May 28, 2008

Is Kubel our "Mr. Clutch?"

Sorry I've been MIA over the last few days, it was a busy Memorial Day Weekend. The Twins went 2-1 against the Tigers, and they did it despite being outscored 18-24. The reason for the large score by the Tigers is because of a 19-3 shalacking on Saturday. But on Sunday, the Twins came back and the third game just like they did in the first game, on great pitching.

Jason Kubel continues to be a very "clutch" hitter for the Twins. On Sunday, the "Birthday Boy" broke a 1-1 tie in the 8th by hitting his 4th grand slam of his career. Probably his most memorable ame in 2006 against the Boston Red Sox which was a walk-off Grand Slam to give the Twins the victory (I was at the game, which is why I remember it), although this one was every bit as important.

Kubel's career numbers have not been spectacular. He's a career .263/.316/.428 with 29 home runs in 843 career at bats at the major league level. It's definitely a different line from what the Twins expected after he hit .320/.385/.499 with 108 doubles, 20 triples, and 49 home runs in 1,654 at bats. He also had much better plate discipline than he's so far shown in the majors. He without a doubt was one of the best young hitters to come through the Twins system in recent memory, but due to a devastating knee injury in the Fall of 2004, Kubel has struggled to get back on track after missing all of the 2005 season.

Kubel may not have shown that he has what it takes to be an every day player, but he is definitely making himself known as a good hitter when the pressure is on. He's a career .288 hitter with runners on base, a career .296 hitter with runners in scoring position, a career .319 hitter with RISP and two outs, and he's a career .471 hitter with the bases loaded. Sure, those numbers are not astonishing, but he definitely looks to be a lot better when there is pressure on him then when there isn't. He and Michael Cuddyer are now tied with the team lead with 4 grand slam in their careers.

Kubel's numbers this season look a lot worse than they are. Many predicted him to break out this season, and a .255/.295/.428 line definitely would not warrant any optimism at this point. However, he has really made solid contact on quite a few of his hits and seems to be driving the ball well. Sure it means nothing when they're being caught, but I for one am not ready to push the panic button on Kubel receiving most of the at bats as the DH.

(All of Kubel's stats were prior to yesterday's game.)

Here are a few notes from the series:

Kevin Slowey pitched a great game on Friday. He went 6 innings and gave up 0 runs on 4 hits. However, his control was not his strong part in the game and ended up walking 4 batters, very uncharacteristically of Slowey. It was his best outing of the season, and he lowered his ERA from 5.49 to 4.21 in the outing and picked up his first win of the season.

Both Boof Bonser and Brian Bass were knocked for a combined 16 runs in just 4 1/3 innings on Saturday. Although Bass was horrible, the real concern centers around Boof Bonser who is now 0-2 with a 9.59 ERA over his last 5. It's so surprising because he was great in April as he was 2-4 with a 3.75 ERA, but in May he's just been horrible. It now sounds like Bonser may be a candidate for the bullpen as the other starters are definitely pitching better than him.

Glen Perkins continues to pitch well since his promotion. On Sunday, Perkins went 7 1/3 innings of 1 run ball and continued to get ahead of nearly every hitter he faced. In just his fourth major league start, Perkins improved to 2-1 with a 2.66 ERA. It's hard to believe that possibly our two best pitchers right now are guys that weren't figuring to even start in the rotation before the season. Now both Perkins and Nick Blackburn look like they could very well be important pieces to our rotation.

Mike Lamb looks like he may be ready to break out of his season-long slump. He had a great series against the Tigers as he went 5-7 with 4 runs scored, a double, triple, and his first home run. Lamb signed a 2-year $6.6 million deal before the season to hopefully be a consistent hitter in the Twins lineup before a prospect was ready to take over at that position hopefully within the next year or two. And up until now, he looks to have been a major disappointment. Hopefully he keeps this up and proves to be a wise investment for the low-spending Twins.

Alexi Casilla has been a great spark plug for this team so far since his promotion. If it weren't for Adam Everett's injury, we might have missed out on seeing Casilla shining for us over the last week or so. He won't continue to hit for power, which he's showcased now with two home runs, but he should get better on defense while getting more comfortable at the plate. Although Gardenhire has had mixed feelings on whether to play him at shortstop or second, and it may be the best move to move him to shortstop because of his strong arm and range, it looks like he may be at second for a while as Brendan Harris has really looked much more comfortable at shortstop opposed to second base. Hopefully Casilla can keep it up, but it's definitely encouraging to see him hit well after he struggled mightily in Rochester before his call-up.

Matt Macri made his first Major League appearance on Saturday, starting for Mike Lamb at third base and had quite a debut. He went 2-3 with two singles. He also drove in a run, scored a run, walked, struck out, and stole a base. He got a little taste of everything and I was really impressed with him. He (like Casilla) was also struggling at Rochester hitting just .263/.324/.434 with 13 extra base hits in 99 at bats. He was injured for a few weeks, but came back and had two multi-hit games in his last 3 before his called up.

Here's how the rest of the lineup did:

Alexi Casilla: 3-12, 1 run, home run, 4 RBI, 2 walks
Howie Clark: 0-1, K
Michael Cuddyer: 2-10, 1 run, 1 RBI, 3 walks
Carlos Gomez: 3-15, 2 runs, 1 RBI, stolen base, walk
Brendan Harris: 2-13, 1 run, 2 RBI
Jason Kubel: 3-8, 2 runs, 4 RBI, walk
Joe Mauer: 4-10, 2 runs, 1 RBI, 4 walks
Craig Monroe: 0-4
Justin Morneau: 4-12, 2 runs, 2 doubles, 2 RBI, walk
Mike Redmond: 1-1
Delmon Young: 1-9, 2 runs, 4 walks

Game Balls

Mike Lamb - Third Base
Line: 2-3, 4 runs, triple, home run, 1 RBI, 2 walks

Matt Macri - Third Base
Line: 2-3, run, RBI, walk

Glen Perkins - Starting Pitcher
Line: 7 1/3 innings pitched, 7 hits, 1 run, 2 walks, 4 K's, win


Former Twins farmhand Luis Maza was recalled by the Dodgers on May 12th after hitting .402/.468/.528 in 127 at bats in the Pacific Coast League. On Saturday, the Dodgers recalled another former Twins farmhand when they placed Andruw Jones on the D.L. They recalled Terry Tiffee who spent 7 seasons in the Twins organization after being drafted in the 26th round of the 1999 draft. He was hitting .422/.464/.609 with 24 doubles and 4 home runs in 192 at bats in the PCL. The Dodgers plan on using him not only at first and third base, but also in left and right field if needed.

Speaking of former farmhands being promoted, Alex Romero was recalled by the Diamondbacks yesterday after they placed Eric Byrnes on the D.L. Romero was waived by the Twins prior to the 2007 season so the team could keep Chris Heintz on the 40-man roster. Obviously he was claimed off of waivers and has been a great player for the Diamondback organization ever since. Many had a problem when the Twins made that move, and this will obviously make some fans upset to see. He was hitting .331/.374/.438 in 130 at bats in the PCL. Although his minor league numbers have been strong, he does not figure to be much more than a #4 outfielder, especially in the Diamondback organization which has many young outfielders on the depth chart.

Here's a humorous story about a young 22-year-old center fielder and his Milk Duds.

It looks like Nick Punto won't return to the Twins roster until Saturday at the earliest. Punto has been out since May 8th when he strained his hamstring against the White Sox. In that game, Punto went 2-5 with a double, triple, 2 runs and 5 RBI. He probably could be back with the Twins earlier than Saturday, but his wife is scheduled to give birth on Friday so the Twins will decide to hold off on reinstating him. It's not known who he will replace on the roster, but my guess is Matt Macri despite playing well in his only game thus far.

Although it's early, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are the only position players who look to have a shot at going to the All-Star Game.

Twins-Royals Thoughts

This game turned from excellent to horrifying in the span of about 3 minutes. Nick Blackburn was cruising through the entire game and with a 3-0 lead was given the opportunity to pitch the ninth for the complete game shutout. But after hitting Alex Gordon in the foot and then a single by Miguel Olivo, Joe Nathan came into the game to try and relieve Blackburn and pick up his 13th save in as many opportunities this season. The next batter, Mark Teahen hit a ball down the left field line and just out of the reach of the diving Delmon Young. The ball hit the wall in foul territory and bounced to the fence in left field. Young came up firing but Teahen was safe by a mile and tied the game up with a 3-run inside-the-park home run.

After the inning, it looked as if Young was trying to console Nathan and looked to try and basically say "it's my fault", but Nathan ignored the 22-year-old and instead decided to pout on the bench. Of course I don't know the whole story, but Nathan is 33 going on 34 and Young is 22 going on 23. If Nathan can't understand that it was a tough play and a well hit ball then I think that's pretty childish of him to ignore Young who is trying to turn his reputation around. I admire Young trying to make the play, and he knows he should have just played it safe, but I think there's no reason for a clubhouse leader like Nathan to give Young the cold shoulder when he tried to take the blame. It was really disappointing to see that happen, but he's a 22-year-old who let his instincts take over, I'm sure that has happened to Nathan. I'm not going to get too much into this because (like I mentioned, I don't know the whole story), but in my interpretation, that is what I saw and I think Nathan should have shown more maturity.

Blackburn tried to return what K.C.'s starter Brian Bannister did to the Twins in April, which was pitch a complete game, but unfortunately it didn't happen and despite pitching a great game, Blackburn was not part of the decision. Blackburn's line was 8 1/3 innings, 8 hits, 2 runs, 4 K's, 92 pitches (75 strikes). It was without a doubt his best start of the season, and he now has a 3.39 ERA on the season (through 11 starts).

Michael Cuddyer was the Twins best player on offense last night. Cuddy went 3-6 to make his average jump .12 points. He also drove in two runs including the game-winning run in the 12th inning. Alexi Casilla and Justin Morneau also had 3-hit nights while the rest of the team combined for 3 hits.

The bullpen really pitched well last night for the Twins. Dennys Reyes, Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain combined for 3 innings of shutout ball. Crain picked up the win, his second of the season and his 22nd of his career. Guerrier was credited with the save which was his first of the season and third of his career.

Tonight, the Twins will send Livan Hernandez to the mound to make his 12th start of the season, and his 3rd against the Royals. He is 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA in two starts against K.C. Zach Greinke will take the mound for the Royals. The 24-year-old right-hander is 5-2 with a 2.82 ERA this season and is 2-3 with a 3.75 ERA in 11 appearances (7 starts) against Minnesota.

Game Ball
Nick Blackburn - Starting Pitcher
Blackburn really pitched a great game last night. Unfortunately, Baseball is a very unpredictable game and we saw that last night. Blackburn was cruising through the game and came into the 9th inning with only throwing 85 pitches. He threw 92 total and he showed his great control again while throwing 75 of the pitches for strikes. Blackburn's ERA this season should be at 3.11 instead of 3.39, but he couldn't get through the inning and it's not how the cards always fall. I'm definitely very impressed by Blackburn after this start and I think he's definitely showing that he is in fact the Twins #1 prospect.

Down on the Farm

Hitter of the Day
Randy Ruiz - Designated Hitter - Rochester Red Wings
Ruiz has not had the type of season many envisioned he'd have after a great Spring Training. However, over the past 10 games, he has 5 multi-hit games, including yesterday's 4-5 performance. Two of Ruiz's hits were doubles bringing his season total up to 13. Ruiz also drove in one and scored 3 times while helping the Red Wings beat the Knights, 12-0.

Pitcher of the Day
Cole Devries - Starting Pitcher - Ft. Myers Miracle
After having a rocky April, Devries has really pitched well in May. Despite having 13 fewer strikeouts in 2 more innings, the Eden Prairie native has lowered his ERA from 5.o8 to 2.40 this month and now sits with a 4-4 record and a 3.70 ERA. And in his last 3 starts, Devries is 2-0 with a 0.50 ERA in 18 innings.

Touch 'Em All!
Rochester Red Wings: None
New Britain Rock Cats: None
Ft. Myers Miracle: None
Beloit Snappers: None (Off-Day)

Box Scores
Red Wings beat the Knights, 12-0.
Rock Cats lost to the Defenders 6-4.
Miracle beat the Reds, 5-0.
Snappers had an off-day.