Monday, June 27, 2011

The Jose Mijares Problem

In Friday's 7th inning, Scott Baker had a ground out, back to back singles, then a pop out from Ryan Braun advancing the runner on second to third. So with two outs, Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire went to his lefty specialist Jose Mijares to get out the hot hitting lefty Prince Fielder. Mijares came in, threw three straight fastballs outside the zone. He came back with strike one down the middle, then strike two that clipped the outside corner. Catcher Joe Mauer called for the same exact pitch as strike two. Mijares instead threw a pitch that was more similar to strike one, and Fielder hammered the pitch down the right field line for a 2 RBI double.

Following the game, Mijares complained through the media about Joe Mauer's lack of calling a breaking pitch when all Mijares threw were fastballs. He also said that his he felt better about throwing his slider, because it was good while he warmed up in the bullpen.

That game, has symbolized Mijares' season thus far. In his third full season with the Twins, Mijares has seen his stats go up in the wrong way. His ERA (4.08) is the highest its ever been. His runs (12) and earned runs (8) are on pace to set career highs for most allowed in a year. But the worst stat Mijares has is his walks allowed and WHIP (Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched). In just 17.2 innings pitched, Mijares has walked 14 hitters, and his WHIP sits at 1.811 (Before 2011, Mijares never had a WHIP higher than 1.31). His number of hits allowed (18), are at his normal rate. But the most astounding stat that Jose Mijares has this season is his walks per 9 innings pitched (BB/9). In his first two full seasons Mijares' BB/9 were 3.4 and 2.5. This season, it is a ridiculous 7.1. Walks have greatly plagued Jose Mijares.

A big reason for his high walks rate, is the fact he is constantly falling behind in the count to the hitters. In 65 at bats against Mijares, opposing hitters have gotten ahead at least 1-0 in the count 35 times and 18 of those 35, Mijares has fallen behind 2-0. At some point, you would think he would start getting ahead in the count more often.

So perhaps, after Friday's game, Mijares let his frustration from his whole season get to him. However, I don't agree with what he did. If you disagree with your catcher, you have the option of shaking him off and call him up to the mound to talk about it. And certainly you don't call him out in the media when you haven't talked to him yet.

Lastly, I don't think Mijares gets that his time up here isn't set in stone. Glen Perkins has been the go to lefty out of Gardy's bullpen this year. Phil Dumatrait has been a pleasant surprise since coming up from AAA, and Chuck James fared well in his brief stint with the team too. I do believe Mijares has an option left (correct me if I'm wrong here), so if the Twins felt he needed some time at AAA, they could certainly give it to him.

I'm not saying they should send Mijares down right this minute. I'm saying that if his struggles continue like they have been, they should consider it considering the options they have. Because when you have a lefty specialist who comes in to face one batter, and that one batter gets on more times than none, its time they begin to look at another option. Because with the way the Twins offense has produced lately, you need your pitchers getting outs rather giving up runs. And Jose Mijares has been problematic with that this season...

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Few Good Notes-Twins/Brewers

Tonight the Twins are in Milwaukee to kick off the home and home series with the Brew Crew. Here are a few notes heading into this series.

  • The Twins three starters in this series (Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, and Carl Pavano) are a combined 6-1 with a 1.58 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 68 innings pitched, in each of their past three starts. The Twins will need these guys to continue their hot pitching for the team to have a chance to win the series.
  • The Brewers are a considerably better team at home than compared to being on the road. At Miller Park, the Brew Crew have a better team batting average (.279 at home/.231 on the road), better team OPS (.821/658) and have hit 50 home runs in 37 home games. As before said, the key for the Twins is their starting pitching. If the ball starts carrying out for Milwaukee, its gonna be a long series.
  • Delmon Young has been a hot hitter as of late, hitting .342 (13/38) with 5 RBI and 4 runs scored in his last 10 games. His season average has risen from the .200s all the way up to .254 due to his .321 average in June. And what better team to be playing then the Brewers for Delmon, who carries a career .364/.379/.491 line against them. Look for Delmon to continue his hot hitting this weekend.
  • The Twins got lucky this weekend, and won't be facing the Brewers two best pitchers right now, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. The Twins do face Yovani Gallardo on Saturday, but he has struggled in his past three games going 0-2 with a 6.43 ERA in just 14 innings pitched. In his career against the Twins, Gallardo has a 1-0 record with a 2.40 ERA in just two starts.
  • Former Twin Carlos Gomez, who was acquired in the Johan Santana trade, is struggling mightily lately (Only hitting .077 in past 10 games) and has watched his average drop to .210 on the season, and now has lost his starting CF job to Nyjer Morgan. I think its a safe bet, Gomez will be primarily used as a 4th outfielder for the remainder of his career.
Again, this is another crucial series for the Twins. I would like to see them win 2 out of 3 here, but I think the Brewers are too much of the better team when playing at home, so the more likely outcome will be 1 out of 3. The offense has been absolutely stale since their 8 run first inning on Tuesday against San Francisco, only posting three runs in the following 26 innings. With that said, again its imperative that the Twins pitchers hold the Brewers to three runs or less, or else winning will be hard to come by.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Scott Baker: The All Star?

Now that we are in mid June, we begin to look forward to the annual mid summer classic that comes next month. And we always wonder who will be playing from your favorite team. Lately, many Twins fans have begun to speculate that the Twins only representative in the MLB All Star Game will be OF Michael Cuddyer. And I am one of those fans. But, there is a dark horse player for the Twins. His name is Scott Baker.

You may recall, in my Twins 2011 post, I said Baker was a player that needed to step up and become the pitcher he is capable of being. And he has done just that for the Twins in 2011. In 14 starts this year, Baker has a 5-4 record with a 3.24 ERA. He also has a team high 88 strikeouts while pitching 91.2 innings (2nd behind Pavano). And don't forget about his team leading 1.167 WHIP. But perhaps the best stat you can read about Scott Baker is that he owns a 8.64 strikeout per 9 innings pitched average. That is good enough for second in the American League, behind Boston's Jon Lester (8.784).

Perhaps the best feature we are seeing from Scott Baker this year, behind the strikeout rates, is how far he is pitching into games. In his past five starts, Baker has pitched at least 6 innings, and four of those he has gone at least 7 innings. And out of his 14 starts, he has failed to pitch 6 innings just 3 times. And out of those starts, he has allowed 5 or more runs just once (May 11 vs DET, 4.1 IP 5 ER). Needless to say, you're getting a quality start every fifth day from Scott Baker.

And behind all these stats, there is a quiet confidence that comes when Baker now takes the hill. He is going to give you at least 6 innings, while allowing 2-4 runs and striking out 7-10 guys per start. And I will take that any day from a starter. He has been so impressive, I would even tab him as the staff ace right now. He has finally stepped up and is becoming that pitcher we thought we were going to see coming off a great 2008 season (11-4, 3.45 ERA). It took him a while, but he eventually got back there. And it could potentially lead him to his first All Star Selection.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Tough Interleague Schedule

Just as the baseball season begins heating up in mid June, teams find themselves playing more unfamiliar foes from the opposite league. And if your a Twins fan, interleague play has always brought good success, and sometimes has sparked a season in the right direction. But, if you take a look at the schedule after the Twins finish their series with the Padres, you have to wonder if they can have that same success.

Under manager Ron Gardenhire, the Twins have posted a 100-62 (.617 win pct.) record in interleague play. Only two of the previous 9 seasons have his teams with losing records when playing the National League. This year, however, the Twins were swept in late May at Arizona and including last nights win are off to a 1-3 start against the NL. And it doesn't get better from here.

Following Sunday's finale for the Twins-Padres series, the Twins go on the road to San Francisco (39-31, 1st place in NL West) and Milwaukee (39-32, 1st place in the NL Central). Both teams are considerably better teams when playing at home. Then the Twins return home to face the Dodgers (31-40, 4th place in NL West) and Milwaukee again to close out their interleague schedule.

San Francisco boasts one of, if not the best pitching staffs in all of baseball. And they play in a more pitcher friendly park, which makes it favorable for them. And the key for the Twins in these series is to continue the success of their starting pitching. In the month of June, Twins starters have gone 10-3 with a 2.11 ERA while averaging almost 7 innings pitched per start. This pitching will be more needed against the red hot Brewers, who boast one of the best offenses in baseball. If they can hold the Brew Crew to 4 runs or less per game, the Twins have a chance to win their series.

And since June 1st, the Twins have gotten hot. They have cut their AL Central deficit in half. But if they wish to continue to cut into that deficit, they'll have to do it against some of the National League's best teams. And lets hope they can continue their winning ways against the NL. Because it will be crucial to their trip up the standings...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Firecracker

If you haven't seen Ben Revere play, please take the time and do so immediately. He is, the self proclaimed 'Firecracker' that perhaps this team has needed all year. He brings the speed on the bases, and range in the outfield, that was lacking on the Twins. He has filled in at leadoff and in CF for Denard Span while he battles his concussion. Without a doubt, Ben Revere has played so well, it almost makes it impossible for manager Ron Gardenhire and GM Bill Smith to send him back to AAA-Rochester when this lineup returns to full strength.

Revere doesn't bring much pop in his bat (only 5 home runs in his minor league career). And out of his 21 hits this season with the Twins, just one is an extra base hit. So what makes him so effective? He hits for singles and uses his great speed to stretch those into doubles with stolen bases. Or if he doesn't steal, he can easily make it from first to third on a base hit (which usually has been happening with Alexi Casilla behind him lately) or score from first on a ball in the gap or down the line. Bottomline: Ben Revere is very dangerous with just a single.

If Revere has a down side, its his arm. Obviously at his size, you wouldn't expect him to have much of an arm. And even with his speed, you would expect him to be more suited for a corner outfield position. Imagine Ben Revere playing next to Denard Span for the next few years. Imagine how much better the outfield defense is with Revere than Delmon Young, who seemingly finds new ways to screw up on balls hit his way.

And where does Revere fit in once everyone returns? Well, he has played so well, its almost impossible to send him back. Even his manager has said he would like to keep him with the big club. So someone will be the odd man out. And honestly, it should be Delmon Young. Delmon has not been the 2010 version we all loved. He has been the 08 and 09 version that we all hated to watch. And if Delmon can get hot, thats all the better for the Twins, so they potentially could get more in return for a trade. Jettisoning Young in favor of Revere, would also be a big salary dump for the Twins moving forward (makes $5 mil this year, and has one more year of arbitration left).

If you can't tell, I am very big on keeping Ben Revere. When someone is hot, you keep putting them out there every day. And when someone proves they can play with the big boys, you don't send them back to minors. I haven't been to big on the moves the Twins have made before and during this year to help this team. So they can start redeeming themselves by keeping "The Firecracker" Ben Revere, up with the Twins, and in the lineup daily.

(If you missed Ben Revere's incredible catch from yesterday, here it is.)

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Few Good Notes-The Draft, A Sweet Sweep, Lots of Home Games, and the Hottest Hitter

  • Tonight, the Twins hold the 30th pick in the MLB Draft. I have seen many mock drafts and I'm pretty sure I have yet to see one player appear twice next to the Twins. Honestly, I hope they go with a pitcher or middle infielder with their pick. Actually, I hope this is what they emphasize throughout the draft. These are not just big club needs, they are organizational needs. These positions have a lack of depth throughout the organization that need to be addressed.
  • Yesterday, the Twins finished off a 4 game sweep of Kansas City. And surprisingly they did it without the likes of Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, Thome, and Span. They now open up a crucial three game set against the slumping first place Indians. Morneau and Span should be back in the lineup for this series. The Twins need to take two out of three against the Tribe if they wish to remain contenders (Yes, I said contenders).
  • After the Indians series concludes Wednesday, the Twins open up a stretch of 40 games where 30 of them will be played at Target Field. The Twins have only played 21 out of 58 games at home, so far this season. And out of those 21 home games, the Twins have won just 6. This from a team that has boasted a 446-284 (.611 win pct) record at home under manager Ron Gardenhire. As the season goes on, I would expect that home record to get back above .500.
  • In the past month, you may be surprised as to who the Twins hottest hitter is. No, its not Denard Span. No, its not Justin Morneau. No, its not Michael Cuddyer. Congrats to those who guessed Alexi Casilla. Because you, are right! Since May 1, Casilla has boasted a .321/.400/.540 line. This after April's .167/.227/.200 line. My only hope is that Casilla can continue to hit like this while the lineup around him returns to full strength.