Welp, we made it to 100 episodes. Thank you to everyone that has listened to us ramble over the past two years. We’ve come a long way from Episode 1 and we’re happy to have you along for the ride. Along the way we picked up a couple of hitch hikers in Cody Christie and Jay Corn, and we have fun every week talking Twins baseball.
Almost a week ago, with the Twins in the middle of being swept by the Oakland Athletics, I wrote (over at BaseballTwins.com) that the Twins had no chance of being above .500 for the entire season, and then went so far as to loudly proclaim the same stance on the most recent Talk to Contact podcast. After a weekend of hot baseball, from the offense and pitching staff, the Twins are now back to .500, at 6-6, and with an off day today to prep for a three game series at home with the Blue Jays, I find myself on the verge of eating crow.
How did this happen?
The Twins pitching turned in their three best performances of the year, the Twins’ bats woke up in a big way, and some timely defensive miscues allowed the Twins to steal a victory on Sunday.
On Friday night, Kyle Gibson put in another strong start, going 6.1 innings and giving up just one run. Like his first start of the year, Gibson once again walked four batters, and recorded just three strike outs, so it wasn’t a perfect start, but he got the outs he needed and avoided any real damage (and the run he gave up in the first inning was directly related to Pedro Florimon booting a tailor-made double-play ball).
Not to be outdone, on Saturday afternoon, Ricky Nolasco pitched eight strong innings of one run ball, controlling the ball well, recording four strike outs and surrendering only a single walk.
While Nolasco and Gibson put up strong performances, the Twins hitters did their jobs too, scoring 17 runs in those first two games, with a balanced lineup that saw key hits from Dozier, Suzuki, Pinto, Mauer, Kubel, Colabello and Plouffe. Everyone was hitting except Florimon and Mastroianni, who managed to be 0-8 (but did chip in two walks) while the rest of the team recorded a .346 on base percentage.
On Sunday, Kevin Correia worked seven scoreless innings, but let the first three batters of the inning reach base, and Brian Duensing came in with two one and one in already. He couldn’t stop the bleeding and the Twins were down 3-2 going into the home half of the eighth. IN the bottom of the inning the Twins loaded the bases and Chris Herrmann grounded to the pitcher Wade Davis who tried to start a home-to-first double play, but instead threw the ball away allowing two runs to score.
While the Twins might creep over .500 before this home stand ends, I still think that the Twins next four series after that, against the Royals, Rays, Tigers and Dodgers will put the Twins firmly below .500 without much chance of a return.
For now though, the Twins are interesting, and I look forward to eating crow.
It’s time for the Twins to step up against the Evil Empire and establish themselves as being equally competitive. This four game series is the only time the Twins will visit Yankee Stadium (at least until October, anyway), so there’s no point in putting this off… as Cuddy’s spring training t-shirts put it, DON’T BE DENIED… WIN!
On the one hand, in many respects this may have been the cleanest performance of the year for the Twins. Delmon made some nice plays in the outfield (yes… I said Delmon) and the infield turned three pretty nifty double plays (with Nishioka doing the turning of all three at 2B). Kevin Slowey and Dusty Hughes out of the bullpen were very solid. Even Scott Baker, once he got out of the first two innings, stuck around and kept battling. He definitely kept his team in the game and gave them a chance to win.
On the other hand, the Twins have not really had a problem playing the Yankees close. They’ve done that real well the last few years. Very few losses to the Evil Empire are lopsided. But they’re all still losses and that’s getting really… really… old. It was great seeing Jim Thome come through with an RBI double to the warning track… but five more feet or so and it’s a home run and the game is tied. I’m tempted to rant a bit about the disparate strike zones (especially the zone given Rivera… Jason Kubel singled on an 0-2 pitch below his knees and never had a ball thrown to him in the strike zone), but that’s so commonplace that at some point you have to just know that’s going to happen and resolve to overcome it.
It’s the whole “overcoming it” thing that is a problem. I think we saw indications that there are enough of the newer guys who haven’t let the Yankees get in their heads (Thome has never cowered, Nishi didn’t seem phased, Hughes definitely went right after the Yankee hitters, for example). Let’s hope it starts rubbing off on Mauer and some of the others. In any event, we’ll line up and try again Tuesday night!
The Twins FINALLY gained a game on the BitchSox yesterday as the A’s and Dallas Braden beat Chicago and allowed the Twins to move within half a game of first place in the AL Central Division entering today. The Twins will be going for their second straight series sweep as they wrap up this homestand with today’s game against the Mariners. I imagine this is where the scoreboard watching starts to get serious as the Sox and A’s will be starting their series finale a couple of minutes before today’s Twins game gets going.
On the medical front, Joe Mauer got a cortisone shot to treat tendonitis in his right shoulder. Hopefully he comes back with less pain after getting today and Monday off from catching duties.
On the positive side, we’ve got a couple of Joe Christensen tweets with good news. Justin Morneau took BP this morning so we’re seeing progress as he works his way back from his concussion. Doc was going to take outdoor practice but went indoors to avoid making “a spectacle” and because of the Sunday family game. Speaking of which, Joe Nathan made his first pitching appearance since his TJ surgery… pitching to his 5 year old son, Cole, in the family game. There’s a punchline in there somewhere with reference to recovery requiring “baby steps”… but I’m just not coming up with it right now.
We all are conditioned to expect a “B team” lineup on Sundays and that’s what Gardy has penciled in today, but I’ve seen Sunday lineups much worse than this one. I’m going to call this one a Sunday “B+ lineup”. – JC
Two straight series sweeps! Can’t beat that with a stick… but we can sweep ’em away with brooms!
I tried to get back in to the Chatroll by phone from the Kernels/RiverBandits game but it appears Chatroll went back down for “maintenance”. The program certainly has not been reliable this weekend and we apologize for that. Hopefully the Chatroll people get their crap together by Monday night.
I followed the game by phone and caught a few video clips when I got home. Since I wasn’t in the GameChat, I’m going to make an executive decision with regard to the Boyfriend of the Day. It’s pretty tempting to hand the award to Jason Kubel for his bases emptying double that was oh-so-close to a grand slam HR. We’ll award him a great big ole giant chocolate chip cookie and some pastries for Danny Valencia who drove Kubes in with a base hit to top of the scoring.
But when your pitcher goes seven shutout innings, striking out 11 and giving up only 2 hits, that’s indisputable BOD material… and that makes you, ‘Cisco Liriano, the Knuckleballs BOD!
Let’s just pretend the final 2 innings of Saturday’s game with the Rays never happened, shall we? If you’ll join me in that fantasy, I’ll share a couple of pictures from the day, starting with the game ball being delivered by a group of Navy Seals that came in from above.
The Strib’s Joe Christensen tweeted that he thought it was “idiotic”, and that “People came to see baseball, not potential catastrophes.” I dunno… I guess I just think this kind of thing over Independence Day weekend is very appropriate and I applaud the guys.
I also really enjoyed the messages shown on the big scoreboard during play stoppages from Minnesotans currently serving in the Middle East. I can only imagine the pride and emotion felt by their family members.
By the way, I realize not every one of us is as much of a Vikings fan as we are Twins fans, but I read this article over brunch at Hell’s Kitchen and I have to admit that reading about the surprise coach Brad Childress got while on the NFL-USO tour struck a chord. (Yes, it was a bit odd reading the print version of the StarTribune.)
As for the game, it was exciting to see JJ Hardy return, of course. Francisco Liriano threw a terrific game as he sat down one Ray hitter after another. But Jim Thome most certainly stole the show today.
Thome lined a home run just inside the LF foul pole (and barely above the wall) in his first at bat, to tie Harmon Killebrew’s mark of 573 home runs… and give the Twins a 1-0 lead in the second inning. But that was just a teaser. In his next plate appearance, Thome launched one in to the Rays’ bullpen for #574 and pass “Killer” in to sole possession of 10th place in the all-time Major League HR list.
Harmon could not be in attendance, but he recorded a message to Thome that was played on the big screen immediately after Thome circled the bases.
“Good for [Thome]; he’s a good guy,” Killebrew, who hit 559 homers in 21 years with the Twins franchise, said by telephone from Arizona. “I talked to Jim quite a bit when I was in spring training. I told him, ‘Don’t feel bad if you pass me up, because I passed up a lot of guys in my career.’ “
Is that class or what?
The 23 foot wall in right center field is all that kept Thome from making it a 3-HR day as he doubled in the 9th inning with the ball hitting just below the top of the wall.
So, those of us at the game got to see history, Navy Seal skydivers, another top notch pitching performance by Liriano, the successful return of JJ Hardy (who barely missed a HR of his own when he doubled off the LCF wall in his first AB), another home run by Justin Morneau and a pretty darn good day at the plate by Joe Mauer.