July 8, 2008

Did Gardy "Screw the Pooch?"

With respect to a few, the Twins' bats just merely did not show up last night. Daisuke Matsuzaka was working them up, down and all-around the strike zone but yet the Twins again were unable to figure out the 27-year-old Japanese pitcher.

Twice they had the bases loaded, once in the 1st and again in the 8th (he allowed 2 of the base runners before being relieved by Hideki Okajima) and both times they left all the runners on the bases. Matsuzaka's windup disrupts a lot of (inexperienced) batters' timing, and with the Twins having a lot of inexperienced players, there's no wonder why he's been able to just 18 hits (just one home run) in over 22 innings he's pitched against the Twins.

But regardless of how good Matsuzaka is, the Twins missed a few golden opportunities to drive in a few runs and they missed miserably, something this team is not used to when it comes to having runners on base. Delmon Young alone left 7 men on base.

The Twins' Scott Baker had the better game of the two hurlers. The 26-year-old right-hander went 7 shutout innings of 5 hit ball and gave up just 2 walks while striking out 7. Baker was pulled after throwing just 94 pitches, something that Manager Ron Gardenhire probably regrets. After retiring 3 of the 4 batters he faced in the 7th inning, Baker was pulled from the game prior to the 8th inning in place of Brian Bass. Bass ranks last in current pitcher's FIP at 5.20. And as you can guess it, Bass comes in and gives up a double, RBI single, and a walk while just recording one out to give the Red Sox the lead, and ultimately the win. He could have walked Ramirez, who I know (I know) is struggling, but it would have potentially set up the double-play ball for Mike Lowell.

I don't understand Ron Gardenhire's thought process when it comes to putting in some pitchers in pressure-filled situations. Bass is obviously the Twins' worst relief pitcher currently on the roster and really has no business coming into a game against one of the best lineups in all of baseball with the game tied up in the 8th inning, especially when the team hasn't really had to tap into their bullpen for more than 3 innings since they needed to against the Brewers 10 games ago. So Gardenhire can't use the "my bullpen is beat up" excuse for this one, as he could've really gone with just about any of his other relievers besides maybe Matt Guerrier.

And speaking of which, why has he not used Craig Breslow? Unless I'm unaware of a reasoning as to why he isn't being used, Breslow has not pitched in 6 games. In regards to his FIP, he leads the team and although he's only pitched in 10 2/3 innings for the Twins, he has still not allowed a run to cross the plate, meaning that his LOB% is 100%.

Breslow has never faced the Red Sox, but he did throw 1 1/3 perfect innings of relief against the Cleveland Indians, his former team. I'm not going to get into a comparison between the Indians and Red Sox, as obviously the Red Sox and Indians can't really be said in the same sentence this season in regards to offense (unless you say, "the Indian's lineup suck compared to the Red Sox"), but he probably would love a chance to face another of his former teams. Bass has faced the Red Sox, and he gave up 3 walks and two runs (including a home run) in just 1 1/3 innings earlier this season. And in both that and this appearance, he was facing the heart of their batting order. And in both, he was lit up.

Gardenhire's reasoning for Bass to be in there over a guy like Breslow was because he was set to face two right-handers and just one left-hander. However, I also would not buy that excuse as prior to the game Bass had a .303 BAA right-handers and Breslow had just a .171 BAA right-handers.

Even if it wasn't Bass, there were other options that Gardenhire could have used. Nick Nelson gives a few.

Joe Christensen offers a few reasonings for the thoughts behind the decisions made in the game:

1) Scott Baker threw 94 pitches and was spent after seven innings. The game-time temp was 82 degrees, and it was plenty humid.

“You get a little gassed,” he said. “There’s no breaks [in Boston’s lineup]. It’s almost like a playoff atmosphere in this stadium. You’re letting it fly pretty much the whole game.”

2) Brian Bass had a 1.23 ERA over the previous two weeks.

3) Manny Ramirez batted .161 on Boston’s just completed 3-7 road trip.

4) Righthanded hitters were batting .291 against Hideki Okajima, compared to .220 for lefties.

5) Delmon Young has put the first pitch in play in 57 of his 339 plate appearances this season. He is batting .304 when that happens.

And even before seeing this, I couldn't place all the blame on Ron Gardenhire and Brian Bass anyways. Had the offense score just one run, there's a reasonable chance that Brian Bass would have never even began to stretch in the bullpen, let alone come into the game. So had the offense score one run, the loss could have (potentially) been prevented.

Oh well, as the ol' saying goes, "there's always tomorrow" (or I guess in the Twins' case, tonight). However, the Red Sox will send out Jon Lester who is coming off of a complete-game shutout and has been outstanding at home. While the Twins send out Nick Blackburn who although is also coming off of a good performance, has been terrible on the road this year and has gotten hit hard (nearly a .400 average) by the Red Sox in each of his two appearances against the defending World Champions (1 start, 1 relief appearance).

What is your take?

Game Ball
Scott Baker - Starting Pitcher

7 innings pitched, 5 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts, no decision
Twins lose, 1-0.