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Archive for May, 2009

Gardy Has Casilla Batting 9th … For Now

Remember this morning when I said I was wondering if Casilla’s return would herald Mauer’s departure from the second spot in the lineup?

Well, apparently Gardy hasn’t gone completely nuts:

Alexi Casilla is here. He’s in a much better frame of mind than he was when he was sent down. But Gardy has him batting ninth. The manager would love to move Casilla back into the No. 2 spot but wants him to hit his way there first.
Especially with Mauer’s added power, I also wouldn’t mind seeing Casilla get back into the 2 hole, but he does have to prove he can do it. You prove you can do it by hitting the ball. So hopefully Casilla proves he can hit again, and Gardy sticks to his guns and doesn’t move him back up in the lineup until he does it.

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Punto to the DL; Tolbert to the Bench; Casilla is Back

Huge news, everyone! Take it La Velle:

The Twins placed Nick Punto on the DL after the game. Brendan Harris will take over at short. Alexi Casilla will move in at second. Matt Tolbert will back them up.
During last night’s game I was surprised and saddened that Tolbert batted with the game on the line — wait, not saddened; what’s that word? Oh yes, furious.

Matt Tolbert is not a good baseball player. I mean, Gardy and all the guts-loving/talent-hating “baseball people” around the Twins love Tolbert because he’s “a baseball player,” but the thing is that he lacks any semblance of talent. His skillset is exactly that of Punto, which would be valuable except for:

  1. Tolbert is worse at every single skill
  2. We already have the real Punto
  3. You don’t need multiple average-glove-no-hit-utility-infielders on one team
Punto being banged up was the reason Tolbert had to bat last night in the 9th, when both Buscher and Young were sitting on the bench; neither of them can play second base, and Punto couldn’t come out to play the field.

What might Gardy have done?

I asked Gardy what would he have done in the eighth if Harris had gotten on and Tolbert had to hit. “I would have done something,” he said. Then he said he might have sent Delmon Young up to pinch hit, then used him in the infield. Wow.
Wow, indeed. You know, Delmon doesn’t actually hit that badly for a middle infielder.

Well, hopefully Casilla’s got his head straight now and can start contributing. I’m curious as to whether Mauer will contine to bat second now that Gardy’s got his “number two hitter” back.

And now that Tolbert has been relegated to his rightful place as a “plays once a week backup” type player and The Tolbert Experience has now ended, we can go ahead and say it:

The Tolbert Experience sucked. He actually made me miss Casilla’s mistakes.

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Liriano is not The Franchise

Jim Souhan emerged from hiding today to do his very best to hide what might be an interesting idea deep within his typical tired dreck. I’ll skip over the bullshit and go straight to the thesis.

Glen Perkins probably will return from the disabled list in the middle of June, after two starts in the minor leagues. If Swarzak continues to pitch well in his next two starts, the Twins should keep him in the rotation and let Perkins replace Liriano, and move him to the bullpen.
Given that Perkins is the one with more bullpen experience, I was kind of expecting him to be the one relegated to the pen if Swarzak continues pitching well. But this could actually be interesting. Perkins doesn’t have great stuff, and his role in the bullpen has been as a long reliever rather than a late inning guy. It would be far too dangerous to rely on Perkins in the 8th inning of a close game if he hasn’t already been rolling for seven.

But let’s do a little more investigating than Souhan is capable of. Check out Liriano’s numbers…

The first time through the lineup, opponents hit just .163/.253/.263 against him, with a 26/8 K/BB ratio and just 5 runs in 91 batters. The second time: .325/.400/.575 with a 12/9 K/BB and 13 runs in 90 batters. The third time? .396/.460/.717 with a 9/8 K/BB and 21 R in 64 batters. (Holy shit, were you aware that 33% of the batters who come to the plate for a third time in a game against Liriano SCORE? That’s just absurd.)

So his numbers balance out to be pretty crappy overall, and Souhan’s gut feeling may actually be correct here.

Let him enter at the beginning of the seventh or eighth inning and throw as hard as he wants for an inning or two. Remove concentration, consistency and stamina from the equation, and let him try to strike out the side.
The overall bad numbers paint an uglier picture than is really there; namely that for the first 2-3 innings of his starts, Liriano is dazzling. We’re talking 5.5% of batters come around to score. His times-through-the-order split is what it looks like right before everyone realizes you’re a reliever. And given that Liriano definitely has good stuff (just not great stuff like he had three years ago), he’d probably be successful in the bullpen. And the Twins just so happen to be in desparate need of a dominant late inning reliever, who can strike anybody out, and can go 2-3 innings if need be. Liriano, apparently, is exactly that player.

But remember the part about how he simply has better stuff than Perkins? There’s a reason the Twins have been giving him every possible opportunity to make it as a starter, and it’s not totally because they remember his 2006. Starters are simply vastly more valuable than relievers. In 2006, Liriano was worth 4.1 wins in limited duty (between entering the rotation late and getting injured early). But let’s toss out that mirage and look at something else. In 2008, just last year, he was worth 1.4 wins, in just 14 starts.

Last year, how many Twins relievers were worth more than those 1.4 wins? Exactly one, Joe Nathan. In fact, the second best reliever was Craig Breslow and his 0.9 wins. Even in 2006 (the last time the Twins bullpen was any good), only two relievers bested that 1.4 win mark — Nathan and Rincon’s career year. This point has been hashed and re-hashed about a million times here on the wide open plains of the internet, but it’s worth repeating: it doesn’t matter how good a reliever is, he’s just not as valuable as a good starter.* Even Mariano Rivera last year — one of his best — wasn’t as valuable as Mussina, Pettitte, and Chamberlain’s few starts.

* I know a lot of people don’t buy it, but Nathan wasn’t nearly as valuable in 2008 as Baker, Slowey, and Blackburn. No reliever is EVER as valuable as the team’s top 3-4 starters.

So it’s totally understandable that the Twins would want Liriano to be a starter.* Maybe the first time through the lineup is the real Liriano, and if he can only be taught to concentrate and stay consistent he can become a dominant starter! Surely that’s the dream in the hallways of the Twins front office.

* Even though it’s pretty obvious that the Twins have absolutely no way to figure it out based on any sort of objective system.

The problem is that it’s not going to happen. He’s not that guy any more. So if the choice is down to a pretty good chance of 6-7 innings and 1-3 runs from Swarzak and Perkins every time out, versus one of them plus a pretty good chance of 4-6 runs in 5-6 innings from Liriano … then you go with what’s more likely to win you ballgames, and that’s not Liriano. Liriano fulfilling his destiny as a dominant late inning reliever would be a very nice bonus.

It’s close to time to declare that Francisco Liriano is not, in fact, The Franchise. But that doesn’t mean he can’t still be a big success.

PS: Here’s a bonus for everyone who actually read all the way through this on a Friday afternoon. Proof that Souhan doesn’t actually watch the games!

Swarzak pitched 11 scoreless innings to start his big-league career. He has given up three earned runs in 13 innings, and one of them resulted from a misplay of a bloop to right-center in the seventh inning Thursday.
Really? Swarzak’s third run scored on a misplay of a bloop to right center? Because I saw that play, and it scored on a fly ball to right, on which the right fielder (Kubel) actually made a great play and threw the runner out at the plate. The umpire screwed up the call and then ejected the catcher, but I think calling it a “misplay of a bloop” demonstrates one of the following:
  1. Jim Souhan didn’t watch the game
  2. Jim Souhan doesn’t know anything about baseball
I can’t decide which is more likely (though they’re probably both true). I just find it quite amusing. In fact, it makes me glad I didn’t rant about that play. I feel much better about it now that I have Souhan’s “take” on the whole ordeal.


Twins 5 Red Sox 2

Nick Blackburn got off to a rough start, throwing 44 pitches in the first two innings, but settled down after needing just 5 in the third.  He set a career high with 7 strikeouts, including Jason Bay two times. He seemingly let the leadoff man reach in every inning, but stranded him more often than not, not with the normal Blackburn DP grounder, but with lots of well placed strikeouts.  Guerrier and Nathan combined to look like a ghost of bullpens past in quickly dispatching the Red Sox in the 8th and 9th innings respectively.

On the offensive side of the ball, it was Justin Morneau who provided most of the offense. While the bottomof the order actually contributed.  Even Punto had two hits (I still wish we could let our pitchers bat and DH for either 2B or SS).  Mauer had a rare bad game, notching two strikeouts against Jon Lester.  He did work a walk and score on the Morneau blast.

Delmon Young had another terrible game at the plate, although he did make a nice running catch in left.  The Twins need to do something about him.  He clearly is a talented player, but is simply over matched in the majors.  Can we send him down to triple A for the rest of the season to figure his shit out? If not I think he will become more and more frustrated with each terrible at bat and spiral into the category of “biggest draft busts”.  Maybe he will breakout when he is 27 like one Michael Cuddyer, but we can’t afford to keep him around for 4-5 years if they will be 4-5 years of terribleness.  We also need to do something about the middle infield situation.  Those two clowns are two black holes in the lineup.  At least Gardy learned to bat them at the bottom of the order.  Took him long enough.

Tonight is Slowey vs. Dice-K, lets try to pull out a series win by getting tonights game, and getting behind Swarzak in the finale tomorrow afternoon against Josh Beckett.


From the airport: Striking out Gomez

I’m at the airport* right now, blogging from the iPhone. I imagine, therefore, that this post won’t be a long one.
* By the way, I’ll be at the dome on Saturday sporting my Free Jason Kubel t-shirt — courtesy of those crazy guys over at some blog called Fire Gardy — so if you see me feel free to run up and leave a comment. Or, as I understand it is commonly called in the non-blog world, say hello.
Anyway, I was just reading FanGraphs, and they’re looking at the players who tend to get called out on strikes. The guys they looked for strike out in over 20% of their plate appearances … And who do you think is right up there among the leaders of “percentage of strikeouts that are NOT of the swinging variety?”
If you guessed Carlos Gomez (somehow) you’d be right!
I was pretty surprised to see this, given how often it seems like Gomez is flailing wildly at the ball. It just feels like he records a swinging strikeout a couple times per game.
But remember that talk in spring training about how Gomez was changing his approach at the plate, and that his newfound plate discipline would lead to more walks? Well, the walks haven’t come, but it’s certainly had an effect.
I don’t have copy-paste on my iPhone, and for the first time since I’ve had it this annoys me… because I can’t quote the article. So I encourage you to click through and actually read the thing.*
* Where you can also note that Gomez is the only guy in the top five that doesn’t really hit any home runs. I wonder what that means.
But if I remember the gist of it, Gomez has indeed changed his approach. He’s swinging at fewer pitches, and has actually cut down on the number of pitches outside the strike zone that he swings at. He’s also laying off more inside the zone, though.
So he’s cut way down on his forward facing K’s, with a smaller increase in backward facing ones. (I doubt this phone has that character.) Unfortunately, the new “discipline” is not accompanied by any new knowledge of the strike zone, or vision, which would help with his walks.
Still, I though this was pretty interesting. Every once in a while some statistic stands up and points out that one of your assumptions is incorrect. That happened to me this afternoon, and this it’s time for me to adjust the insults I hurl at Gomez while he’s “hitting.”
Who said stats aren’t useful?

Posted via email from sirsean.posterous

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The Blackburn Silences The White Wox, and the Offense Rolls

Yesterday afternoon’s game was a fun finish to an abysmal road trip, as the offense took out their frustrations after a week’s worth of being shut down. Unfortunately for me, and therefore for you, the game was on in the afternoon, and we were playing the White Sox … which means doesn’t allow me to watch it and I happen to not have cable at my office.* So I had to listen on the radio.

* Maybe I should bring this up with my boss.

I’d say the big story of this game is that Gardy changed the lineup in such a way that it emphasizes our best hitters and obviously improves our chances of scoring runs. The “stop giving away an out in front of Mauer/Morneau/Kubel” strategy paid early dividends, when Kubel’s base hit scored Mauer from second and moved Morneau to third with just one out, keeping a scoring chance in play for Cuddyer and Crede. They didn’t come through, but the new lineup configuration immediately increases the number of scoring chances, and we’ll come through on some of them.

We’ve been saying around here that our best possible lineup features Mauer batting second, with a top of the order of Span/Mauer/Morneau/Kubel, and Gardy finally went with it. Given that we know Gardenhire hates offensive production and benches players who hit well, and actively avoids things that might help us score more runs … is there any chance we stick with this lineup? Let’s see what the players think.

“I like that lineup,” said Cuddyer, who was 4-for-6 with four runs scored and three RBIs. “If we score 20 runs a night, heck yeah.”
So Cuddyer’s all for it.
“I like scoring 20 runs,” Mauer added. “I don’t know, I think it worked today. If we keep scoring runs, I guess we’ll just have to see how it goes.”
Mauer probably knows that any lineup would have worked really well the way everyone in the lineup was hitting all day, so there’s no need to go crazy. But since we’re the bloggingest blog of blogs, and blogs are best when they’re crazy, Mauer can stuff it because we’re going to get crazy.
But Gardenhire put a stop to the fun, saying the lineup will be different again Friday, crediting the bottom of the order with the bulk of the club’s success.
Gardy is crediting the bottom of the order for our success in that game? Is it possible he’s unaware that Punto went 0-4 with 3 strikeouts in this game? And what did I say about avoiding things that improve our chances of scoring? Why in blazes are you changing the lineup that scored you 20 runs without even giving it another go? Oh, and I’ll point out two things:
  1. Tolbert isn’t going to start hitting more home runs now … please don’t move him back up in the order
  2. Morales had yet another great game, in the bottom of the order which was apparently the whole reason we scored runs today … but you sent his ass down to AAA in return. Way to reward performance, coach.
How difficult is it for Gardy to admit that Mauer and Cuddyer basically won this game?
“Sure the big guys there are killers,” Gardenhire said, “but the guys at the bottom of the lineup got on the bases to load them up for those guys. The guys at the bottom did their job today.”
Um, yes. Did their jobs. Tolbert’s job is to hit home runs, and he did that. For the first time in his career. Morales’s job is to get hits and then smile when he’s demoted when he does it. Punto’s job is to strike out every time* but really look like he’s trying.

* He didn’t really strike out every time. He reached on an error on which Betemit’s throw hit him in the back of the head. Did I mention that I didn’t get to watch this game? Argh!

Oh yeah, and remember when Cuddyer and Crede hit back to back home runs? Well, Morales made his only out of the game as the next batter, when he put the ball on the warning track. He just had an awesome game.

I had my quarterly review yesterday afternoon at 3:00 PM, and I left my desk with Denard Span coming to the plate in the 6th against Gobble. So … yes. I missed Mauer’s grand slam. I left with a 12-0 lead and returned with a 20-1 win. It was awesome. But I still would have preferred to be there for Mauer’s blast. He’s on pace for 47 homers this year, if he gets exactly 500 plate appearances. Wow.

But in order to win a game 20-1, you can’t just score runs. You also need some pitching. And since that’s been our problem lately, I think it’s worth mentioning. Blackburn looked great out there, and was removed after 7 IP having thrown just 82 pitches. Apparently they would have let him go for the shutout if the game had been closer … which doesn’t make sense until you realize that he’d been sitting in the dugout for a long time several times during the game while we batted around. So it’s no big deal.

Bigger deal? Bringing in the 8th inning setup guy, Mijares, with a 20 run lead. Then bringing in Nathan with a 19 run lead.* Are you joking? Can’t one of our crappier pitchers be trusted to hold onto a 20 run lead in the 8th and 9th? I mean, you trust them with a 1 or 2 run lead, but 20 is too dangerous?

* Oh, that run? It was unearned, and scored because Tolbert made an error. Those guys just keep doing their jobs.

How did Blackburn feel about his performance?

“The White Wox were just swinging at everything today, so it didn’t take too long to get three outs,” the Blackburn said.
I like everything about this quote. I mean, I really like everything about this quote. Firstly, I’m going to go ahead and hope this wasn’t a typo, and that he did in fact call them “The White Wox,” and in support of that I’m going to start calling them that. Secondly, am I the only one who thinks he was insulting them? Because that would be awesome.

And finally, the quote was topped off by calling him “The Blackburn,” which is at least among the coolest modern baseball nicknames.

This win certainly makes the six game losing streak sting a little less. And I find myself amused that we finished off a 1-6 road trip with a +7 run differential. It felt bad while we were losing, but we actually weren’t doing that badly. Things just didn’t go our way for a while, and that can happen.

Hopefully the breaks start falling in our favor for a while, and hopefully the hits keep coming, and hopefully the lineup doesn’t change back to the “fuck scoring” configuration that Gardy prefers, and hopefully the other pitchers try to learn something from The Blackburn.

Let’s go get those Brewers!


The Failure of the Rotation is Worse than the Failure of the Bullpen

We’ve been talking a lot about the bullpen, and its repeated failures. But those failures are totally meaningless if the starters are awful … and lately, the starters have been awful.

It’s demoralizing for Slowey and Blackburn to have a good-to-great start erased by the bullpen late in the game. But what can the team do if the starter blows up early? In two of our last three games, the Twins’ offense took a 2-0 lead, followed immediately by the starter losing that lead in the next half inning; in both cases, the lead was gone before an out was recorded, and the scoring didn’t stop there.

On Monday, Perkins lasted only two outs, turning a 2-0 lead into a 6-2 deficit before handing the ball over to Dickey and heading off to the DL. On Wednesday, Liriano worked around his command issues through three innings, before the Twins took a 2-0 lead in the top of the fourth. Liriano quickly gave up 7 runs in the bottom of the fourth, and was done for the day, handing the ball over to Ayala.

In both cases the bullpen did a stellar job, holding the Yankees to 1 additional run (in 7.1 IP) on Monday and 0 additional runs (in 4 IP) on Wednesday. Dickey looked good, and while Ayala gave up what ended being the deciding run in a 7-6 loss on Monday, he actually looked good on Wednesday in 3 dominant and scoreless innings.

I don’t know if it was the roster move that basically told them “we’re willing to lose you on waivers if you don’t shape up, and you’re next,” or if Ayala and Dickey just prefer to pitch in blowout losses where the outs aren’t important. We’ll see as time goes on.

But if Perkins doesn’t come back healthy and looking good, and if Baker continues to pitch with his new wallet in his pocket, and if Liriano doesn’t re-discover how to command his fastball … it’s not really going to matter if good starts by Slowey and Blackburn are wasted. The Twins are not going to be winning any ballgames.

Frankly, it seems like these are all mental issues. As soon as the Twins take a lead, the starter gives it away. As soon as a baserunner reaches, there’s an immediate danger of a big inning, because the pitchers are letting everything that happens get to them. If Rick Anderson and Gardy had some sort of tricks in the past that helped with this stuff, it’s not working any more.

It’s not that early any more. It’s time to start playing ball.

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Goodbye Craig Breslow

The Twins cut Craig Breslow today (he was claimed by Oakland), and promoted righthander Anthony SwarzakSwarzak will start on Saturday against the Brewers in place of the injured Perkins.  Speaking of Perkins, it sounds like nothing is seriously wrong and he should be good to go when his 15 days are up.  The only problem I have with this is as follows: Does that mean his inability to get guys out the last few starts was due to general suckiness and not an injury?

I like the Breslow move.  The current bullpen clearly wasn’t working so changes had to be made.  It looks like someone did go to jail, or in this case Oakland.  Which is basically the same thing.

Thats all for today.  Liriano goes tonight looking to snap the five game losing streak we are currently on.  Is anyone else’s mouth drooling at the thought of playing the delicious NL soon?


Sean Henn gets the call and other Tuesday thoughts

Perkins was placed on the disabled list today, and will be replaced by Sean Henn.  Henn has appeared in 15 games for the Red Wings, pitching 24 innings, giving up 3 earned runs (but 7 unearned, ouch) with a 32/10 K/BB ratio.  That’s a 12.0 K/9.  Not half bad.   His major league track record hasn’t been great.  He has spent time with the Yankees and the Padres. 

Apparently Perkins was trying to pitch through elbow inflammation, which is never a good idea.  Hopefully this has been the cause of his recent May suckiness, not simply being a bad pitcher.  The bigger question is, who will replace Perkins in the rotation?  If its just one start my money is on Dickey, just like they did with Baker.  However, “elbow inflammation” never seems to last one start so they will have to call someone up.  The only pitchers in Rochester that are currently on the 40 man roster are Duensing, Armando Gabino, and Anthony Swarzak.  Duesning and Swarzak are starters so they are the two obvious choices.  Unless we want to grab someone from double A, which I would have no problem with.  It just seems that the Twins MO is to use AAA as their source for stop-gap players, only allowing players to jump from AA to the Majors if its for a full time job.

Hopefully this Sean Henn move injects some life (and by life I mean ability to get people out) into the bullpen.  I was hoping one of Slama or Delaney would be called up, but the fact that they weren’t further proves my AA vs. AAA theory.  If Henn turns out to be valuable, perhaps like Breslow last year, who will the Twins part ways with when Perkins comes back?  My money is on Ayala, even though he was moderately effective last night.  He just isn’t any good.

Speaking of last night, how about Dickey being basically the only reason we were still in that game.  After Perkins threw BP for 2/3 of an inning (even one of his outs was a warning track fly ball) Dickey came in for 4.1 innings and shut the Yankees down.  Impressive.  We still need to do a better job of hitting with RISP.  Maybe we should practice it more.  Oh wait, you can’t do that.  I think we have finally proved that what the Twins did last year was almost entirely luck.  Its unfortunate, but I think our increased (or at least seemingly increased, I haven’t looked at the stats) walk totals will help us greatly.  Especially now that Cuddyer is heating up, and Crede seems to be turning a corner. 

Brendan Harris needs more at bats.  If Gardy is going to play Tolbert as the regular second baseman, at least don’t bat him second.  Have a terrible hitter breaking up our best hitters is probably one of the worst ideas ever.  Similar to Napoleon’s “I can invade Russia during the winter” idea.  Or Chamberlain’s “Sure Hitler, you can have the Sudetenland back”.  Yes, I just compared two of the greatest political and military failures in history to Ron Gardenhire batting Matt Tolbert second.  Deal with it.

Leave your suggestions for Perkins rotation replacements in the comments.  Please, no more discussion of the Yankee series.  Let’s just go to Chicago and kick some White Sox ass.


Gardy Has Lost All Faith in the Bullpen — And They Fail Again

That was certainly a tough spot for Gardy in the eighth inning on Saturday afternoon’s game. Blackburn had looked good, getting through seven innings and giving up just a three run homer to Mark Teixeira,* and we’d just rallied to take the lead 4-3.

* Does anyone else think Teixeira is really dialing up his game against the Twins? He’s hit .369/.416/.653 in his career against the Twins, which is the third best he’s done against any other team. (After the Nationals and the Indians.) The reason for that can’t be Gomez, that was too recent. However, given how quick Teixeira was to explode at Gomez about something that was neither of their fault and was just part of the game, there may be a pre-existing issue here. I wonder if he blames us for not taking him first overall? Some baseball players have been mistreated … but, like people, some of them are just jerks.

Blackburn had already thrown 98 pitches, but with the knowledge that the bullpen is simply awful, Gardy couldn’t in good conscience bring in a reliever. Unfortunately, Blackburn surrendered a run in the 8th to tie the game, wasting the rally and his strong start.

I appreciate the fact that he disregarded the almighty 100 pitch count and left the starter out there for an extra inning. But we really shouldn’t have to do that. This demonstrates the fact that Gardy has realized that we simply don’t have an 8th inning reliever right now, and it’s found yet another way to cost us a game.

After extending Guerrier to another 2 inning outing,* we had to go to Breslow. He managed to record an out in the 10th, which was a minor miracle, but he couldn’t do the same in the 11th. He walked Teixeira and gave up a walkoff home run to A-Rod. There’s a reason that when Breslow comes in I immediately say “Well, here comes a walk and a home run.” And it’s because when he comes in, he gives up a walk and a home run.

* As I wrote the other day, we can’t keep using Guerrier like this. He looked good in those 2 innings, but this kind of thing is what wrecked his arm — and possibly his career — in 2008. If the plan is just to ride him until he blows out his shoulder and then cast him aside, then fine, but I don’t think that’s what we should be doing.

Another thing I said when Breslow came in was that for some reason, Gardy was still using our relievers as if it’s wise to use a pitcher for one batter in an extra inning game. He came in to face Damon, and I thought it was simply inconceivable to have him face Teixeira and Rodriguez, given that they’re both right handed power bats … and Breslow sucks. Again, it’s a tough spot.

Frankly, I wanted to be able to write about Mauer and Morneau today. This is the second time this season that they’ve both homered in consecutive games. While I think that’s awesome, we’re having serious OBP problems in the 2-hole — all five of the home runs the Twins have hit in this series have been solo shots. That’s pretty bad.

The Twins have come close to beating their New York curse in each of the first two games of the series, and each time have come up painfully short. Let’s see what they can do this afternoon.


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