Saturday, April 30, 2011

It has to get better, right?

I said a couple weeks ago that things can only get better for the Twins. Well, that doesn't seem to be happening just yet.

After beating the red-hot Cleveland Indians for a couple games to go on a mini winning streak last week, the Twins turned in their worst performance of the season in a chilly, home series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

The first game didn't happen due to rain (Ma Nature is going to offer serious payback for the good weather during Target Field's inaugural season.), and it wasn't long into the first game the two teams played that I dubbed this "a series to forget."

Forgettable Thursday
The doubleheader on Thursday was absolutely pathetic. I had trouble looking at the Tweets during the day game because the news just kept getting worse. A 15-3 beating. Tampa's Ben Zobrist went nuts with 10 RBI on Thursday alone.

Then in the nightcap, improvement was still no where to be found for the Twins. It took until the seventh inning before the they scratched across their first hit, and then a measly run. The stats from these games were just ridiculous, in a negative way.

Good old KC... not
Next up was a trip to Kansas City, a place where the Twins have always felt welcome. But these April Royals aren't the normal pushovers, and they took the first two games. A 4-3 win Friday, and a score-deceiving 11-2 win Saturday. Errors and bullpen trouble led to an eight-run bottom of the eighth, blowing a tight game out of the water.

The injury concerns are still present as well. Delmon Young went on the disabled list this week. Jim Thome and Jason Repko were out for a game with strained muscles (stretching, anyone?). Joe Mauer's return is anyone's guess, although it's probably later rather than sooner.

It was so bad this week that the Twins only had one healthy bench player for a game, before making a couple roster moves. Plus, the flu bug has now hit Carl Pavano, along with Justin Morneau and Mauer this season.

Casilla is the James Sheppard of the Twins
I'm probably going to start writing as much about Alexi Casilla as I do about James Sheppard for the Wild, in a negative light, of course. Casilla's play in the infield is baffling at times, especially for a guy who isn't a rookie. He's 26 and has been up and down with the Twins for a few years now.

The Twins infielders have had to step up with the injury to Tsuyoshi Nishioka, but Casilla is still not getting it done out there. He makes poor decisions and his bat is nothing to write home about either.

Last Sunday, he made a base running mistake that most little leaguers would avoid. He tried to score from second on a single to right field but was tagged out before reaching home. On his turn at third base, he made no attempt to look at the third base coach but was instead looking at the direction of the ball.

That's why you have a base coach, Casilla.

Enough is enough
The "it's still early" excuse is getting a little old. April baseball is done now and the Twins are 9-17, holders of the worst record in the American League. They are nine games back in the AL Central, the biggest margin of any division in the majors.

You've got to hand it to Michael Cuddyer though, a gamer who wants to play any position the manager asks him to. Cuddy has been stepping up this week and taking responsibility; no excuses, they need to play better baseball.

Maybe it's just the case that the Twins are hitting their injury, pitching, hitting and fielding slumps all at the same time, in the beginning of the season. Maybe they'll turn things around in May (or June). Maybe.

But if not, we're in for more painful-to-watch baseball more often than not.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

For the Twins, things just keep getting worse

Oh dear. If I thought the 2-4 start for the Twins was bad, it certainly hasn't gotten any better until this point either. From team-wide hitting slumps to injuries to blown saves, the Twins have provided their fans with a major slump to start off the first half of April.

The Twins haven't won a series yet, hold a 4-10 record, have lost four in a row and are in the American League Central Division basement. They have managed to win just one game in each series, and that's assuming they'll be able to salvage the final game of the four-game series in Tampa on Sunday.

I thought maybe the home opener last week would set a spark in motion for this ball club. While it did win its first game against Oakland, the hits and runs didn't get going until the eighth inning when they knocked in a couple for a 2-1 win on April 8.

Maybe the one bright spot in the homestand was a 4-3 walk-off win Tuesday over Kansas City when Danny Valencia came up with the bases juiced and knocked in the game-winning RBI single. But that game was followed up by a 10-5 loss.

Then the Twins went down to Tampa Bay to play in front of the huge crowds there. (Seriously, what's with the lack of interest in the Rays?) Tampa had also been struggling to score runs, so it was a battle between two teams looking to get the bats going. With three games in, Tampa has that battle won.

April 14, 2011: A day Twins fans would like to forget

Before the game even started, fans had reason to scratch their heads. Joe Mauer wouldn't be playing for the second game in a row because he needed to rest. That means Drew Butera was in, and therefore the Twins basically send eight guys to the plate.

Runs were hard to come by again, but Carl Pavano pitched a gem of a game, leaving after eight innings with a 2-0 lead. All they had to do was finish off the Rays in the ninth. Enter "closer" Joe Nathan.

With a couple guys on and a hard-hit double, the game was tied 2-2 through nine innings. That was blown save No. 1 of the night. Valencia again tried to be the hero with an RBI single in the 10th inning, but then Matt Capps (closer No. 2) allowed a walk-off two-run homer by Johnny Damon to give the Twins a tough 4-3 loss. Blown save No. 2 of the night.

Following the game, it was announced that Mauer would be going on the 15-day disable list with "bilateral leg weakness," whatever that means. So, not the greatest day for the Minnesota ball club.

More of the same on Saturday

After a 5-2 loss Friday night, the Twins fell again to the Rays as they did Thursday. Another blown save by Nathan, another starting pitcher with a no-decision (Scott Baker), another 4-3 loss, another walk-off hit from Damon. Capps gave up a run in the eighth for a 3-2 Twins lead when Nathan got the ball again in the ninth. The second pitch of the inning landed in the outfield seats to tie the score.

Nathan had trouble finding the plate, giving up two walks. He was yanked for Jose Mijares, who also had trouble finding the zone. With two runners on, both Nathan's responsibility, Damon struck again with an RBI single to right field. Blown save No. 2 on the season and the game's loss went to Nathan, who also has an 8.44 ERA.

What do I think?

I think the Twins are in a huge funk. We're now halfway through April and these guys aren't showing me anything. Batting averages are pathetic, especially so early in the year. And I know "the book" says you go to your closer in the ninth, but what if you don't have a closer? Nathan and Capps need to figure things out, and fast.

I also think it was a mistake to have Nathan step right back into the closer role after being off for a year due to surgery. He wasn't exactly lights-out pre-2010 either, always making his outings interesting.

Tommy John surgery isn't like flipping a switch. Have the Twins forgotten about Francisco Liriano's first year after TJ surgery? It wasn't too pretty. Give Nathan chances to pitch, just not as the closer.

Bottom line for this team is that the bats need to get going. Somebody needs to step up and start carrying these guys. Right now, I don't care about the "big picture" argument that it's early in the season and they'll come around. It's pretty tough to watch your team perform this way on a consistent basis right at the start of the season.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Not the best start to 2011 for the Twins

The Minnesota Twins have yet to play a game at Target Field this season, and it's already been a rocky road for them. They will kick off their first homestand with a 2-4 record following trips to Toronto and the dreadful New York.

I can hardly imagine a worse way to start the season than how the Twins started 2011 last Friday night against the Jays. What went wrong in that 13-3 loss? Well, let's see: A misplayed rundown, an error, a hit batter, walks, walking in a run following a double steal, a balk and giving up four runs. And that was just in the bottom of the first.

Yes, it was just the first inning of the first game of a 162-game season. But that first inning, and the whole game, was brutal. Baseball fans waited six months for this? With a 13-3 score, I won't go into the rest of the details.

Things didn't get better

Saturday's game really wasn't much different for the Twins. Sure, they didn't have all the first-inning "jitters," and the score was a bit lower. But the equation was the same: Poor pitching with little hit/run support.

They finally managed a win with a salvaged game on Sunday, as they barely hung on to win 4-3. Joe Nathan came in for his first appearence since his surgery last year, and he had to make it interesting. He loaded the bases and gave up a run before getting the save. Too close for comfort, yet again. Thanks to Denard Span for his homer in the eighth inning.

That's why they call it an insurance run.

New York, and why is Mauer being rested?

Then, it was off to the Bronx to play four games against the Yankees. It turned out to be three with a rain-out on Wednesday, but the game that the Twins won was a good one. They finally got a clutch hit when Delmon Young hit a bloop, bases-clearing double to tie the score late at 4 apiece. Joe Mauer knocked in the run in the 10th to give the Twins the 5-4 victory.

Speaking of Mauer, he was rested Sunday and manager Ron Gardenhire also wanted to rest him on Wednesday. I understand his injury-filled past, but it's early in the season. And, oh yeah, he's on a $184 million contract. Let him play.

I'd also be curious to know how much other catchers around the league are rested, since they are playing the same physically-demanding position.

Nishi heads to the DL

Bad news for the newbie Tsuyoshi Nishioka. He's going on the disabled list after getting taken out in the field by Nick Swisher sliding into second. The result was a broken fibula. I hadn't been too impressed with Nishi so far, but a few games is not enough to decide his worth. Plus, I think he definitely had some butterflies out there.

All the experts are pointing to a clean slide from the Yankee Swisher, and if the rule is that he needs to be able to touch the bag, then I agree that it was clean. But I still don't have to like it. He's a Yankee and as a baseball fan of any other major league team, I reserve the right to dislike anything relating to the Yankees.

That's just one of those unwritten rules of baseball, right?