The Twins have been playing pretty poorly since clinching last week. Ron Gardenhire has noticed, and had this to say after last night’s loss to the Royals:
“Not a good game for our ballclub,” he said. “We didn’t pitch worth a
crap. We haven’t pitched worth a crap this whole trip. It’s not
acceptable. You have to do better. You can’t lose the edge.”
“We lollygag the ball around the infield. We lollygag our way down to first. We lollygag in and out of the dugout,” Gardenhire did not add, but totally should have.
I don’t know how you keep a team sharp when there’s two weeks between clinching and the first playoff game. Maybe Gardenhire doesn’t either, given that his team has had to play 163 games to make into the postseason last year and only won the division by a single game the previous time they made the playoffs in 2006. But he’s been here before. The Twins won the Central by 13.5 games in 2002 and comfortably again in 2004.
Overall, however, I have to think that health — as opposed to how well you do in mostly meaningless games against the Royals in the last week of the season — is most important to a playoff team this time of the year. My guess: the Twins will be just fine.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.