June 3, 2008

Twins split Yankee Series

The Twins split the series with the New York Yankees. After loosing the first two, the Twins took the last two games to build momentum for their next series which is against the Orioles. The Twins had great performances throughout the series from two of their struggling outfielders, Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young. Young had two three-hit games, and raised his average from .258 to .273. He didn't hit a home run, but he had 4 doubles, including three 1-run doubles on Monday. Young looks to be getting more comfortable at the plate, but he still has to prove that he can maintain a solid bat for more than just one series.

I don't think that Young needs to necessarily pull the ball, because his approach is and has been to hit the ball to right field, even though he has pull power in batting practice. As much as it'd be nice to see him start hitting it more to left field, it's not the way he's played the game, and I don't think it'd be a wise move to change a 22-year-olds approach at the plate. He will turn it around at some point, the Twins just need to be patient, which they have been.

Another player they are needing to be patient with is Michael Cuddyer, who also had a great series. Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven have continued to mention that Cuddyer just needs a "big series" for him to get going, well this may be that series. Cuddyer went 9-18 with 5 runs, a double, triple, home run and 6 RBI. Now along with the K.C. series, Cuddyer is 13/34 (.382) with 9 RBI. Cuddyer's bat is crucial for this offense and if he can start heating up and the rest of the team performs the way they have been, I have high hopes for this team.

Friday's Game Ball
Justin Morneau - First Base
e: Morneau went 2-4 with his team-leading 41st RBI which came off of his 10th home run of the season. He has had a great first two months for the 3rd season in a row. When he won MVP in 2006, he was hitting .240/.302/.469 but had 11 home runs with 38 RBI's through June 2nd. In 2007, Morneau got off to a much better start hitting .288/.366/.582 with 14 home runs with 43 RBI's before falling off after the All-Star break. And now this season, Morneau is hitting much like he did last season, so far he's .303/.373/.500 with 10 home runs and 41 RBI's. The key for Morneau will be to see if he can maintain this throughout the course of an entire season. It's something he's yet to do, and at 27-years-old he's getting into the "prime years" of his baseball career. Box Score.

Saturday's Game Ball
Alexi Casilla - Second
Casilla has been the offensive (and defensive) catalyst this team is looking for all season. He just seems to be doing everything right. He's playing very good defense, he's running the bases well, and he's having fantastic at bats. Casilla went 1-3 with an RBI, a stolen base, two runs and 3 walks. Casilla is working into 3-ball counts often and is not giving into the pitcher at all. I don't expect him to keep this up, but he certainly deserves to be playing everyday right now and it looks like he'll be in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future. Box Score.

Sunday's Game Ball
Michael Cuddyer - Right Field

Cuddyer turned in his second multi-hit game in a row and his third 3-hit game within the week. Cuddyer got the Twins on the board in the first inning with a two-run single, and then later he drove in Mike Redmond for the second time in the game with an RBI triple. The 3-RBI's now give him 25 on the season. Box Score.

Monday's Game Ball
Delmon Young - Left Field

Delmon Young has had problems with power so far this season, and before yesterday's game he ranked in as 6th on the team with just 7 doubles, but after a 3-4 performance with 3 doubles, he now has 10 which is good enough for 2nd on the team. In just yesterday's performance, his OPS jumped .29 points and over the past 3 games it jumped .41 points. Although all of his hits were to right field, he is definitely making better contact on the ball and it's very encouraging to see him hitting well as of late. Box Score.

Although the Twins split the series, this was definitely an encouraging four-games for the Twins. The reason is that the two loses came on just one-run differentials, one of which was settled in 12 innings. The Twins played strong from start to finish, and it was definitely a good series for the offense.

However the pitching, which has been strong as of late, was not great and they really struggled. Glen Perkins, Boof Bonser and Livan Hernandez were all terrible and Nick Blackburn's start was cut short due to an injury. The four combined to go 0-2 with a 5.58 ERA. If it weren't for Blackburn giving up just one run over 4 1/3 innings, the three would have had an ERA of 6.60.

I should not say that all the pitching was "not great" as the offense allowed just 3 runs over 19 2/3 innings. 19 2/3 innings in a 4-game stretch is a lot of work, especially against the Yankees, and so the relievers were the unsung hero's of this series. The Twins used all 7 of their relievers throughout the series, including Brian Bass three games, Matt Guerrier three games, Dennys Reyes three games, and Joe Nathan three games. So I think it's safe to say that the Twins' bullpen is definitely beat up right now.

This is the reason for the Twins to carry 13 pitchers when Scott Baker returns from the D.L. on Thursday, the Twins made the announcement that Boof Bonser will be moved to the bullpen to make room for Baker in the rotation. And with that move, the Twins seem inclined to carry 13 pitchers for at least the next few weeks as the team plays 20 games in 20 days and 45 with just three off days before the All-Star game (we are 7 games into 20 consecutive games).

After starting out 2-4 with a 3.75 ERA in his first 6 starts (all in April), Bonser went 0-2 with an 8.60 ERA over his next 6 starts (all in May). Bonser's move to the bullpen does not appear to be permanent, but he needs to prove that he is not prone to giving up a big inning and needs to work on his control.

Baker has been on the D.L. since May 4th with strained right groin that he re-aggravated on May 3rd in Detroit. Before his injury, Baker was pitching well going 2-0 with a 4.09 ERA in 6 starts. Right now, the long-term goal for Baker is to just stay healthy as he's had a career chalked-full of injuries. Baker is set to face the Orioles at the dome on Thursday afternoon.

Nick Punto returned from the D.L. on Saturday and went 1-4 with an RBI, but he "tweaked" his injured hamstring after playing all 12 innings of the game. He was scratched from Sunday's lineup, made a pinch hit appearance yesterday, and the team is hoping he'll be ready to go tonight for the first game of the Twins-Orioles series.

Punto does not have a great bat, and he never will, but his defense is much better than that of Brendan Harris and right now Harris' bat isn't much better than Punto's. The Twins look set on starting Nick Punto at shortstop and making Harris their utility infielder for the time being. With the Twins likely sending Matt Macri down to make room for Scott Baker, Harris will be the teams backup third baseman as well as shortstop and second baseman. This move was going to be made a couple weeks ago, and at that time Matt Tolbert was going to play everyday (instead of Casilla), but with Tolbert injured and Punto going down with an injury, the team had to put the move off until now.

Harris has been a big disappointment this season, as many had high hopes for him after he hit .286/.343/.434 with 12 home runs 59 RBI's through 521 at bats last season. It was his first season as an everyday player, and many thought he'd build off of that and become a great offensive player for the Twins. He has never had great defense, but many thought the move to second base would make him at least serviceable, but with him not hitting the ball well and playing bad defense, he probably needs to be moved to the bench for a little while.

Nick Blackburn was hit in the face off of a line drive by Bobby Abreu on Sunday. The 26-year-old rookie had a bloody nose, but after x-rays turned out negative, it looks like he'll be fine with just a fat lip, bruised nose and probably shaky confidence. Blackburn got a very small tip of his glove on the ball which slowed it down quite a bit, which possibly saved him from making a trip to the D.L.

The biggest problem for Blackburn is going to be how he's effected on the mound next time up. After getting hit, especially in the face, many pitcher's have a big hit to their confidence and hopefully Blackburn is not effected by it. However even at 26-years-old, he is a rookie and he has had problems with his confidence already this season, so I won't be surprised to see him flinch quite a bit after facing a live hitter. He's not expected to miss any time and is scheduled to start on Friday when the Twins face the division-leading White Sox in Chicago.

The Twins Minor League Affiliates combined to go 66-53 in the month of May, but that is because the Beloit Snappers and Ft. Myers Miracle combined to go 41-17 while the Rochester Red Wings and New Britain Rock Cats went 25-36. Here are the top performers for the month of May:

Rochester Red Wings
Darnell McDonald - 29 - Outfielder

May: .322/.388/.621, 7 2B, 2 3B, 5 HR, 20 RBI
McDonald has been one of the only bright spots in the Red Wings offense this season. McDonald did not have a great 2007 season in Rochester, but he is having a fantastic season so far in '08 and he looks like he may be an option for the Twins if they ever need an outfielder this season. McDonald, along with Denard Span, Brian Buscher and Jose Morales are carrying the Red Wings this season, but with Span out, McDonald has risen to the opportunity to make a case for himself as a possible promotion. Honorable Mention: Jose Morales.

New Britain Rock Cats
Steven Tolleson - 23 - Second Base/Shortstop

May: .375/.460/.563, 10 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 21 RBI
Tolleson looks to be solidifying himself into one of the top middle infield prospects in the system, possibly making himself a top 15 prospect with a great start to the season. He is playing solid defense and is getting on base at a very high average. Since he's a college hitter, he may find his way up to Rochester before the end of the season. Honorable Mention: Erik Lis.

Ft. Myers Miracle
Danny Valencia - 23 - Third Base

May: .402/.431/.663, 12 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR, 25 RBI
Valencia is making his case of being the Twins top offensive prospect in the system, after hitting for both average and power this season. In his second go-around in Ft. Myers, Valencia is having a tremendous season and looks to be a lock for a promotion within the next couple of weeks. Honorable Mention: Jeff Manship.

Beloit Snappers
Ben Revere - 20 - Center Field

May: .433/.469/.633, 11 2B, 5 3B, 1 HR, 18 RBI
Revere has emerged as one of the best young players in the Twins system, and looks to be making a case as being the team's top prospect overall. At just 20-years-old, Revere looks to have a few more years before he's ready to make an impact on the Twins, but as a first-round draft pick should, he's raising eyebrows early. Revere looks to have past both 2006 top draft picks, Joe Benson and Chris Parmelee in terms of being ready to be promoted to Ft. Myers. But as much as I'd like to see him promoted to Ft. Myers, I know that it's unlikely for the Twins to move a young player like Revere even though he's now hitting .420 on the season. One month is not enough for the Twins to make a move with Revere, but I think that we could very well see him with the Miracle before the end of the season. Honorable Mention: David Bromberg.