Twins collapsing despite Mauer's amazing season

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By beating the Rangers on July 18 behind eight innings of one-run ball from Scott Baker the Twins moved to a season-high three games above .500 at 47-44. Since then they’ve gone 9-17 despite scoring nearly 5.5 runs per game, because the pitching staff has absolutely imploded to the tune of allowing 6.5 runs per game, including coughing up double-digit runs eight times.
During those 26 games Joe Mauer hit nearly .400 with an OPS well over 1.000, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel both provided a .900 OPS with plenty of power, Denard Span got on base at a .380 clip, and Orlando Cabrera hit safely in all but two games since coming over from the A’s. Yet the Twins are in the midst of an awful funk that has seen every starter except Baker get rocked on a nightly basis and the bullpen cough up nearly a run per inning when Joe Nathan or Matt Guerrier aren’t in.
Detroit and Chicago are mediocre enough that the Twins aren’t completely out of the playoff picture, but at 56-61 and six games back in the AL Central it’s tough to imagine them making a serious run down the stretch. Sure, their remaining schedule is favorable, but the Twins just lost four of six home games to the fourth-place Indians and fifth-place Royals, and now travel to Texas for a four-game series against the Wild Card-leading Rangers.
In other words, by this time next week the Twins’ remaining schedule may not even matter. Even now, if the Tigers go just 22-23 down the stretch the Twins would have to go 28-17 just to tie them at 84 wins. And they also have the White Sox to contend with. Memories from 2006 of the Twins making a 10-game deficit vanish in 50 games make it tough for their fans to give up yet, but it’s worth noting that the Twins were 68-49 through 117 games that year, compared to 56-61 this season.
By the middle of August the 2006 team had clearly shown that it was capable of playing very good baseball and in fact were on a 94-win pace at this stage of the season. Right now the Twins are on pace for 78 wins and even that looks awfully optimistic given their performance of late. Can the Twins at least make things interesting this year? Sure. Both the Tigers and White Sox are plenty flawed and six games down with 45 left to play is very difficult but hardly impossible.
But regardless of the mediocre competition, favorable schedule, and memories of 2006 if anyone who’s watched the Twins over the past month can still conjure up visions of meaningful late-September games to close out the Metrodome … well, let’s just say that I’m jealous of their optimism. And wouldn’t mind a little bit of what they’ve been smoking. Right now their season looks like nothing more than a whole bunch of opportunities missed and great individual performances wasted.

Marlins, Giants get into heated beanball war

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You may have heard that Giants closer Hunter Strickland broke his hand punching a door in frustration after Monday night’s subpar performance. He’ll miss six to eight weeks as a result. Strickland came in to protect a 4-2 lead but ended up giving up three runs. The tying run was knocked in by Lewis Brinson on a single to right field. Brinson moved to third base on a go-ahead single by Miguel Rojas, which prompted manager Bruce Bochy to take Strickland out of the game.

On his way to the dugout, Strickland started chirping at Brinson. Much like Bryce Harper and Strickland, Brinson and Strickland have a bit of a history. Last Thursday, Brinson handed Strickland a blown save with a sacrifice fly to deep center field. Brinson was happy to help his team tie the game, pumping his fast and saying, “Let’s go” at no one in particular. That rubbed Strickland the wrong way. Everything seems to rub Strickland the wrong way.

During Tuesday night’s game, Giants starter Dereck Rodriguez threw at Brinson with the first pitch, a 92 MPH fastball. Home plate umpire Andy Fletcher issued warnings to both benches. Manager Don Mattingly came out to argue, suggesting that his team hadn’t done anything wrong so it was unfair to essentially take the inside part of the plate away from his pitchers. On his way back to the dugout, Mattingly could be seen saying, “You’re next” to catcher Buster Posey.

The Giants scored twice in the bottom of the second against Dan Straily to extend their lead to 3-0. Posey came to the plate with a runner on first base and one out. Straily hit Posey with a 91 MPH fastball on the first pitch, prompting ejections of both Straily and Mattingly. Posey was hit on the arm. If the pitch had come in a bit lower and hit Posey on the wrist or hand, Posey might have had to go on the disabled list for a couple months. Or if the pitch had hit Posey a couple of inches higher, in the head, then who knows what would have happened.

Things calmed down from there, thankfully. The two clubs have one more game against each other in San Francisco on Wednesday and that will be the final time they meet this season. If anything further is going to happen — and hopefully, nothing happens — then it will come tomorrow.

Straily will almost certainly be facing a suspension and a fine, as will Mattingly. It’s less clear if Rodriguez and/or Bochy will be reprimanded for throwing at Brinson, even though it was fairly obvious the pitch was intentional. Regardless, the punishments amount to just one missed start for the pitchers, which isn’t nearly enough of a detriment to deter beanball wars.