W: R. Hernandez (2-1) L: Crain (0-1)
Perception is a funny thing: last week, blowing a game to the Yankees in the last inning seemed like “more of the same,” and now, it’s objectively become “the outlier.” It still doesn’t FEEL like that, but this team has now won 3 of its last 4 games … on the road … in their last at-bat.
1) The slot normally reserved for the starter
… has been usurped to bring you this news:
We have a bullpen.
We don’t have The Very Finest Bullpen Ever. Heck, we prob’ly don’t have The Second Best Bullpen In Our Division. But what we DO have is a group of guys who have, to this point, provided a lot of quality innings without getting completely waxed like the Yankees appear bent on doing with theirs. (Can someone FAX me the memo in which Scott Proctor was annointed a Superior Pitcher? Scott Proctor? I mean, it’s nice to have a reliable bullpen arm, but … Scott Proctor? This is the new Mike Marshall?)
Think about this: the starting rotation is 4-5. That includes C.C. Sabathia’s 3-0 mark. The team has had 16 games, and the rotation has the decision in barely half of them. (It has had 11 Quality Starts, which is pretty good, although when a starter doesn’t have a Quality Start, he tends to have a “Knocked Out In The Second Inning Shitty Start”: not much wiggle room there.) For those doing math at home, the bullpen’s record is 5-2 with 7 saves. (It has Holds, I refuse to report these, as the stat is so bogus as to cause dementia.) The bullpen as a whole sports a 3.06 ERA, a WHIP of 1.14, a K/9 of nearly 8 (7.92), and has given up only 4 HR in 50 innings. Without the Compleat Meltdown by Lord Joe last Thursday, it would have an ERA of 1.98, and every pitcher would have an ERA under 4.00 (with only Joe and Oldberto over 3.00). And the only pitcher with more than 8 innings of work is Ferd Cabrera at 8 2/3. Four of the seven pitchers have WHIPs under 1.00. (Admittedly, Hernandez’ and Borowski’s are ghastly at over 1.70, let’s gloss over that.) FIVE of the seven have K/9 rates over 8.50, led by Ferd’s 10.38 and a surprising 9.45 from Aaron Fultz. I mean, that’s basically the bullpen I’ve been complaining about … because it’s been in Minnesota for the past five years.
In this context, last night’s performance seems almost mundane: a perfect inning from Fultz, two perfect innings (2 K) from Raffy, and two high-quality innings (1 walk, but a DP) from Oldberto to put the game away in the 12th. Five innings, and the one guy that reached base was erased on a double play. This is where baseless conjecture about “character” and “experience” and “well-defined roles” goes, but since I know Jack Shit about any of that, I will simply express my gratitude for whatever changed from last season to this one.
2) Okay, your turn
Jeremy Sowers actually had a tremendous start last night … through six innings. Through six shutout innings, Sowers had given up 6 hits, no walks, and had thrown a very efficient 68 pitches. His flyball tendencies are starting to grate on me a bit (8:11 GB:FB), especially for a guy without an actual strikeout pitch (2 K, low translated K-rates in the minors), but it’s hard to argue that six shutout innings in 68 pitches is anything but Real Good. He even helped turn a nice 1-6-3 double play.
In this regard, it’s hard to argue that there was much concern in sending Sowers out to pitch the 7th: not only was he doing great, but the bottom of the Twins order (7-8-9 hitters: .231, 227, .235, combined 2-for-13 last night) was coming up after Justin Morneau and Torii Hunter. Just pitch Hunter carefully and … oops. Well, it’s just one run.
Basically, though, the only obstacle between Sowers and a win was getting out ersatz leadoff hitter Alexi Casilla. Casilla is an execrable hitter. Why he was batting leadoff is a secret only Ron Gardenhire knows. He is 22 years old, a veritable whippersnapper, hitting .231/.231/.231 entering the game (that’s right: zero walks, zero extra-base hits). He is fast, and … fast. He held his own in AA last season at age 21, which is pretty impressive (and better than, say, Asdrubal Cabrera), but … look, the man is a piker, and his “double” was basically a bouncer off the plate. But you have to get Alexi Casilla out.
3) Death, taxes, and Pronk
Travis Hafner did not get a hit Sunday.
I bring this up because it’s a damned unusual occurrence. Hafner went 4-for-4 yesterday with 2 walks in 6 plate appearances meaning if Hafner grabbed a bat, he got on base. Given that our second-hottest hitter is Victor Martinez, who bats immediately after Hafner, that works out prety nicely. Hafner has reached base 23 times in his last 33 plate appearances and has 16 hits in his last 7 games.
Now, only one of the 4 hits was for extra-bases. This is like complaining that your winning lottery ticket is an ugly color.
4) Welcome back
Shin-Soo Choo made his first major-league appearance of 2007 last night with many of the hallmarks one expected from a Choo appearance: three windmills, one walk, some fine defense, one caught stealing (oy!), and a two-run single that makes you think that surely there’s a place in the bigs for him. And then you notice that he’s really only hitting .200 and left a few guys on base and you’re not so sure any more.
I’m on record as being a Choo fan and would rather have given him the shot at Nixon’s job in the first place, but I completely understand the counter-arguments, too. In a sense, I wish he was better. Or worse. But note: with the bases loaded this season:
Shin-Soo Choo: 1 hit
Entire rest of Cleveland roster: 1 hit
I am not necessarily looking forward to seeing him face Johan Santana, though.
5) To the Victor go the spoils
Man, I can’t believe I just used that. You end up with some pretty lame stuff at deadline time.
Victor Martinez hit a three-run homer which substituted for a Sustained Cleveland Offense last night. It wasn’t cheap, either: I’m not sure it didn’t travel 440 feet like Hafner’s weekend shot didn’t travel 440 feet, but it certainly didn’t travel 440 feet (except insofar as it passed that point on its way to its final destination). Martinez did have a couple rough spots at the plate, grounding into a double play and stranding 2 in scoring position, but look: the man was The Offense until the 12th, went 2-for-5 with a walk, and is hitting .342/.432/.553. His 13 RBI are tied for the team lead with Hafner. It’s good when he plays.
6) Where am I?
After batting in the lower half of the order exclusively this season, Casey Blake made a surprise appearance in the 2-slot last night, going 2-for-7 and getting the hit off Carlos Silva that led to the first runs of the game.
I’m not a big Blake fan. I appreciate his story, effort, and versatility a lot more than I actually like watching him play. I don’t consider him an everyday player on a champeenship team. But he’s not a bad choice to hit second: he has pretty good plate discipline (6 walks, generally around an OBP-AVG of .075 or so), works pitchers, and struggles more with runners in scoring position than with empty bags. Yes, his OBP is under .300 so far, but the season is early, and I kind of like the phiosophy of moving Nixon down to drive in the Hafners and Martinezes of the world rather than watching Blake try to do so. Anyway, it’s not something I need to see every night, but it made some sense.
7) Ducks on the pond!
In a 12-inning game, it’s not unusual to leave a bunch of guys on base, but this is becoming awfully familiar. 13 left on base, including 6 in scoring position. This night’s most painful example was Ryan Garko whiffing with the bases loaded, although at least some of the pain comes from watching Pat Neshek’s preposterous delivery.
Any time Jhonny Peralta feels like making contact with runners on base would be fine, by the way.
8) Box score follies
Grady Sizemore took a Size Six collar, drawing a walk but whiffing thrice. After a tremendous start, Sizemore is hitting only .250 out of the leadoff position, but thanks to a team-high 16 walks (yes, even more than Hafner), still sports a .440 OBP.
We pinch-hit for our weak-hitting (.132) second baseman by calling on the services of … our WEAKER-hitting (.000) second baseman. And it was the right move (given the left-right matchup and the Law of Small Numbers, which says, “Man, those numbers are small.”).
We drew 7 more walks, but struck out FOURTEEN TIMES. We face Johan Santana tomorrow. Hide the children.
9) Completely False Statement for the Google Search Engine
Mark Shapiro was seen on the set of American Idol, where he personally designed Sanjaya Malakar’s hair. Of course, this is false: what does Mark Shapiro know about hair? However, fire Eric Wedge.