Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Fantastic Finish

This post was originally supposed to be about the recent plunge of JC Romero and where that has left the bullpen. Then a funny thing happened on the way to another loss. For the first time in 2 weeks the Twins came roaring back and won the game in 11 innings. Some amazing things happened to make it possible.

What stands out most is the at bat where Torii Hunter actually battled his way back in the count to draw a pivotal walk. This was so unusual that I had actually left the room to get a soda right in the middle of it. Why Hasagawa didn't throw him a breaking ball in the dirt even once no one will ever know. How Torii found it within himself to lay off several very close pitches is another story. He looked like Shannon Stewart up there and all any fan can hope is that this is the start of something wonderful.

Another funny thing happened last night. Luis Rivas showed that every now and then he is a real hitter. Slowly his batting average is creeping higher and higher. A couple weeks back I suggested that he be sent to the minors while there were other options to play. It looks like he didn't need the wake up call and shame on me for losing faith. Luis came through in the clutch with his 8th inning single last night and that is what he brings to this team. The little guy capable of the big hit when they need it.

The other half of the double play combo continued his hot hitting as well. This only proves that you can't put too much stock in early season slumps. Is Guzman as good as he is now or as bad as he was? Of course not but so far the move to the top of the order has been very positive, at least for him. The lineup sets up quite nicely with him in the 2 hole. It still leaves some speed, should Stewart not get on, while taking pressure off of Rivas by allowing him to bat lower.

There were two scary scenes with Hunter and Stewart. Hunter appeared to re-injure his hamstring on an awkward swing. The way he has been hitting it would be a real blow for the team to lose him. Stewart sets the tone for the lineup. He came in hard on the final play at the plate and all signs point to his injury not being serious. Despite an organization stacked with outfielders, this team needs these two guys' leadership on the field.

Tuesday saw the return of Matt LeCroy leaving everyone to breath a big sigh of relief that we will be seeing a lot less of Henry "I never was, am, or will be the babe" Blanco. Blanco lowered his average to .222 last night, which considering where he was earlier in the season means he has been pretty bad. There is a reason this guy was signed as nothing more than a baby sitter for Joe Mauer. He belongs on the pine. To bad the Twins sound like they don't expect LeCroy to be completely taking over the catching duties. The sooner Joe Mauer returns the better although his impact will be less then most expect.

Which brings us to the bullpen. Watching the game tonight I jumped to the conclusion that these guys are terrible. Then I began to think about it and I realized it just wasn't true. One guy is terrible and he just happens to be in the most important spot in the pen. The last couple weeks of have seen the demise of JC Romero. He has been entrusted with games the Twins lead or were tied in. He has promptly given up those leads or ties which is part of the reason the team has played so many darn extra inning games of late. Hence the strain on the rest of the pen and inflated numbers. A closer look reveals that despite it all, Nathan 1.72 ERA, Fultz 2.89, Roa 2.35, Muholland 2.13, and Rincon 3.63, have all been pretty good at keeping guys from scoring. The only problem they have also been walking guys. This needs to be corrected or it is bound to catch up to them in the long run and then the pen will really be in trouble.

Back to Romero, the team needs to make a decision on whether they feel they can trust him in pressure situations. His stuff is good but not great. The Mariners are a team of aging sluggers that should never score 4 runs in the eighth inning off a team’s supposed best reliever. It is bad Karma when it happens. This is the second year in a row JC has proven he is not ready to be a big time reliever. Maybe he will never be one. If not’ something needs to be done. Either one of the other guys in the pen has to step up, Balfour has to come back and be lights out, Crain has to come up from the minors and contribute or the team should trade one of its outfield prospects to bring in some relief.. All of these options have a catch. Balfour hasn't done anything yet at this level. Crain could be being rushed and would come up with an awful amount of pressure for a young pitcher to be under. There are always risks in a trade and who would the team get back? Chance are he would be an over-rated, over paid reliever who is also over the hill. My faith is gone in JC, he is "The Rock" of the pen no longer.

Overall it was a great win for a team in desperate need of one. They are not supposed to lose to a reeling Mariners squad. It was frustrating a week ago to watch the Twins lose 2 out of 3. As the pieces fall together for them this week, they need to rebound with a sweep and regain a spot amongst the American League's elite.

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