Tuesday, June 01, 2004

When the **** Hits the Fan

I hope our loyal readers (all 40 or so of them) will excuse our day off yesterday, Memorial Day. I’m sure most of you had the day off from work as well, and the weather was actually half decent (at least here in Northfield) for the first time in about a month.

Today I would like to bring up a rather disturbing trend that I’m sure many of you have noticed during the Twins’ recent woes, especially during the past 7 days: many of these games seem to be lost in the middle (4-7) innings! Today was a perfect example. Seth Greisinger did not exactly pitch “well” for the first 5 innings, but he was adequate: 3 ER on 3 hits, including 2 home runs. The important thing was that he had kept the Twins in the game. It was the 6th inning when the proverbial “crap” hit the fan. I have no doubt that a good team would have figured out Greisinger sooner, but in the 6th things just began to fall apart. Single by Baldelli. Line-shot double by Huff. 2 outs (including a sac fly), then a walk. Just like that, a potential quality start is turned into yet another poor outing.

A very similar situation occurred during Saturday’s 5-2 loss at the hands of the Royals. Johan cruised through 6 full, then ran into some big time trouble in the 7th. J.C. definitely didn’t help matters by giving up a bases-clearing double to Beltran, but the fact remains that a fading starter once again opened the floodgates. Johan goes from having a stellar outing that lowers his ERA to a respectable level to an outing that makes it balloon up to 5.61. However, the important fact is that the Twins lost.

During last Thursday’s 5-4 loss to the Deviled Hams, the inning of consequence was the fourth. Jacque had just given the Twins a 4-2 lead with a 3-run bomb and it seemed the Twins just might (heaven forbid) win two games in a row against a last-place team. But after getting the first 2 outs in the fourth Carlos Silva surrenders a 3-run homer to Baldeli, which would hold up as the winning margin.

This whole trend can be traced back to May 25, exactly one week ago. The Twins and Rays were tied up at 1 heading into the 6th, but Tampa scored 3 runs in the 6th off Lohse and 2 more off Fultz in the 7th and won the game going away.

This trend raises many questions about the makeup of the 2004 Twins. Early in the season, I dubbed the Twins the “Comeback Kids” with good reason. They were racking up come-from-behind victories like there was no tomorrow, en route to a 15-7 record in April. The fun peaked with Matty LeCroy’s game-winning grand slam against the Blue Jays on May 19.

We all should have known it was too good to be true. Since that game, the Twins have gone 3-9 with exactly one come-from-behind win (and that was a pretty mild comeback—down by one run in the 5th against the Rays). But what does this say about our Minnesota Twins? It absolutely pains me to say it, but in their current state the Twins just aren’t as good as they looked in April and early May. The starting pitching has been abysmal (outside of Radke) and the bullpen less-than-spectacular. A team cannot survive on comebacks alone, and this has become obviously apparent over the past 7 days. The starters have been tiring abnormally early and surrendering some key mid-game rallies, and that has been the main difference between this recent slump and the good times of weeks past.

The solution to this problem is simple: Lohse, Silva, and Santana need to pitch better later in games. These guys should not be running out of gas in the 6th and 7th innings; playoff teams shouldn’t have to rely on their bullpen to pitch 3+ innings every night. I think Gardy is doing the right thing by leaving the starters out there to start the later innings, because if they don’t build up a little stamina now they won’t be ready for the stretch run in August and September. The ever-present injuries have also been an issue, but even that excuse is wearing thin. Shannon has been adequately replaced with Sweet Lew, Koskie is back, Mauer returns Thursday or Friday, and Rivas sucks anyway.

The Twins desperately another starting pitcher, and it looks like that pitcher will have to come through a trade (Rick Helling is most certainly not the answer). Silva will make an excellent #5 guy, and perhaps being the #4 starter would take some pressure off Lohse. I’m not sure right now exactly who’s out there, but the Twins obviously have much more to offer than some other clubs who are also looking for starting pitching.

That’s all for today. I’m going to post my 2-month report card for the Twins tomorrow, and I’m sure John will have his grades up soon after. Also, I’m planning on doing another “futuristic newspaper article” for Thursday, so be sure to stop by and check that out. Plus, a reminder to cast your vote for Twins Chatter in the World Series of Blogs! Thanks for everyone who’s voted thus far!

Is it just me, or is there a disturbing pattern in many of Seth Greisinger photos that are published?