Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Young, Talented & Aggressive

Frank: The Minnesota Twins had a perfect week last week, much better than the previous one. Coming off a disappointing road trip, the Twins returned home for five games against divisional opponents. Whether it was the home cooking, playing against our chief rivals, or the rare two days off (today is another), the Twins pitched and played much better than they did before, capping off a 5-0 homestand with a come-from-behind victory over the Detroit Tigers yesterday. Here are some thoughts about last week:

The week started out with the Chicago White Sox leading the American League Central Division, three and a half games up on the third-place Twins and coming to the Metrodome on the heels of a series victory (pending completion of a suspended game) over the Baltimore Orioles. But Boof Bonser found his great curve ball from last year Tuesday night, and pitched seven strong innings to start the winning streak. Then the reins were passed to rookie Nick Blackburn. Blackburn had made it to the last day of April, the first month of an unexpected stint in the major leagues, without yielding a home run. But on that day, last Wednesday, he faced the powerful Chicago White Sox -- who came into the day leading the league in homers -- and something had to give. Unfortunately for him, it was the left field seats. Bonser closed the week with a strong performance against the Detroit Tigers -- well, after the first five batters of the game, who all got hits and scored runs. Five very good, shutout innings followed one more bloop single and unearned run, allowing for the comeback win.

In between, there were two other impressive performances by the Twins’ pitching staff. They were needed, too, because the Tigers came from Yankee Stadium, having just pulled off a 3-game sweep -- their first sweep in the Bronx in 42 years. Livan Hernandez allowed only one run in seven innings Friday night, and the bullpen, led by newcomer Brian Bass, helped injured starter Scott Baker by yielding just one run in six innings of work Saturday night. That underscored the work done by the relief corps over the homestand. For the second time this season, they put a long, difficult road trip behind them, and gave up one run while pitching at least 15 innings over five games at home. Joe Nathan once again anchored the bullpen, picking up four saves and pushing the Twins two games over .500 and into first place in the division, a game and a half ahead of the White Sox.

As we talked about before, the Twins are not about power; they will rely on other facets of the game -- such as aggressive base running -- for their success. However, one of those other facets is taking walks, because walks lead to the aggressive base running. So why are we swinging at more balls than anyone else in the major leagues?

Bert: Nothing is given to you in life, especially ball four! The Twins have one of the youngest teams in the Major Leagues this season; and sometimes with young, talented kids comes a lot of aggressiveness. That aggressiveness is taken in their approach at the plate. Young, talented kids like Carlos Gomez, Brendan Harris and Delmon Young are hitters that are ready to swing at the first pitch. I personally think there is too much emphasis on team numbers in today's game. Every game we are given stat sheets that have almost every team and personal stat available about the Twins, their opponent and each individual player. The goal of a player, young or old, is not to loss his aggressiveness on the field. That means as a defensive player and an offensive player. The bottom line is to win games and that's the only thing that's important.

Frank: They certainly won some games this weekend, and the main offensive star was Joe Mauer, who went 7 for 11 with two walks, scoring three runs and picking up four RBI – including the game-winning, two-run single yesterday. He caught all three games. This is not a new trend, so I asked Bert about it: Joe Mauer has been playing a lot, even the afternoon game last Wednesday -- a rarity for a catcher, a day game following a start the night before. Is Mike Redmond hurting, or do you think it is more a matter of Mauer hitting so well? Or is it because he is stronger earlier in the year?

Bert: Mike Redmond has been bothered by a sore right shoulder, but that doesn't mean that this gamer doesn't want to play. Joe Mauer is the team’s #1 catcher, and manager Ron Gardenhire is going to use Joe as much as possible. The few times Joe has started a day game after a night game is because the next day is an off day on the schedule. Mike Redmond will get his at bats throughout the season and he will be ready, sore shoulder or not. (After today, the Twins play 20 games in 20 days; so Redmond will certainly get some starts, including one against the Red Sox.)

Frank: The world champion Boston Red Sox make their annual appearance at the Metrodome this weekend. When David Ortiz, AKA Big Papi, brings his little teammates to town Friday night, he will square off against Twins starter Boof Bonser. Can Boof Lite survive the weight disadvantage of this matchup?

Bert: First of all, Frank, what Boof weighs has nothing to do with his rematch against David Ortiz and the Boston Red Sox. Boof decided to lose some weight because it was suggested that he was not in good pitching shape by the Twins’ trainers, strength coach, and his pitching coach, Rick Anderson. Give Boof some credit for reducing his body weight and, most importantly, he has pitched extremely well this season so far. David Ortiz is surrounded by great hitters like Manny Ramirez, Kevin Youkilis, and Mike Lowell. What Boof needs the most in his start against the Red Sox is some early run support. Early run support for any pitcher just means that he can make a few mistakes early in the game and it won't cost you a victory. Now that I have finished writing this for the blog, I am going out and having a BIG juicy burger on Boof......Go Twins!

Frank: We do agree on one thing, as we head into a laundry week full of Sox. . . Go Twins!

The Twins are on FSN North all week:
Tuesday: vs. Chicago White Sox, 6:30PM
Wednesday: vs. Chicago White Sox, 6:30 PM
Thursday: vs. Chicago White Sox, 12:30 PM
Friday: vs. Boston Red Sox, 6:30 PM
Saturday: vs. Boston Red Sox, 5:30PM

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