Nick Blackburn turned in another impressive performance tonight, but the offense couldn't string any hits together.
Even with a strong pitching performance to fall back on, a team can't expect a victory when the first six batters in your lineup combine to hit 2-21 in a game. Twins hitters reached base just five times in their game against the Oakland Athletics this evening, more than five times less than the team averaged last year.
Danny Valencia, Luke Hughes, and Alexi Casilla managed a hit apiece, and played about as well as you could expect. No, the problem is found in the top and middle of the lineup. Although expected to be among the league-leaders in offensive statistics, Minnesota has a team batting line of .210/.267/.297 and have scored the fourth-fewest runs in either league.
It's still early, but yikes!
The "small sample-size" label still applies, though things better start clicking soon for the Twins. Each of the 162 games counts towards the final standings, and in the always-competitive AL Central, this early offensive slump could very well prove the difference between first and second.
Let's take a look at each of the top six hitters in tonight's lineup, and attempt to diagnose their problems.
Playing in the safe, comfortable confines of Target Field didn't do much to rescue the Twins from their poor offensive play.
From errant pick-off throws to botched fieldwork, Minnesota wasn't at their best Friday afternoon. Save for the eighth-inning dramatics, a two-out rally in the first inning was essentially all the offense the Twins generated against the Oakland Athletics Friday afternoon, and the sell-out crowd in attendance to see Minnesota's home opener were no doubt disappointed by the mediocre offensive performance.
To be fair, the Athletics' Brett Anderson is one of the most talented young pitchers in the league, and he highlights a vastly-underrated Oakland starting rotation. Though he was aided by a couple of poor Minnesota at-bats, Anderson was firing on all cylinders Friday afternoon, reaching a two-ball count just a couple of times.
But the Twins finally got things going in the 8th inning, when Anderson started to tire. With two outs, pinch-hitter Jason Kubel proved he isn't totally useless against left-handed pitching, and advanced Danny Valencia to third on a single to right. Denard Span showed off his quick hands, plating the tying run.
Joe Mauer smacked an 0-1 pitch to left to score the go-ahead run. Justin Morneau nearly brought another run home, but an excellent catch by Josh Willingham in left field ended the inning.
In his first-ever appearance in Target Field, Joe Nathan ended the game to give the Twins their third victory of the year. Nathan allowed one runner to reach after a bleeding infield hit, and kept things dramatic in the 9th inning, but managed to record three outs and give his team their first home victory of the year.
Carl Pavano had a deceivingly-solid start against the Athletics. A walk, wild pitch, and off-target pick-off throw scored the only Athletic run of the game, but Pavano pitched very well in the following seven innings. Scattering just three hits in his eight innings of work, Pavano gave Minnesota their first quality start of the season.
But Anderson's dominance -- and a few lucky, rally-killing double plays -- kept the Twins offense at bay for much of the game, but the 23-year-old grew weary in the 8th inning, and Minnesota capitalized.
It's certainly nice to know that the Twins can hold their own against the best pitchers in the league, and didn't wither up and die when Anderson had retired over a dozen batters in a row. The Twins remained patient, waiting for their chance, and took advantage when the opportunity arose.
Pavano's start can certainly be given "gem" status, despite the rough start. The veteran pitcher will be needed to help shore up an inconsistent Minnesota rotation this year, and it was good to see that he's still capable of tossing eight four-hit innings.
- Alexi Casilla hasn't done himself any favors through the season's first seven games. If the young Dominican intends on keeping his gig as starting shortstop, he'll certainly need to hit more: a .486 OPS is tough to hide.
- Tsuyoshi Nishioka fractured his leg Thursday afternoon while trying to turn a double-play and avoid Nick Swisher's hard slide. Though he was placed on the disabled list immediately following the game, the Japanese second baseman received some good news today: his injury won't require surgery, and his leg won't be put in a cast. Hopefully Nishioka won't be out too long, and he'll get back to the starting lineup quickly.no comments
That's one way to get a monkey off your back.
The Twins did the impossible tonight, coming from behind to win a game in Yankee Stadium. Defeating the Yankees is a tough enough task -- Minnesota's only won four of the last 30 meetings -- but the Twins also defied their historicaly bad luck in Yankee Stadium, winning their seventh game there in nine years. Overcoming a four-run defecit only makes the victory sweeter.
The game started out as innocuously as all other games against the Yankees, with a three-run blast from Mark Teixeira. Starting pitcher Brian Duensing pitched well enough, but allowed enough Yankee batters to reach base to make the eventual New York home run a painful one. Add another solo shot from Andruw Jones, and the Twins were suddenly in a 4-0 hole with CC Sabathia starting to heat up. Sabathia finished his masterful night by retiring 17 straight Twins batters, leaving Minnesota to duel with New York's incredible bullpen.
Joba Chamberlain, Rafael Soriano, and Mariano Rivera (JoSoMo) shut down the Twins on Monday, but a vulnerability was found tonight. The mighty Yankees showed off a chink in their impenetrable armor, and Minnesota was able to capitalize. Soriano loaded the bases in the eighth inning and walked in a run, giving Delmon Young the opportunity to smack a three-run double on a bloop hit to right field.
Matt Capps did everything he could to prove he is worth his hefty pricetag, and Joe Mauer singled in a run in the 10th to give the Twins the lead. Joe Nathan closed things out in the bottom half of the inning, and the monkey was no longer clinging to the backs of the Minnesota Twins. Truthfully, the Twins didn't win as much as the Yankees lost.
But a win is a win, and in Yankee Stadium Minnesota will take any win they can. In the grand scheme of things, this game in early April doesn't mean much. It's the fifth game in a summer that will see the team take the field at least 156 more times, but this could be the most important victory the Twins have enjoyed in a long time.
The Twins' struggles against New York are at least partially pyscological -- even a poor team wins more than four of every thirty games against the Yankees -- and hopefully this dramatic victory will spur some enthusiasm in Minnesota. Again, it's still April. Over 150 games have yet to be played. But a come-from-behind victory against the Yankees in New York is something to remember.
Hopefully it won't be the last.no comments
Twins fans are nothing if not loyal.
Some may be negative or cynical, but all Twins fans look forward to each spring, regardless how many lost seasons they've endured. Generating excitement for the season is the one goal of the baseball offseason, and it's always carried out to perfection. Especially in Minnesota.
Last year, the Twins capitalized on the bottled-up anticipation, opening their season with a 5-2 record and getting an early jump on their competition. It was a perfect way to lead up to Target Field's first game, and showed that the offense was just as fired up as the fans were. Minnesota didn't hit at the same level they did for the rest of the season, but enjoyed a significantly better runs scored-to-allowed ratio.
Opening weeks may not shed much light on the outcome of the season to follow -- the World Series-winning Twins of '91 went 2-5 in their first seven games -- but it's an excellent opportunity for the team to springboard into the daily grind of the regular season. Though statistically insignificant, those first seven games occur at a time when raw emotion is rampant; success or failure will dictate the prevailing mood of the season to come.
In 2011, the Twins aren't exactly spreading the joys of optimism.
Four games have been played, and Minneosta sits at the bottom of the American League Central with a 1-3 record and a horrifying 11-26 runs scored-to-allowed ratio. Just 19 hits have been recorded by Twins hitters, roughly half the pace of the 2010 team. Patience hasn't been a virtue these last four days, either, as the 3-to-1 strikeout/walk ratio would make even Mark Reynolds blush.
In fact, these last four games have given the Twins a legitimate chance to claim the worst opening week performance in the last 20 years. Here is a public Google document with the relevent data. As the table shows, the Twins' runs scored-to-allow ratio in the first seven games has been better than the following season just six times over the last two decades. They have hit more frequently just eight times. Clealry, Minnesota teams are prone to slow starts.
Studying seven-game samples is an excellent way to learn nothing, however, and these results hardly correlate to a a season's outcome. Even so, it's an interesting trend to note, and may explain the rationale of that pessimistic Twins fan who lives two doors down.
The Twins rarely make good first impressions, but have consistently found ways to overcome the early defecits to advance to the top of their division. The poor performance this week may not be inspiring, but it holds little predictive value.no comments
This post is from Matt McCabe, a sports writer for the St. James Plainsdealer and an occasional contributer to TwinsTarget.com. Below is a conversation he had with another Twins fan, D.L. Bergeman. Though I don't agree with everything printed below, it does provide an interesting take on two Twins' fans opinions. Thanks for this, Matt!
Dear Twins fans:
I, Matt McCabe, do send my sincerest apologies for my role in teasing and neglecting you, the reader. When last we spoke it was Halloween, 2010. Hosni Mubarak was President of Egypt. Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler were simply has-been recording artists. Charlie Sheen was a sane, productive member of society. And the Minnesota Twins had as many questions as answers regarding the 2011 roster.
Seemingly all that has changed, Twins fans. Or has it?no comments
It didn't come without tense moments, but the Twins got the job done.
Minnesota fielded their B-lineup today, but the absense of Joe Mauer and Jim Thome didn't stop the Twins from collecting their first win of the season this afternoon with a 4-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.
The slim victory wasn't without tense moments, and Twins fans were given their first edge-of-seat experience since last October. Joe Nathan loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth, but managed to escape with his first save since October 3, 2009.
Nathan struggled to keep a two-run lead safe, but his pitches seemed to get crisper as the inning progressed. Having been sidelined for over a year, Nathan is allowed some transition and recovery time, though Matt Capps is waiting in the wings to take over the 9th inning duties. It may have been a good idea to start Nathan with some low-leverage innings to help him get his feet back under him, but Gardenhire decided to make his first regular season outing in 18 months a memorable one.
Missed in the late-inning dramatics was Nick Blackburn's solid start. After last year's trainwreck of a season, he is hardly deserving of the third spot in the rotation, and Gardenhire has been oft-criticized for selecting him over Kevin Slowey, but Blackburn deserves praise for his strong showing Sunday afternoon.
Blackburn maintained a 5.42 ERA in 2010, with an average of just under four strikeouts per nine innings of work, the lowest rate among pitchers with at least 160 innings of work. With a mid-season demotion to Triple-A permanentely marring his resume, Blackburn isn't exactly a fan favorite. When moving Slowey to the bullpen was Gardy's solution to the over-crowded rotation, disdain for Blackburn only increased.
The lack of support, however, only makes Blackburn's strong start today more sweet.
In five and two-thirds innings, Blackburn scattered six hits and allowed just one earned run. A throwing error from Tsuyoshi Nishioka caused another Blue Jay run to cross the plate, but Blackburn isn't held responsible for the nervous play of his new teammate.
Roughly half of Blackburn's pitches were fastballs, and the right-hander mixed in some curves and changeups to keep batters guessing. Blackburn was confident in his pitches this afternoon, which is leaps and bounds ahead of where he was last season. He hasn't transformed into a different pitcher -- his strikeout rate was still extremely low -- but if Blackburn can work deep into games and provide some inning-eating, perhaps Twins fans will come to appreciate him.
- Nishioka is struggling in his first season as an MLB second baseman, but that's to be expected. The Japanese native has been playing nervously, making fielding errors and taking poor swings in the batter's box. I've noticed a few over-exaggerated cuts from Nishioka, who is clearly trying to homer in every at-bat. Sooner or later Nishioka will relax and realize MLB isn't much different from NBP, and that his value lies in his ability to scatter line drives across all fields. Defensively, Nishioka has dealt with some communication problems with shortstop Alexi Casilla. As the season progresses, and Nishioka's English improves along with his rapport with Casilla, this will surely fix itself.
- Is Gardenhire contractually obligated to give Mauer Sundays off? It would certainly seem so. Mauer wasn't even given the opportunity to pinch-hit in the 9th inning of today's close contest, and it's clear that Gardenhire intends to use the defending Most Valuable Player as sparingly as possible in these early months.
- Span is about the only thing working offensively so far this season. The center-fielder went 5-for-11 in the three-game set against Toronto, and his ninth-inning home run provided the Twins with an insurance run. Span, one season removed from a five-year, $16.5 million extension, struggled through a disappointing 2010 season. Hitting just .264/.331/.348 from the top position in Minnesota's batting order, Span gave the Twins neither consistency or pop. If the left-hander could could tack on another 30 or 40 points to his on-base percentage, Minnesota will have many more opportunities to score in 2011.
The first two games of this Toronto season were atrocious, as everyone knows. But the Twins aren't strangers to opening-week struggles. I'll have some hard data on this phenomenon for your consumption tomorrow.
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