Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Ex-Twins Stats

As we enter the final month of the season, let's check in with some old friends....

This time, I've included VORP (Value Over Replacement-level Player), a statistic kept at Baseball Prospectus which measures
"The number of runs contributed beyond what a replacement-level player at the same position would contribute if given the same percentage of team plate appearances." Or, innings pitched.


You'll note right away that Eric Milton is having a brutal season by any measure, but when you get down to reading Cristian Guzman's -20.2 VORP, keep in mind that by that particular measure he rates as absolutely the worst regular player in the majors this year.

E. Milton (Cin): 7-12, 6.21 ERA, -16.1 VORP
M. Redman (Pit): 5-14, 4.89 ERA, 12.1 VORP
K. Rogers (Tex): 11-7, 3.15 ERA, 40.7 VORP
L. Hawkins (SF): 1-5, 3.52 ERA, 7.3 VORP
Guardado (Sea): 1-1, 1.81 ERA, 29/31 Sv, 16.0 VORP
T. Jones (Fla): 1-4, 1.20 ERA, 32/34 Sv, 28.0 VORP
A. Fultz (Phi): 3-0, 2.25 ERA, 19.0 VORP
H. Carrasco (Was): 3-3, 2.13 ERA, 18.9 VORP
J. Baldwin (Balt): 0-2, 3.65 ERA, 8.8 VORP

S. Greisinger (Atl): 0-0, 3.60 ERA, 1.1 VORP (Released)


D. Ortiz (Bos): .294/.389/.587, 61.3 VORP
D. Mientkiewicz (NYM): .247/.330/.428, 7.0 VORP
A. Pierzynski (CWS): .265/.315/.445, 16.8 VORP
C. Koskie (Tor): .249/.334/.412, 7.2 VORP
C. Guzman (Was): .194/.231/.273, -20.2 VORP
T. Walker (Cubs): .303/.353/.477, 24.9 VORP
C. Blake (Cle): .248/.310/.433, 8.5 VORP
M. Lawton (NYY): .265/.364/.411, 21.8 VORP
D. Miller (Mil): .254/.318/.387, 11.5 VORP
M. Restovich (Pitt): .257/.322/.410, 2.2 VORP
D. Mohr (Col): .215/.276/.489, 1.4 VORP
B. Kielty (Oak): .261/.351/.382, 9.3 VORP
C. Allen (Tex): .283/.304/.340, -0.8 VORP
J. Offerman (NYM): .221/.295/.337, -1.1 VORP
C. Gomez (Balt): .287/.354/.357, 4.4 VORP
Q. McCracken (Ari): .230/.309/.289, -2.7 VORP
H. Blanco (Cubs): .236/.274/.374, 0.2 VORP
J. Valentin (Cin): .291/.380/.557, 22.3 VORP
C. Moeller (Mil): .208/.260/.339, -2.4 VORP
D. Ardoin (Col): .231/.295/.340, -1.3 VORP
D. Hocking (KC): .222/.326/.222, -1.0 VORP


MINORS

M. Kinney (SF, AAA): 7-7, 4.88 ERA, 1.41 WHIP

J. Roa (Pitt, AAA): 1-1, 6.05 ERA (DL)
Rowland-Smith (Sea, AA): 5-7, 4.44 ERA, 1.51 WHIP
T. Fiore (Bal, AAA): 9-4, 3.56 ERA, 1.29 WHIP
A. Johnson (Oak, AAA): 7.36 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 14.2 IP


If I missed anyone, please let me know.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Third Base Line

The Twins in the Gardenhire/Ullger Era have never had a strong offense, but in a season when many expected a boost in run production, how did the whole show turn into such a fiasco?

Today at the
Third Base Line blog, TBL and I compare notes and lay bare the grizzly details. Join us to share your ideas on what can be done for next year.

Psychic Blows and Pondering the Hypotheticals (With Tables)

I know he was facing the Royals, but Scott Baker's stuff looked very sharp last night. Low 90's fastball which he could dial up to 94-95 when he wanted, a change-up in the low 80's which had batters reaching, and a curveball to make Bert proud. Now why couldn't the club tap him to face Chicago last week? Oh, right. Probably the same reason Gardy didn't trust Jesse Crain to relieve Joe Nathan in Game 2 of the ALDS last year.

Here's hoping that Baker never sees the minor leagues again. He ought to stick in the Twins rotation for good.

The Twins offense, on the other hand, looks so, so sad. The only guys I really want to watch at the plate now are Joe Mauer and Jason Bartlett. Well, sometimes Ford and Cuddyer. The rest, I find myself zipping through their at-bats, thanks to the power of TiVo, until I see the ball put in play. I hate to watch a game that way, but the current pitch-by-pitch alternative is slow torture. Have you really thought about the fact--I mean, let it sink in--that the #1-2 hitters in the order right now are Michael Ryan and Nick Punto? Then, compounding that blow to the psyche, it's particularly depressing when you see the #3 hitter intentionally walked twice in a game because the opposing manager actually wants the cleanup hitter up to bat with runners in scoring position. That's the tumble Justin Morneau has taken since his mighty April.

Today I looked at Morneau's numbers for the first time in awhile; and although I knew he'd been struggling, it still seems hard to believe that he's really hitting .237/.304/.432 now. His EqA is .259, and by VORP he rates as the worst regular 1st baseman in the American League. Those who used to chortle, "Dougie Who?" where are you now?

Speaking of the intentional walks, either the manager needs to move another hitter behind Mauer again, or he might want to rethink his strategy when the #9 hitter gets into scoring position with no outs. Last night, after Bartlett doubled to lead off the 8th, Gardenhire had Michael Ryan lay down a sacrifice to move Bartlett to 3rd base--which Ryan did nicely. The trouble was, that left Little Nicky Punto (.241/.302/.333 coming into the game) with the responsibility of bringing him home with a hit or deep flyball. When he got swept under by the percentages, the Royals promptly gave a free pass to Mauer and dared Morneau to get a 2-out hit. Instead, he grounded out to Denny Hocking at 2nd base.

The whole scenario is depressing on so many levels, including the coup de grace of Denny Fricking Hocking appearing at the end to haunt me like the spectre of so many nightmares past. Was it only invented by my subconscious mind? I feel like I should write it down to have the scene analyzed. Did anyone see if Hocking was smoking a cigar? Was Morneau, in fact, swinging a banana at the plate? Or, perhaps an 18-inch State Fair Corndog? Luis Rivas wasn't lurking down at the end of the clubhouse tunnel, wading in a pool of water, was he?

Anyway, I know the team is having trouble scoring runs. But when you have a runner in scoring position with no outs, at this point, maybe you don't want to give away an out and leave Punto and Morneau even less of a margin for error than is really necessary.

Thankfully, the Twins finally did break through the KC bullpen in the 10th inning--or the Royals rather gave the game away. Shawn Camp, the fourth reliever out of the pen, walked Bartlett and Ryan. Then Punto hit a high fly into the Left-Center gap, which looked like a catchable ball, but Terrence Long could only wave at the ball as it landed and trundled to the wall, scoring both runners. Afterwards, the camera caught Long making a face as he shook his head at his Centerfielder. Maybe he thought the CF should have had it, or maybe he didn't like what his CF was saying to him. Maybe he was just reflecting on what kind of Supreme Being might have brought him to play in Kansas City this season.

Well, fortunately for the Twins and us fans, our bullpen is awesome--especially when it's Rincon and Nathan wrapping up the proceedings. So, Twins Win.

Still, watching the Twins lineup go through its paces this evening got me to wondering what the Twins' expected record might be if the team could swap offenses with the Red Sox or any other AL team.

Here are the expected team records, through 131 games, if each team's offense were supported by the Twins pitching staff:

Offense
W-L
Pct.

RS
RA
Red Sox
88-43
.669

746
525
Yankees
85-46
.647

711
525
Rangers
83-48
.637

695
525
Athletics
79-54
.599

642
525
Indians
78-53
.594

635
525
Blue Jays
77-54
.586

625
525
Devil Rays
77-54
.586

624
525
Tigers
76-55
.579

616
525
Angels
75-56
.575

611
525
White Sox
73-58
.557

592
525
Orioles
73-58
.555

586
525
Mariners
71-60
.545

575
525
Twins
71-60
.538

567
525
Royals
67-64
.512

538
525

Each team in the league would have an expected record above .500 if it had Twins-level pitching this season. The top team, Boston's offense + Minnesota's pitching and defense, would be on pace for 108 wins. If the Twins had the Devil Rays' 7th rated offense, right now they could be leading the Wild Card race by 2.5 games.

Here are the expected records if each team's pitching staff were supported by the Twins offense:

Pitch & Def
W-L
Pct.

RS
RA
White Sox
72-59
.548

567
515
Angels
71-60
.541

567
522
Twins
71-60
.538

567
525
Athletics
71-60
.537

567
526
Indians
67-64
.514

567
551
Blue Jays
65-66
.496

567
571
Mariners
60-71
.461

567
613
Tigers
59-72
.451

567
626
Yankees
59-72
.447

567
631
Orioles
57-74
.437

567
644
Red Sox
56-75
.428

567
656
Rangers
53-78
.402

567
691
Royals
48-83
.366

567
750
Devil Rays
46-85
.351

567
771

Most of the league would be drowning if attached to the anchor of the Twins offense. Only four teams besides the Twins have pitching good enough to keep afloat above .500 with that kind of run support. AL East powers Boston and New York would already be far out of contention by now--and imagine all the angst and heads exploding in the Northeast if that were the case. If the Twins actually had the Mariners' 7th rated pitching, right now they could be 4th in the AL Central.

Even the stingiest pitching & defense in the league, paired with the Twins offense, now would be on pace for just an expected 88 wins.

The Twins have a pitching staff that might be worthy of a pennant run, but it's tied to an offense that belongs locked in the cellar. This can't go on. A team simply cannot expect to win with this kind of offense. There are younger players who should be back and given a chance to show progress next year, out of necessity if for no other reason. But at the same time, some major revisions to the lineup plan are in order, too. Upgrades at 2B or 3B, DH, and throughout the outfield must be a priority. Nobody but Joe Mauer should be Untouchable. If we get another winter of controlling roster attrition and maintaining the status quo, it's a shame. Both the pitching staff and the Twins fans deserve better than this.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Fire In His Eyes


The Uni Watch column by Paul Lukas at ESPN.com this week uses my photo of Joe Mauer with the gum stuck on his batting helmet. Sad to say, I get no credit. But I guess I'll forgive Lukas since he brings to my attention an especially interesting trend in sports eyewear, modeled here by former Twins catcher A.J. Pierzynski.

A.J. isn't turning into a cyborg or one of the Undead.

He's wearing an amber-tinted lense in his right eye, which filters out UV rays and almost all the light at the blue end of the spectrum. This not only cuts down on glare, but is said to improve contrast clarity and makes the white of the baseball stand out.

A.J. heartily endorses the product developed by Bausch & Lomb and Nike: "It definitely makes the ball stand out a little bit. When you're in the sun, you have to squint a little bit when you wear contacts. It distorts your vision a little bit, whereas when you wear these you don't have to squint."

Of course, the man also is hitting .264/.317/.450, quite a drop from his heyday with the Twins, so maybe there is more to this story than meets the eye.

If A.J. really had become one of the Undead, you wouldn't expect him just to come out and admit it, would you?

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Spitting the Kool-Aid

As SBG pointed out in yesterday's comment thread, Sid has declared that this season rates as Gardy's Best Managing Job Yet:

Managers get Manager of the Year awards when they win pennants.

Well, I believe Gardenhire has done a better job of managing this team than he did with any of his three Central Division champions.

For dealing with the injuries and the average replacements coming up from Class AAA Rochester, Gardenhire should get a medal for keeping this team in the wild-card race.


Nobody ever stopped Grandpa Sports from polishing anyone's apple before, so far be it from little ol' me to take away his homer hankie now. However, I would like to point out a few things....

1) The pitching staff, the strength of the team, has not suffered a significant injury loss all season. No member of the bullpen on Opening Day has been on the DL, and the regular rotation has made all but 4 starts. The Twins won 3 of those 4 starts, while Dave Gassner and Scott Baker combined for a 2-1 record and 4.12 ERA. Baker posted a 3.00 ERA in his pair of starts, while Gassner had a memorable Win in Cleveland before getting knocked out early in the dome by the Royals. Yet even when KC lit up Gassner, the Twins still won the game, 10-9.

2) Twins 2nd basemen this season have combined to hit .255/.315/.335. Not good. Yet, the Twins 2B's last year hit .257/.308/.425. Also poor, just a respectable amount of pop. But wait: is the team suffering at the position because the regular starter went down and the replacements weren't up to par?

No. Luis Rivas hit .257/.303/.297 in 43 games at the position. The veteran Bret Boone hit .170/.241/.170 in the two weeks of that disastrous experiment. Otherwise, the rest of the patchwork replacements have combined to hit .266/.333/.377. Nick Punto has hit .285/.337/.430 at 2B, and Brent Abernathy has hit .308/.378/.385 at the position. The manager can't blame the backups and AAA replacements for creating the hole here. That's mostly on Rivas and Boone. And who decided to bring back Rivas or take a flyer on Boone? Did Gardy approve?

3) The Shortstops have combined to hit .239/.278/.335, compared to .271/.310/.378 last year. That's a drop. But I think it's also fair to point out that Jason Bartlett was producing Guzman-level offense when he was sent down to AAA in May. It was the manager's choice to play the no-stick veteran utilityman Juan Castro in his place, who has hit .257/.276/.383 at the position, rather than see how the rookie Bartlett might have developed through the season. For whatever reason, Nick Punto's respectable bat at 2nd base has completely disappeared when he's played SS this year (.198/.250/.228 in 30 games), and it is also the manager's decision to keep sending him out there even since the promising rookie has rejoined the team.

Gardenhire must realize he's not going to get much offense when he writes Castro's name into the lineup, and that he's been getting auto-outs when he plays Punto at the spot, so I have to assume he just doesn't care. He's making a conscious choice to play experienced glovemen whom he trusts not to make careless errors in the field. That's his call, but then he forfeits the right to complain when his noodle bats fail to hold up their part of the offense, too.

4) Michael Cuddyer had a genuinely awful April. He's still struggling with consistency, and his numbers with runners on base/scoring position this season are poor. Odd, because last year he was excellent with men in scoring position. All that, plus his throwing problems at 3rd base, have made him a popular whipping boy and scapegoat. However, he has shown improvement at the plate and in the field since his rocky start to the season. Since the start of May, he's hit .270/.346/.441. I don't have fielding splits, but from watching I think his throws across the diamond have been much more consistent in the last couple months. As it happens, his .937 FP at 3rd base is even better than any other Twin to play the position this year, except for Nick Punto who hasn't made an error in 69 innings at the hot corner.

So after Gardenhire decided to stick with Cuddyer at the end of April, why did he take away the regular 3B job from Cuddyer in late June?

It looks like a typically knee-jerk move by the Twins manager: on June 22, Cuddyer had a hit in 3 at-bats but made 2 errors in an 8-1 loss to the Tigers. The Twins were losers of 4 straight games, and 9 of 12 dating to the start of their fateful series in Los Angeles, which we discussed yesterday. After winning 7 straight series, the Twins had now lost 4 series in a row--and would lose another in Milwaukee the following weekend. Michael Cuddyer would be the scapegoat. The next day, Glenn Williams was 2-for-4 as the 3rd baseman in a 6-2 win, giving him 10 hits in his first 8 games in the majors. Just like that, Cuddyer was back at Super Utility duty.

Cuddyer started one more game at 3B that month, the day after Williams got hurt, but then Cuddyer went on the Disabled List himself. When he returned, Gardy had decided he liked having utilitymen such as Punto and Rodriguez at the position.

Again, he made a conscious choice to forsake offense for slicker glovework. Nobody forced Gardenhire to bench his best bat at the position so he could watch utilitymen bat .221/.323/.337 (that excludes Tiffee and Williams). He's responsible for the consequences of his decisions.

5) Since Torii Hunter broke his ankle on July 29, his regular replacement Lew Ford has hit .282/.327/.437. Meanwhile, since Matt LeCroy became the regular DH, he's hitting .266/.348/.481. The offense scored 4.08 runs per game with Hunter in the lineup in July (and Torii hitting .270/.324/.340 for the month); 4.04 rpg without him in August.

How much of a handicap has Torii's injury proven to be, really?

We all know this offense is lousy; the Twins are tied with Seattle for 12th in runs scored in the AL. The team EqA of .249 rates 27th in the majors. Kansas City is the only AL team that is worse. But you know... it was pretty bad last year, too, when the team ranked 10th in the league in runs scored. It didn't just happen because the team got too young or the manager was stuck with scrubs who played worse than the regulars they replaced.

Terry Ryan had his chance to address weaknesses in the lineup last winter, and he opted instead to focus on limiting roster attrition, managing worst-case scenarios, and spending money on mediocre and poor talent, including some guys who were big parts of the problem last year. Even so, Gardenhire had options with upside throughout the lineup, which he often squandered by choosing to play slick glovemen who couldn't hit a lick.

The GM and Field Manager failed to get the most out of their resources this year, in a season when Shannon Stewart is having the worst year of his career, Jacque Jones has had two big months but was MIA for three, and the Team Leader in Centerfield had one good month at the plate and chose to mark the occasion by ripping his younger teammates in the press. You know, 34% of the team payroll is going to those three outfielders, but it's been a long time since I heard any of the grand pooh-bas talk about whether they're delivering value for the money. I certainly have not heard it this year.


The veteran outfielders are blameless! The manager is doing his Best Job Ever! We're giving freedom to the Iraqis! Hail, Dear Leader! Whatever's gone wrong, it's the fault of People Who Hate America and those damn Inexperienced Kids!

Here, have another glass of Kool-Aid.

Blame the Youth

"I think we saw where we have a lot of young people that made some mistakes out there today that really hurt us... We didn't need them to come in here and win two out of three. The sad thing is we had chances out there. We just didn't get it done. We didn't finish them off today. We showed a little youngness in the clubhouse today, I thought."

--Ron Gardenhire, after losing 2-1 in extra innings to Chicago on Thursday
That's right, blame the youth for losing the Chicago series. I know, it's hard going up against Chicago when they're throwing Mark Buehrle at you and you're stuck matching him with a kid just up from Triple-A... oh, wait. Scott Baker won't join the team until Monday, right? Sorry, wrong parallel universe.

As it happened, after Buehrle and the White Sox beat Joe Mays on Wednesday, Chicago took the Thursday rubber match, 2-1, scoring the winning run in the 10th inning after Luis Rodriguez tried to swipe a tag on a runner coming to 3rd base, but missed, and then Timo Perez singled in the run. LaVelle's recap in the Strib also notes that Michael Cuddyer struck out looking at 3 pitches in the 9th, after getting to a 3-0 count. Michael Ryan, apparently still wet behind the ears at 28 years old, failed to take 3rd base although he was running with the pitch on a Cuddyer single up the middle; then he was thrown out at home trying to score on a hit by Terry Tiffee.

These are mistakes that may have lost the ballgame, but I'm not so sure they're necessarily mistakes of youth. Occasionally an infielder will miss a tag. We've all seen veteran players, even on this team, get lost on the basepaths. We've seen veterans strike out looking or choke in some other way in a crucial spot. I can't recall hearing Gardy rip octogenarians when Mulholland hangs a pitch that gets blasted into the bleachers. Why ya hatin' on your youth again, Gardy?

Besides, when the manager all but concedes Game 2 of the series by sending Joe Mays to the mound rather than skipping his turn or bringing in a fresh prospect, he forfeits the right to complain about the little mistakes that cost the team Game 3 and the set. He can talk about his players' brain cramps when he admits to one of his own.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Tipping Point

Today Bob Collins points out that the Twins began the season with a 49.1% chance of making the playoffs, according to Clay Davenport's calculations posted at Baseball Prospectus, which has dropped to a 7.4% chance as of yesterday morning. It's better than the 2% chance the team had on the morning of August 15, when I said there was nothing left to play for but pride. Still, it's quite a disappointing turn of fate since the hopeful days of springtime.

UPDATE: The Twins' postseason chances as of this morning are now 4.08%.

Even more interesting to me is to find that the Twins had a 71.6% chance of making the playoffs as late as the morning of June 12. The team had a 36-24 record (.600) and trailed Chicago by 4.5 games, but led the Wild Card standings by 4 games.

These were the Wild Card standings at that point:

Team
W-L
Pct.
GB
Twins
36-24
.600
--
Rangers
32-28
.533
4
Red Sox
32-29
.525
4.5
Indians
30-30
.500
6
Blue Jays
31-31
.500
6
Yankees
30-31
.492
6.5
Tigers
28-31
.459
7.5
Mariners
26-34
.433
10
Athletics
24-37
.393
12.5

On that Sunday afternoon of the 12th, the Twins would lose the rubber match of a series with the Dodgers, knocking the team's playoff odds down to 63.8% and beginning the hard fall out of the catbird seat, down to the longshot position they now occupy. That Sunday was the tipping point. What happened that weekend?

You may recall that Sunday game as the day Brad Radke served up 3 home runs to Hee Seop Choi! Hee Seop Choi! and visibly seethed after Gardy took the ball from him before Choi's fourth at-bat. Earlier, the manager also passed on his best chance to win the game, when he let Radke bat in the 6th inning with the score tied and with 2 runners in scoring position and 2 outs. Afterwards, he called out Juan Castro, a noodle bat who was only in the regular lineup because the manager thought so much of his glovework, and placed full blame on his #8 hitter for failing to get the runs home and leaving the mess to Radke. The man in charge apparently had no second thoughts about his decisions or priorities, and he accepted no responsibility for the consequences.

You may also recall that two days before, the Twins had battled back from a 4-1 early deficit to take a 5-5 tie into the bottom of the 9th, but Gardy tapped marginal middle reliever Terry Mulholland to pitch that inning, and Hee Seop Choi! Hee Seop Choi! launched the first pitch into the Rightfield seats to win the game.

You may further recall that the June weekend in LA capped off the road trip on which Gardy and his staff, with the notable help of Torii Hunter, used the local press to call out Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau for lacking the macho fortitude to play through injuries. Gardy first put his needle to Morneau, a day after the 1st baseman told Gardy he was ready to play but Gardy had chosen to give him the extra day off. Then a few days later, to make sure that Mauer knew they were talking about him too, Gardy and his bullpen coach called him out by name in Jim Souhan's column. Gardenhire said that a pulled groin muscle "has nothing to do with catching." Rick Stelmaczek went so far as to say of Mauer: "The kid has been pretty well pampered the majority of his career."

Of course you remember that Mauer missed nearly all of last season while rehabbing from knee surgery, and probably aggravated his injury last summer by trying to come back too soon. This manager had been so worried about Mauer's condition even at the start of this season, he carried a 4th Catcher on the roster until May 5. One month later, he and his coaches were going to the press to all but call him Nancy.

They did this, you see, because the kid had just missed 5 starts with a groin injury, came back to play in 2 of 3 games in the next series, then asked for a few more days off because the injury still bothered him. The manager had to let the young lad know that his sick day quota was filled. He could play through pain or get ripped in the papers. Concern for the health of the franchise's cornerstone players, or dealing with rookies respectfully and behind closed doors, is not the way they do things around here.


It was not a banner week for Ron Gardenhire, either as a game tactician or a manager of players behind the scenes. And to think that the Twins traveled to Los Angeles riding high as winners of 7 straight series, and in a post entitled Good Times, I wrote that the Twins had been "such fun to watch, game commentary seems nearly beside the point...."

I felt such cocky optimism, like a fool I said, "Chicago keeps rolling along, but the Twins keep drafting off their bumper. They can't shake this team. No worries for the ChiSox, though. They can take solace in the knowledge that they still lead the wild card race by 7 games. There's a nice cushion for them when they fall."

Oy, the pain.

What followed that week may be coincidence, maybe not. Yet while we have seen Gardy jerk around a number of younger players, but do nothing to address the weaknesses of his favorite veterans and occasionally throw away his best chance to win games with poor tactical decisions, a .600 frontrunning team has posted a 31-36 record since that high water mark of the season.


Here's how the other teams in the wild card race have played in the meantime:

Team
W-L
Pct.
GB
Athletics
46-19
.708
--
Red Sox
40-24
.625
5.5
Yankees
40-25
.615
6
Indians
41-27
.603
6.5
Blue Jays
33-32
.508
13
Tigers
33-33
.500
13.5
Twins
31-36
.463
16
Mariners
28-38
.424
18.5
Rangers
27-39
.409
19.5


The Orioles are the only contender in the league to take a harder fall, with a 25-40 (.385) mark since they led the East that weekend, and their manager was fired a few weeks ago.

Is Ron Gardenhire just an innocent victim of misfortune since June 12, or is he part of the problem?

Is the manager of the Twins accountable for the dive his team has taken this summer? If not that, can he be held accountable for anything?

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Time Waits for No Manager

Earlier in the season, as certain younger players struggled to adjust to fulltime roles in the lineup, Gardy and his allies have suggested that he could not afford to be patient with developing kids, not in a year when the Twins were shooting for another division title and possibly the pennant. There was no time for errors and rookie mistakes, no time to wait for youngsters to find their swings, no time to let kids nurse their injuries, no time to worry about hurting any kid's feelings. Gardy this season has liked to say that he's just trying to win, and he'll ride the hot hands or play the guys whom he feels give his team the best chance to win on that day.

So why is Joe Mays still in the pitching rotation?

Joe Mays was a pleasant surprise early in the season, when he was 3-2 with a 3.59 ERA after pitching valiantly in a loss to the Yankees on June 4. One of the highlights of the spring was his complete game shutout of the Blue Jays on May 19. He even had a 5-3 record and 3.84 ERA as late as July 3, after beating Tampa Bay with 7 strong innings in a 3-2 victory. I was impressed that he'd come back so strong, immediately after missing a year while rehabbing after Tommy John surgery, and I felt glad for him.

Since that July 3 game, however, his arm must be wearing down. He hasn't been completely awful lately, but pretty bad more often than not. In his last 9 starts, he's allowed 40 runs in 45.1 innings, a 7.94 ERA, and the team has lost 8 of the 9 games. Even when Mays put up a decent line and notched a 'W' last week against Seattle, he seemed to be dodging trouble through much of his 6 innings, while facing one of the worst offenses in the league.


Let's take a moment to look at the individual VORP (Value Over Replacement Pitcher) figures for the Twins pitching staff:
NAME                VORP
Johan Santana 50.2
Brad Radke 33.0
Carlos Silva 40.4
Kyle Lohse 25.5
Joe Mays 1.9
Jesse Crain 18.3
Juan Rincon 17.7
Joe Nathan 19.1
Matt Guerrier 12.9
Terry Mulholland 0.1
J.C. Romero 9.7
Scott Baker 4.5
Dave Gassner -2.0

What does this say? Johan is again one of the elite pitchers of the league. Silva has been unexpectedly outstanding. Radke and Lohse are solid values by the standards of #3-4 pitchers. The Twins have a deep corps of strong righthanded relievers; Romero isn't great, but he's not garbage. Terry Mulholland, however, is practically worthless, or no better than a replacement-level pitcher from AAA. Not much better is Joe Mays, whose value is even lower than Scott Baker's rating in an admittedly small sample of 13 innings.

All that Mays contributed in the first half of the season has been nearly negated by his performances in the last 7 weeks. There's no question, he's hurting his team by taking his turn in the rotation lately. So why is he still getting the ball, when the team has no time for patience?

Why wasn't he skipped in the rotation this week?

Why hasn't he been demoted to the pen?

Patrick Reusse writes that when a reporter asked him about it last night, Gardy shot back:

"If you can figure out a way to get a pitcher up here, with all of our players down and hurt, and tell me who you want to take off this roster to bring a pitcher up here ," Gardenhire said.

He added: "You're a little smarter than I am, because I can't figure it out. We're really stuck here."

Another reporter loitered in the manager's office, then offered a solution: Designate Mays for assignment and call up Scott Baker (he pitched well in a Class AAA start Tuesday) to face the Royals.

"That's not the way we do things here," Gardenhire said. "We have too much respect for Joe. If we did that, the guys in that clubhouse ... let's just say they would be very upset, knowing what Joe's gone through to get back here."

I guess the manager might have time to worry about hurting a player's feelings, after all. If it's one of his senior veterans.

Maybe I am a little smarter than the Twins manager--pshaw, Gardy, just a little?--but I have a couple alternate ideas if the club is too genteel to push Joe Mays out the door before the season is over.

For one thing, Matt Guerrier could take that next scheduled start in Kansas City on Monday. Aside from his mulligan outing last weekend, he's done an excellent job in middle relief all season. He has the stamina to pitch at least 5 innings, and his fastball and curve are good enough to get through the Royals order at least a couple times. That would get the club through the end of the month, when Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano could come up, then the manager would have until Saturday next week to decide on who should start against the Indians.

Or, and I know this is a wild idea, but I'm just brainstorming here... maybe, just maybe, the team already could have cut the cord on Terry Mulholland? As nice as it must feel to the manager to have a veteran pitcher around who can boast of a rubber arm and never complains about his role because he's happy just to be on the team, you don't see many serious contenders go out of their way to carry 42 year-old pitchers with a sore back and a 5.40 ERA while allowing batters to hit .281/.332/.464. The old man's availability is even day-to-day lately because of his back pain. Hasn't it occurred to the GM and manager of this outfit that they could have created a roster spot by at least putting Terry Mulholland on the Disabled List?

Time's running out on the season. If Gardy didn't have the luxury to wait for players to come around before, he certainly doesn't have it now. Why are we waiting for September 1st to roll around before putting Mays on the shelf? Why hasn't someone made the necessary moves to get Baker or Liriano in the Twins rotation already? Why can't it happen NOW?

I ask you.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Twins 1, White Sox 0


Now that's a Staff Ace:
No crying for run support.
Zeroes? Back at ya.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Ballparks Tour: Busch Stadium, St. Louis


Last summer, during a trip to Kentucky, Jenn and I stopped in Cincinnati and St. Louis to see some ballgames--and of course photograph some ballparks in the meantime. Today, we'll look at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. You'll recognize the Gateway Arch in the photo above, taken at my room window in the hotel downtown.


From the top of the Arch, aerial views of Busch Stadium and the Old Courthouse (green dome, right) where the Dred Scott case was tried.



Walking up to the main gate. Look closely, just to the right of center, you can see the giant statue of "Stan The Man" Musial.


Along the plaza, the Cardinals have erected several smaller statues honoring minor deities of Cardinals legend.


Here is Ozzie Smith, my brother's favorite player.


View of the diamond from our original seats.


And the scoreboard. The sightlines were very good, but that August day the temps were in the upper 90's with a heat index above 105, and we were sitting in the open sun. When Casey Stengel visited the park as a coach at the All-Star Game on a similarly hot day in 1966, someone asked for his impression of the new park. Casey remarked, "It sure holds the heat well." That may be our most lasting memory of Busch Stadium, too. At that '66 All-Star Game, 135 people were treated at First Aid stations for heatstroke and other heat-related ailments. Jenn and I lasted only about 45 minutes in these seats, despite drinking water constantly, before we were forced into shade. Even then, we still had to leave in the 8th because Jenn felt like she had heatstroke and I had about reached my tolerance limit for the heat as well.


A standing-room view, back in the shade.


Batsculpture and Duff Man


Outer concourse leading to upper levels. I liked the clean white look and the circle-pattern detail. A nice '60s Modern touch that evokes the era of the stadium construction and the Gateway Arch, which was finished the year before Busch Stadium opened. It looks clean and simple like modern design, but classical at the same time.

Echoes of the Arch are also present in the canopy above the upper deck:

View from the upper deck, where we moved to get in the shade. Note how the people follow the shadeline, particularly to the right, as those seats are facing directly into the sun.


Scoreboard with the Arch looming above. Again, not many folks venturing beyond that shadeline in the upper deck. The flags to the right honor the 10 men whose numbers have been retired, including the numberless Rogers Hornsby and former owner August Busch, Jr. The pennants at the other end of the scoreboard commemorate the Cardinals' 9 World Series championships.


Stands structure.


Closing shot as we were leaving.

Aside from the heat and humidity, I really liked Busch Stadium. The sightlines all around the park were good. The people were enthusiastic and friendly. One kid was nice enough to share his squirt-bottle/fan with us while we were sitting in our original seats. The park had a wide variety of concessions, and the aisles were swarming with vendors--and not just selling Bud. Since it's been remodeled for the Cardinals, and as all the other "concrete donuts" of the '60s and '70s are gone, I'd even say Busch Stadium has taken on its own unique character and charm. In a way, it's too bad the Cards are ditching the place to move into yet another HOK "neo-retropark," the new cookie-cutter trend of our age. If the Cardinals had resolved to stay here, in another 15-20 years Busch Stadium could have become regarded as a classic of its kind.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Waiver News

According to Jayson Stark, Joe Mays has cleared waivers, but Kyle Lohse and J.C. Romero were blocked and cannot be traded this month.

Some bats who cleared and could be available:



OK, the Twins are not going to be picking up any of the big names. Palmeiro would invite too much controversy, and Piazza has a broken hand. Sweeney is owed $12.5 million in each of the next two years if he'd traded, and nobody really wants Griffey's contract unless the Reds eat a lot of it.

But could the Twins be interested in renting Dmitri Young for 5 weeks? He's been on a hot tear, and he has an expiring contract with about $1.3m left on it.

Perhaps even better: how about Matt Stairs? The perfect platoon partner for LeCroy or Morneau. He crushes righty pitching, probably enjoys the same foods Matty likes to eat, and he'd cost the Twins less than 200 Large for the rest of the year.

NOTE: The Twins claimed Alfonso Soriano on the waiver wire, probably just to block other teams from picking him up, but Terry Ryan has until Monday to make a deal with the Rangers.

The Gardentool Chronicles

A couple ways to break down Lohse's performance Saturday, by the numbers:

1st time through the order: 2-9; single, double; .222/.222/.333
2nd time through the order: 0-9; 1 reached on error
3rd time through the order: 3-8; single, 2 HR; .375/.375/1.125

First 45 pitches: 2-15; .133/.133/.200
From 46-92 pitches: 3-11; .273/.273/.818

The first 45 pitches covers the game through Jeremy Reed reaching base on the Abernathy error to lead off the 5th. At that point, the Twins had a 2-0 lead, and Lohse had retired 8 straight batters since Reed doubled in the 2nd. Lohse proceeded to retire the #7-9 hitters on a couple groundouts and a strikeout, closing out the 5th inning. Lohse began his third time through the order when Ichiro led off the 6th. Ichiro lined out to Cuddyer, Willie Bloomquist singled to Rightfield, and Raul Ibanez hit into a double play. The #4-5-6 hitters were due to get their third look at Lohse in the 7th.

Sitting at home, Jenn and I both saw a Bad Moon Rising over Kyle Lohse. We both called the Sexson homer. If you give good hitters more than a couple looks at Kyle Lohse, you're asking for trouble. If you don't have a clear understanding of your players' strengths and weaknesses, at some points you're going to be unwittingly setting them up to fail. Which is what Ron Gardenhire did to his starting pitcher on Saturday.

Gardenhire probably sent Lohse out for the 7th because he was working on a shutout, had only given up 3 hits and no walks, and he'd thrown just 78 pitches. I'd guess he hoped to save the bullpen that one extra inning of work, too. That would be solid reasoning if the pitcher had been someone we could trust to go deep into games. When your pitcher has allowed batters to hit .389/.410/.722 from the 7th inning onward this season, and your top priority is to steal a win from Felix the Phenom, you pat Kyle Lohse on the back and bring in Jesse Crain to pitch the 7th. Give Brad Radke the responsibility of saving the bullpen on Sunday afternoon.

Instead, the manager sent out Lohse to take an assignment he generally can't handle. Lohse grooved pitches down the middle to Sexson and Beltre, when he was ahead of both batters in the count, and despite the fact that the batters following Beltre were Jeremy Reed (a rookie hitting .258/.325/.354), Greg Dobbs (4-A player, .200/.221/.278 in 95 major league PA's), and Yuniesky Betancourt (rookie midsummer callup, hitting .270/.289/.378). Boom--Sexson and Beltre hit back-to-back jacks. The 2-0 lead has evaporated, and the game is eventually lost in the 10th with the third reliever out of the pen, the team longman, on the mound. But the keys to the game were decisions made to start off the top of the 7th inning.

Why did Sexson and Beltre even see a pitch over the plate in the 7th? Because we're talking about Kyle Lohse.

And why was Lohse even on the mound in that inning? Because the team is managed by a Tool.

Ornette & Isabella


Ornette


Ornette & Friend


Izzy Pop



Jenn outside the Art Institute of Chicago
July 2005

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Frightwig Family?

For those who watched the game on TV Thursday night:

In case you were wondering, no, this was not me.


Not me, either.


But they look like my kind of people! Bless 'em, both.

The Big Kiss-Off

AMR gave up his blog for awhile, he was so convinced he had jinxed the Twins. Brad Zellar believes the Twins are playing just to torture him, "because it's clear the mess of this season to date has been purely a personal thing between the Twins and me." Batgirl operates under the wacky delusion that offering promises of her Boyfriend of the Day award through her TV screen may inspire her boys to end the pain of an interminable all-night contest, and score a damn run already, so she can go to bed. She also prays for favors from the Tony Gwynn Fairy, patron saint of Jacque Jones. Clearly, Twins Territory is a nation in need of a Rally Monkey to call its own, or else a good psychologist. My three compadres are all earnest and sincere in their superstitions, I'm sure, but they've got it all wrong. This is not about you, my friends. Oh, no. What the Twins are doing this week, they do only to toy with me.

Yes, as the Twins embarked on a road trip to New York and Boston in the last week of July, I proclaimed that the following three weeks would be crucial to the season. Crucial. Of course, just to spite me, the team proceeded to lose 5 of 6 on the trip, then 3 of 4 upon coming home to host the A's--the team our Twins are trying to catch at the top of the Wild Card standings. Sure, the Red Sox handed them a couple wins in the Metrodome, but the boys wasted the gift by losing the next series in Seattle. Despite winning 2 of 3 in Oakland last weekend, the Twins offense still looked woefully inadequate in scoring just 5 runs in the series; and, heading to Chicago, the team stood 5th in the Wild Card race, 7 games behind the leading Oakland A's. If that ain't a team that looks ready to pack up and make vacation plans for October 3rd, well, what would you think?

I broke down and admitted my team was done. Nothing left but to play for pride, I said. Yeah, I said it. And my team heard it. This, I know. For just to make me look like a fool--again--the Twins since that morning are the winners of 4 straight. They swept the hated South Side Be-yaaatches, in Chicago, capped off by a dominant performance from Cy Young, the One True Ace of the Twins rotation. After beating the Mariners tonight, whaddya know--the Twins have climbed back within 3.5 games of Oakland. Who knows, maybe even the White Sox are within shooting distance.

For those inclined towards fantastic daydreams, and since the Mariners are in town, I invite you to think back on the immortal "Refuse to Lose" Mariners of '95, a team that treaded around the .500 mark for most of the season and trailed the Angels at one point by 13.5 games. On this date of August '95, the AL West standings looked like this:

Team
W-L
Pct.
GB
Angels
64-41
.621
--
Rangers
54-50
.519
9.5
Mariners
53-51
.510
10.5
Athletics
49-57
.462
15.5

Look a little familiar? The standings stayed something like that for another week, as the M's still trailed the Angels by 10.5 games on August 25. But the Angels had already started to sink that week, losing 4 of 7 games. When the M's suddenly got hot in the last week of August, they would begin their inexorable rally to the top of the division, seemingly refusing to lose even while the Angels kept losing again and again. Such reversals of fortune have been known to happen, and perhaps this year the cosmic wheel will favor the Twins again. But they can never hear that from me.

I have written you off, boys. You've been nothing but a great disappointment to me this season. I shan't waste another precious second of hope on you. I'm putting away my 'TC' cap and putting on the Purple. Yeah, I'm on the Vikings bandwagon, baby. Suuu-per Bowl bound! Whooooo! Drop me a line when you got yourselves a real cleanup hitter and some veterans who know how to win, Twinks. Til then, you're dead to me. We're through. Hear me? I have given up. ¬°Ya basta!

Think you'll make a monkey of me? Go on, do your worst.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Hello, Batlings. If you're looking for the photos of Joe Mauer with the gum on his helmet, scroll down a couple entries, or click HERE.

Deconstructing Radke

Earlier in the season, after a "hard luck" loss in which Brad Radke had staked yet another team to a 1st inning lead (the Royals, no less), I criticized Radke for his inability or unwillingness to make adjustments to solve his most chronic problem. Foremost, batters seemed too comfortable and apparently were sitting on pitches over the outside half of the plate, yet he did nothing to move batters off the plate or alter his patterns to put some doubt in their minds. Everyone knew exactly how he would start off the game, and he kept delivering to their expectations as if that wasn't a problem.

Radke is a fine pitcher, perhaps even one of the better #2-3 starters in the league, but he has a maddening tendency to coast through stretches of a game with "get it over" fastballs with nothing on them but a prayer that they might be hit right at a fielder, and there isn't a less intimidating figure on the mound in the American League. He is the embodiment of passivity, in demeanor and act. Sometimes the passive state can be a strength, as Zen masters from the Ancients down through Jamie Moyer have shown us. However, sometimes it just invites others to trample us underfoot. I'd like to look at the 7th inning of last night's game, particularly the way he dealt with the rookie Brian Anderson, as another case in point.

Entering the bottom of the 7th, Radke was protecting a 3-2 lead, facing the bottom half of the White Sox order: Aaron Rowand, Juan Uribe, Joe Crede, and Anderson. All righty bats. Radke had the advantages in his favor for finishing his evening strong and handing a lead to Rincon and Nathan. Yet, he was knocked out of the inning with his team trailing on the scoreboard.

Here's his pitch sequence for the inning:

#6 Aaron Rowand, RHB
Fastball, down the middle. Swing, in play.
Flyout to Leftfield.

#7 Juan Uribe, RHB
Fastball, down the middle. Strike.
Fastball, low and outside. Ball.
Curve, outside corner. Strike.
Fastball, middle-high. Ball.
Fastball, middle-low. Ball.
Change-up, low and outside. Ball.
Walk.

#8 Joe Crede, RHB
Fastball, high-outside. Swing, in play.
Flyout to Rightfield.

OK, at this point, I want you to notice a couple things. One, that six of eight pitches have been 88-90 mph fastballs. Two, that his two off-speed pitches to Uribe were off the outside corner. Three, he hasn't thrown an inside pitch in the inning. Even when he had Uribe behind on a 1-2 count, then walked him by throwing three balls, he never once showed the batter something inside to bust him on the handle or move him off the plate. Remember, we're talking about a righthanded pitcher throwing to righty batters.

Still, he got a couple flyouts, there's only a runner on 1st base, and here comes the #9 hitter, a rookie named Brian Anderson, making his major league debut. The Ace of the Staff should feast on this baby, right?

Here is how Radke approached him the first two times Anderson came to bat in the game:

3rd inning, 2 out, none on
Fastball, middle-low. Ball.
Fastball, down the middle. Strike.
Change-up, outside corner. Swinging strike.
Curve, low and outside. Ball.
Fastball, down the middle. Foul.
Curve, outside corner. Foul.
Fastball, down the middle. Swinging strike.
Strikeout.

5th inning, 1 out, runner on 1st.
Fastball, middle-low. Ball.
Fastball, outside corner. Strike.
Fastball, inside corner. Swinging strike.
Fastball, middle high. Swing, in play.
Groundout to SS.

Notice that Radke struck out Anderson in the 3rd by mixing up his pitches; but, he also established a pattern of working from the middle of the plate with fastballs, to the outside corner with off-speed pitches. In the 5th, he threw four fastballs. One on the inside corner, at which Anderson offered a healthy cut. The location pattern is a simple, slight variation on what he did with Anderson in the 3rd, mainly working from the middle-away. He still hasn't even tried to move the rookie off the plate, welcoming him to the big leagues with something to think about.

Now here is their 3rd meeting in the 7th:

#9 Brian Anderson, RHB
7th inning, 2 out, runner on 1st.
Fastball, down the middle. Strike swinging.
Fastball, outside corner. Strike swinging.
Fastball, low and outside. Ball.
Fastball, middle-high. Foul.
Fastball, outside corner. Foul.
Fastball, tailing inside at the waist.

Now let's stop here a moment. Do you recognize a pattern developing?

I think Anderson saw it. He didn't look at all uncertain. He's up there taking his cuts. The sixth pitch was an obvious waste pitch; and although it moved Anderson's feet, he looked the ball into the glove and had no trouble getting out of the way. If the pitch had a message, it was nothing more than, "Guess which pitch comes next in the pattern, kiddo."

Radke had already shown Anderson, along with everyone else in the lineup, that he likes to work away from the batter. In the 3rd inning, he showed the rookie his favorite move a couple times: the off-speed pitch painting the outside corner. On a 2-2 count now, should Anderson have any reason to look for another location but middle-away? It's just a question of whether the pitch will be a fastball over the middle or a slow pitch off the corner. As long as the kid reviewed the charts with his hitting coach or looked at video before coming to at-bat, he should be ready. He looked ready. And he was.

The next pitch, Radke threw a change-up off the outside corner. Anderson started forward as the ball left Radke's hand, but then he recognized the pitch, stayed back, and reached down to pull the ball into Leftfield for a single, moving Uribe to 2nd base.

Up came Timo Perez, a lefty bat who had doubled to lead off the 4th inning. Radke started him with a fastball, thigh-high and just off the inside corner. Ball. The next pitch, he immediately went back outside with the fastball--and Perez extended his arms and pounced on it, oh, like he knew exactly what to expect or something. Another double for Timo Perez--a guy who came into the game hitting .214/.270/.302. Both runners came in to score, putting Chicago up, 4-3.

As Radke walked off the field, Dick Bremer mentioned the walk to Uribe as if that had caused all the trouble. No. Radke blew the lead because he couldn't stay one step ahead of a #9 hitter making his big league debut and Timo "My OPS is worse than Luis Rivas" Perez. It's not that Radke really fell apart. He's just prone to falling back on predictable, passive approaches, and he lets batters get too comfortable.

Sometimes his timing is good enough to compensate. Sometimes he's saved by his defense or balls get hit right to a fielder. Sometimes balls in play find a gap or get raked out of the yard. There is usually one or two points in the game when the batters clue in to him and the hits find holes, producing the classic "pretty good game except for a few mistakes" Brad Radke start. And that is why Brad Radke may be a fine second banana, but no matter how often Dick & Bert proclaim their man-crushes for him, he is not and never will be a true Staff Ace.

Ah, memories...

While the Twins manager and Strib writers pine over Cristian Guzman and his "nose for winning," F-Robby in Washington has about had it with his winning veteran Shortstop.

From
MLB.com:
Robinson also has not been happy with Guzman's arm, as his throws have been in the dirt lately.


Robinson said that there is no correlation between Guzman's hitting slump (he is hitting .188 for the season) and his fielding problems.

"The error he made [on Monday] -- do you think he made it because he's in a hitting slump?" Robinson asked. "I don't know where that error came from. I don't understand it.

"He is also making errors because his throws are low. We talked to him twice about it last night, and then he made another low throw, and [first baseman] Nick [Johnson] had to scoop it out of the dirt. What is that? That's not being focused.

"I really don't understand how a Major League shortstop of his caliber misses ground balls like that. You take a guy from Class Z ball, and he would at least catch that ball. That's what's puzzling about those errors. I can think of three or four errors that he has like that."

We know the feeling, Frank. Get used to it.

No, I don't care what you read in the papers, you can't send him back.

Does your chewing gum lose its flavor...

Joe Mauer batting in the 5th inning last night...


Notice anything odd about Joe's helmet?
Well, that picture is a little blurry.

Take a look from this angle:


Above the white dot, notice the little lump stuck to the top of his helmet.

I guess when you're down to your last piece of bubblegum, and it's only the 5th inning, you want it to last!




Credit for spotting the gum goes to Mrs. Mauer at the Batgirl site.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Once and Future Kyle Lohse

Twins 4, White Sox 2

That felt good. Beating the White Sox never gets old, does it? Even if Chicago is going to run away with the division this year, I can still enjoy seeing the Twins take 'em down a peg on any given night along the way.

The Twins finally produced some hits with the bases loaded, even doing it twice in the 4th inning last night. Lew Ford slashed a liner to Leftfield with 1 out to bring home Nick Punto and Justin Morneau, sliding just ahead of the tag. After Michael Ryan singled to load the bases again, and Cuddyer struck out on a breaking pitch for the 2nd out, Brent Abernathy came through by slapping a 2-run single into Rightfield. Kyle Lohse was good enough to keep the Sox at bay through 5.1 innings, and the Twins pen locked down the game from there.

Lohse flirted with danger a few times through 4 innings, but managed to fight off the nasty boys with his virtue and a clean scoresheet intact before they could get past 2nd base. Two batters reached base in the 1st inning, on a hit-batsman and a walk, but the Twins escaped with no damage when Paul Konerko hit a pop-up to Morneau, just foul of 1st base, as the runners had already taken off with the pitch and left Morneau with an easy double play. Geoff Blum led off the 3rd with a double, but Lohse struck out Joe Crede and induced two groundouts to snuff that threat. After the Twins offense had just staked Lohse to a 4-0 lead in the top of the 4th, Lohse set to face the heart of the Sox order a second time, and promptly gave up a single to Carl Everett and surrendered a deep drive to Leftfield off the bat of Paul Konerko, snatched above the wall by Shannon Stewart to rob the home run. Still 4-0 Twins at the end of the inning.

In the 5th inning, with runners on 2nd and 3rd and 2 out, Juan Uribe drove a single up the middle to bring home one run and Joe Crede came around to try for two, but Lew Ford's perfect throw on one hop was in time to save another run. However, Lohse would be facing the heart of the order for a third time in the 6th inning, and they knocked him out after starting the inning with two singles and A.J. Pierzynski taking a pitch off his arm for his new team. Fortunately, Gardy didn't wait too long to bring the hook. Jesse Crain entered and added one more run to Lohse's stat sheet by allowing Jermaine Dye a sac fly, but he closed the book on Lohse by getting Aaron Rowand to fly out to CF, ending the inning.

Lohse had a pretty good night in the box score--2 runs, 7 hits, 1 BB, 1 K, 5.1 IP, and the W--but the details of the game also illustrate the fine line Kyle Lohse walks between serving as a "pretty good #4 starter" and flakey enigma who probably would be much more effective pitching out of the bullpen. Three runs were saved directly by stellar defensive plays last night, while batters were hitting him progressively harder as they saw him a second and third time in the game. Struggling to hold down a lineup more than once through the order has been a problem for Lohse throughout his career. From 2002-4, opponents hit .264 with a .416 slg pct. through his first 45 pitches of a game; afterwards, they hit .289 with a .470 slg pct. and even those numbers are pulled down a bit by the handful of times (38 at-bats) when he was cruising along so easily that Gardy let him go past 105 pitches and still nothing could touch him.

The struggle hasn't become any easier for Lohse this season. After the 45th pitch, opponents are hitting .328 with a .502 slg pct. against him. So he doesn't have the staying power to be consistently effective in the rotation. Trouble is, next year he'll be too expensive for the Twins to keep him as a reliever. In his first year of arbitration last winter, he was awarded $2.4 million despite a 9-13 record and 5.34 ERA in 2004. He won his case because he'd been a regular member of the rotation for three and a half seasons, ate innings, and came to the hearing with a 4.86 career ERA. Not much changed this year, except he'll have another year of service time and he'll probably end the season with an ERA in the mid 4's. Think that'll take in $4 million in arbitration next winter? Easy.

The Twins can't pay $4 million for Kyle Lohse to do setup work or pitch middle relief. Terry Ryan will have bigger problems he could address with that money. That's why I hoped to see him traded last month. It needs to happen next winter. If he should finish the season strong, people will say he's turned the corner and can't be traded just as he's putting it all together. Don't be fooled. Remember he's teased us like that before. A glittery finish by Lohse is meaningful only in so much as it boosts his trade value. If we may be so lucky, let some other suckers be taken in by the shiny veneer.