Monday, August 16, 2004

Hammer Time (Break it Down)

Don't you just love my corny/wildly entertaining post titles? I feel they are a key part of the whole "Twins Chatter" allure... but I digress. As promised, today I'll take a quick look at the members of the Twins' lineup that are currently struggling through a rough patch. In other words, I mean the majority of the Twins' lineup. Let's break it down.

Corey Koskie
Nobody embodies the Twins' season-long offensive struggles better than Koskie. Simply put, Corey is having a horrible season. Sunday's outburst was nice, to be certain, but it still doesn't change the fact that Koskie is hitting an anemic .239 this season with an OBP (.339) a full 35 points lower than his career average and 54 points lower than last year. His 17 homers are fine, but the guy has been hitting in run-producing spots in the order all season long and has a measly 48 RBIs (which doesn't look that bad on the Twins, but trust me, it is). Koskie has had a tough time driving in runs the past two seasons (69 in '02 and '03) but at least he was getting on base those years. Now he's not even doing that. He's on pace to strike out 111 times while drawing just 55 walks, which would be the worst ratio in his career. Not exactly great numbers to parade out there on the FA market this winter. But who knows? Maybe after Sunday's performance Koskie will turn his season around and once again become a force to be reckoned with. But I'll believe it when I see it.

Torii Hunter
For the season's first four months, it appeared that Torii Hunter may have found his niche as an offensive player. Obviously he has always played world-caliber defense out in center, and that is a large part of his value as a player. After Torii's breakout 2002 season (29 HRs, .858 OPS) Hunter regressed a little last year (.250 BA, .763 OPS). He did post a career-high in RBIs with 102, but we all know how meaningless that statistic was; it's more telling that he hit .228 with runners on base. Through July of 2004, I thought that Torii's place as a hitter would lie somewhere between his 2002 and 2003 numbers: a .275 batting average, 25 homers, and 85-90 RBIs. Not superstar numbers by any means (and most certainly not worth the $6.5 million the Twins will pay him this year) but solid nonetheless. In August, however, Torii has looked nothing like the player that was voted to start the 2002 All-Star game. He's hit .236/.276/.455 with only 5 RBIs in 55 at-bats, and has drawn a pathetic 2 walks to go along with 12 strikeouts. I'm be tempted to say that my little brother could draw more than 2 walks in that many major league at-bats, and he's 12. Once again Hunter is hitting 30 points lower with men on base than he is with the bases empty, so there can be no doubt that he has contributed more than his fair share of ineptitude to the Twins' struggling offense this season, especially these past few weeks.

Jacque Jones
Jones is leading the team in homers (19) and RBIs (60) this season, but this is almost by default as few others have performed up to their potential. He also has the most at-bats on the team with runners on base (175) and is one of the only Twins who has not hit lower than his overall season average in this situation. Jacque has been one of the team's lone bright spots in August (.341/.396/.523) but it is hard to forget what he did (or didn't do) in May, June, and July. Jacque posted some pretty measly numbers during those months (.220s, anyone?) although he did remain one of the team's top RBI men. Jones is on pace to hit 26 homers and drive in 83 runs this year, which isn't too terrible, but I know the Twins wouldn't mind if he caught fire the last month and a half and made a push to bring his season totals in line with the rest of his career marks.

Christian Guzman
When Guzman goes into a slump, hardly anyone makes mention of it simply because it happens so often. Hasn't this guy pretty much been in a perpetual slump since July of 2001? Right now, Guzie is REALLY struggling, even by Guzie standards. He's 1 for his last 25 and has seen his batting average (which actually reached the .290 range in July) drop down to .270. Because he hardly ever walks (just 18 in 430 at-bats this season) Guzie's on-base percentage is an embarrassing .299. I sure hope Guzman is embarrassed by that number, because he sure as hell should be. Unfortunately, from what I know about Guzman's personality, I'd be willing to bet that he couldn't care less. It's amazing how quickly Guzie has fallen back to earth after his spectacular July in which he hit had an OPS of .800. For those of you unfamiliar with Guzman's prowess (or lack thereof) at the dish, the terms ".800 OPS" and "Christian Guzman" are actually listed as antonyms in Webster's Thesaurus. Getting Guzie to hit at even normal Guzie levels would go a long way towards curing what ails the Twins' offense.

Luis Rivas
With the numbers that Louie has put up the past few years, it is truly amazing that he still has a starting (or even platooning) role in the major leagues. For a guy that plays no better than slightly above-average defense at SECOND BASE for crissakes (in my opinion one of the easier defensive positions on the diamond) he been on the receiving end of some very good fortune. Rivas is hitting .244/.269/.389 this season with 7 homers, 25 RBIs, and 11 SBs, but with no obvious replacement looming on the horizon, he may very well be around again in 2005. In Sid's "Jottings" the other day Gardy expressed his displeasure with Rivas' work habits. While I'm not glad that Louie doesn't seem to be giving it his all, I'm glad that Gardy had the testicular fortitude to call him on it. Maybe that is the spark that Rivas needs to turn his season around, but in my opinion, Rivas just plain stinks. Maybe Cuddyer is the short-term and/or long-term solution at 2B, but it remains to be seen if he can handle the position competently defensively. I don't know about you, but I'm not expecting a whole lot of production from Rivas for the rest of this season and beyond.

As the Twins open up a much-anticipated three game set with the hated Yankees tonight, their most pressing weakness is definitely the lineup. I've gone over a few of the key non-performers, but in reality the entire lineup can take some of the blame (with the exceptions of Ford and Morneau). It remains to be seen if the Twins' Achilles' Heel dooms them against the pinstripes, but I sure hope it doesn't. Should be a fun series to watch if only because both Radke and Johan will toe the rubber. I'll be watching. Won't you?

Now THAT Was a Close One

If there is anyone else out there who is as inherently pessimistic as I am, hopefully you can sympathize with my plight.

Following the 8-2 and 7-1 butt-whuppings the Tribe unleashed on our offensively-challenged Twins Friday and Saturday, I thought it was all over.

Carlos Silva had pitched like crap, allowing seven(!) runs in only two(!) innings of work. Kyle Lohse nearly matched Silva's ineptitude the next day by allowing seven runs in five innings, including three in the first.

The Twins had managed to strand 26 runners on base and eke out three runs against the likes of Scott Elarton (he of the 8.00+ ERA) and Jake Westbrook (who has admittedly been pretty good this year). The Twins had just one hit with runners in scoring position in the series' first two games.

Things didn't start that well on Sunday, either. Mulholland threw a sure double-play ball into center field after facing just his second batter. The next batter (Matt Lawton) grounded into a DP which allowed Mulholland to escape with just one run allowed.

Predictably, the Twins made Indians' starter Chad Durbin look WAY better than he actually is through the game's first five innings. Durbin threw 106 pitches through five innings, walking four and hitting a batter. Yet, this team keeps finding new ways to NOT score runs. First and second no outs? Second and third no outs? Bases loaded one out? It really doesn't matter. I couldn't even bring myself to yell at the TV (something I usually relish) because this routine has become so commonplace of late.

Durbin would have leave the game after the fifth, but that hardly seemed to matter. With one out, Lew Ford had singled and Corey Koskie had connected with a rare double. Christian Guzman had followed with his usual plate appearance (a completely unproductive one, in this case a foul out). With two outs, it seemed inevitable that yet another once-promising rally would fall by the wayside. However, something would then take place that the gods did not foresee: a man named Jose Offerman came to the plate.

With two runners on base and TWO OUTS, no less, Offerman connected with the hit that may have saved the Twins' season for now--a two run double into the rightfield corner. For the series, the Twins on batted .083 with runners in scoring position (RISP), but that second hit was certainly a big one.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the tremendous job that Terry Mulholland in his eight innings. The Twins simply could not afford another short and/or terrible start, and Mulholland, with all his crafty veteran mojo, turned the clock back to 1993 for a day. He allowed just two runs (one earned, although the unearned run was his fault anyway) and shut down a lineup that had previously looked nearly invincible. No matter what he does from here on out, it looks like Terry Ryan outsmarted us all (fans and the rest of the league alike) when he signed Mulholland back in April. Sunday's game was HUGE for the Twins and the vet didn't choke like Lohse and Silva did.

Perhaps this win will also be the coming-out party for Corey Koskie. It was a game in which Koskie finally hit absolute rock-bottom by striking out twice in his first two at-bats, stranding five runners. His second strikeout was especially ugly, as it came on a curve in the dirt that everyone in the entire stadium knew was coming. After that embarrassing AB, Koskie's body language seemed much more determined his last three at-bats. He crushed a double in the sixth, lined a single in the eighth, and delivered the big blow in the tenth.

After J.C. escaped a jam in the bottom of the ninth, the Twins were left with the unenviable task of winning a game in extra innings on the road. Lew Ford was buzzed by a Rick White fastball that skimmed the top of his helmet. When Koskie fell behind in the count 1-2, I thought (pessimistically) that he would revert back to his old ways and flail at some off-speed pitch in the dirt. But White decided to challenge Koskie and he connected with a mammoth two-run homer to put the Twins up 4-2. The homer was even more impressive considering that if was against the wind and hit to one of the deepest parts of the park. The Nathanator would slam the door as usual in the bottom of the inning and the Twins flew out of Cleveland with their pride wounded but not shot.

More reactions from this weekend's series
As you can probably tell from the tone of this post, I was extremely disappointed overall by the Twins' performance over the weekend. To be sure, Cleveland played extremely well. They are a terrific hitting team, and when you make mistakes (Silva and Lohse made plenty) they turn into three-run homers, not just singles (or harmless foul balls in Torii Hunter's case). I don't like it when people say that this series made the Twins "stand up and take notice" of the Indians. I'm assuming that the Twins took the Indians very seriously even BEFORE this series began. They are very hot right now, but that doesn't change the fact that they are an extremely formidable opponent. Sunday's game did prove one thing: when the Twins get a good performance from their starting pitcher, they should have the edge over the Tribe. But anytime it's a slugfest between these two teams, the Indians will come out ahead almost every time. These teams do play each other 10 more times this season, so nothing has been decided just yet. If the Twins can start playing a little better they can still win this thing.

I know I rambled a tad in today's post, but I had a few things that I wanted to get off my chest. I appreciate that you stuck with me today, and I promise to be my normal self tomorrow. Tomorrow is an off-day, and I plan on using this space to look at some of the Twins' struggling hitters, most notably Hunter, Jones, Rivas, and Koskie. Be sure to stop by and check us out again. Have a good one.