which he otherwise would not have been able to do (if he had pitched in the ASG). So he has that going for him, which is nice.

But still, it would have been nice to see another bright young star for the Twins playing in the Midseason Classic.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Wait.... 2 of 3 to the Royals?

Coming in, the Twins had lost 1 game in their previous 20. Coming out, they've lost 2 in 2 days.

So it is in the MLB, where momemtum can change at the drop of a hat. Instead of coasting into Texas sitting about 8 games back, they're 10 back of the Tigers and 8.5 back of the Sox, and up to some of their old tricks... poor pitching, inconsistent hitting.

That summed things up for the Twins in their 6-3 loss to the Royals. The Twins pitchers gave up 14 total hits, Radke could only go 5, and the bullpen gave up 3 runs (1 ER each for Crain, Reyes, and Rincon). Offensively, they grounded into 2 double plays, and only Luis Castillo and Jason Bartlett had multiple hit days, so they couldn't string anything together.

But enough about the game, becuase we don't really want to talk about that. The other big Twins news is that Boof Bonser was optioned down to Rochester, though his replacement has not been named yet. There are many options, as TBL's thinking Scott Baker, and Twinkie Town shows there is basically three options. But one thing is for sure... do not put Kyle Lohse in the rotation!!

The other big news for the Twins is that as of this writing, Francisco Liriano leads the balloting for the 32nd Man. Like the Nick & Nick Twins Blog, I'm optimistic about his chances because of all this attention from the media.

But it still needs to be said... VOTE FOR LIRIANO!

Twins will have the day off Thursday before heading to Texas for a 3-game set right before the break. Taking at least 2 of 3 is imperative, especially with Liriano on the hill Saturday and Johan on Sunday. Hopefully the luck will come back in the Twins favor!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy 4th of July!

I don't know if anyone will actually come to read this on the 4th of July (but if you do, thank you very much!), but well, Happy 4th of July, especially for those in the USA (obviously).

Stay safe, and have a great holiday!

Johan struggles; Twins couldn't care less

By Johan's terms, he struggled in the opener against the Royals. Just 5.2 innings, but he gave up 4 ER, walked 3, hit 1, and struck out 7. When he left the game, the Twins were down 5-3. "Tonight I failed to do my job, but they picked me up big time," Santana said. "We found a way to win the game and that's all that mattered."

But I think the Twins appreciated the challenge.

After a wild 8th innings in which the Twins scored 3 runs thanks to some wild pitches and poor throws from the Royals, the Twins led 6-5. And then came Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan, who shut the door. Nathan now has 15 saves on the season.

Offensively, Justin Morneau continued his onslaught, knocking out his 22nd HR of the year. He also had a key hit in the 8th to extend the inning, and now sits at 71 RBI for the year. He's also creeping closer and closer to that .300 mark, with the average at .298. Raise your hand if you thought you'd be seeing those number from Morneau at the halfway mark.

And finally, Joe Mauer, playing sick, got another HR. Although the average dropped as he was only 1/3, he sits and .391, far and away the best in the Majors.

On the holiday the Twins will send Boof Bonser to the mound to take on Jimmy Gobble of the Royals. The Twins have now won 11 straight and 19 out of 20, putting them only 9 behind the Tigers for the division lead and 6.5 behind the White Sox in the wildcard race. Let's keep it going!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Thank you sir may I have another?

Do I hear 10 wins in a row?! Yes, yes I do!

And just like that, in what seems like a blink of an eye, the Twins stand at 45-35, just 10 games behind Detroit for the division lead and 7.5 games behind the White Sox for the wildcard lead.

Francisco Liriano has set the bar pretty high for himself with in his first half season, but he had perhaps the best performance of his young career on Sunday, as he blanked the Brew Crew for 8 innings, giving up only 3 hits and striking out a career-high 12 in the Twins 8-0 victory. This brings his ERA down to a microscopic 1.99, and now that he has enough innings to qualify, this is the best in the Majors. Let's look at some lists here as far as AL pitching goes:

AL ERA Leaders
1) Francisco Liriano - MIN - 1.99

2) Johan Santana - MIN - 2.59
3) John Lackey - ANA - 3.12
4) Jeremy Bonderman - DET - 3.13
5) Nate Robertson - DET - 3.14

AL Strikeout Leaders
1) Johan Santana - MIN - 124
2) Scott Kazmir - TB - 108
3) Jeremy Bonderman - DET - 107
4) Mike Mussina - NYY - 104
5) Curt Schilling - BOS - 102
6) Francisco Liriano - MIN - 94
(Keep in mind Liriano has pitched at least about 20 innings less than anyone else on the list)

AL K/9 Leaders
1) Francisco Liriano - MIN - 10.40
2) Scott Kazmir - TB - 9.69
3) Johan Santana - MIN - 9.43
4) Jeremy Bonderman - DET - 8.68
5) Felix Hernandez - SEA - 8.54

Of course, he also leads the League in Opponents SLG and is up there in lots of other categories, so I could go on, but I think you get the point. Oh yeah, and he's 22. VOTE FOR LIRIANO!

As for the team in July, how about having the AL Player of the Month (Joe Mauer), the AL Pitcher of the Month (Johan Santana), and the AL Rookie of the Month (Francisco Liriano). Not bad for a team that's 10 games back.

The Twins now travel to Kansas City to start a 3-game set with the Royals and All-Star Mike Redman (*snicker*). In the first game, we'll have the aforementioned Johan Santana (9-4, 2.59) taking on Scott Elarton (3-9, 5.13). The Sox will take on Baltimore and the Tigers will travel to Oakland, so on paper the Twins have the best matchup, let's just hope they can continue this hot streak.

And for the record, the Twins finish with a 16-2 record in interleague play. That's a nice little boost!

2 Twins invited to the All-Star Game

With the All-Star team rosters announced, 2 Twins have made the original roster - Johan Santana and Joe Mauer. These two were basically slam dunk picks - Santana is arguably the best pitcher in the MLB, and Mauer is the best catcher in the MLB, but I'm glad to see they're officially in.

As for this 32nd man business, as you probably know, Francisco Liriano is one of the 5 candidates for that, which you can vote on now. As you can tell from the very nice picture on Bat-Girl, Liriano deserves the spot! Vote for Francisco (more on him in the next post!)

Anyway, I just wanted to recognize the achievements of Johan Santana and Joe Mauer, two special player who make the Twins a fun team to watch. I'm sure they'll represent the Twins well in Pittsburgh, as well as Liriano if he can win the vote. So vote early and vote often for Francisco Liriano!