Dugout Splinters: Minnesota Twins

The following will appear in the June kickoff of GameDay, of which I was fortunate enough to be Guest Editor for the second time this year.  Thanks again to GameDay and John Bonnes, as well as to my contributing authors for the monthly features and our graphic artist, Jay.

In Bloom

Minnesota went 15-13 in the second full month of the '08 season, which was good enough to keep them right in the thick of the AL Central.  Entering play on Monday, this leaves them one game off the pace set by current division leaders Chicago.  After a generally lethargic performance by the offense in April, a number of players stepped up their game in May.  The overall difference in team offense between April and May is a pretty stark contrast:

Month

Games

Runs

Hits

XBH

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

April

26

99

225

58

55

160

.258

.302

.361

May

28

154

276

77

106

181

.273

.341

.399


Sure, the Twins struck out an additional 21 times in two extra games, but considering the dramatic increases across the board in the remaining categories, I'll take the extra K's.  So, who do we thank for a great May?

Mike Lamb deserves a lot of credit.  While his season stats still aren't encouraging, he picked up his slack in May to the tune of a .304/.340/.407 line.  Lamb's problem is the Twins' problem across the board-a lack of power.  Continued success at the plate in June from our everyday third baseman will go a long way in sustaining the team's pace from May, and considering the lack of experienced in-house alternatives at the hot corner the Twins will need him to do just that.

The arrival of Alexi Casilla couldn't have come at a better time.  He's still raw, but his patience at the plate is paying huge dividends.  In 50 May at-bats he raked, putting together a scathing line of .340/.417/.520.  Nobody's under the delusion that he can sustain this level of production all year, but his peripherals look great, and he's been a perfect fit at the top of the order with Carlos Gomez.

Speaking of which, Casilla wasn't the only one to flash some improved plate discipline.  The aforementioned Gomez hit .299/.348/.449 on the month, working six walks as opposed to the disappointing single one in all of April.  If Alexi and Carlos continue to hit well at the top of the order, they're going to give the middle of the order plenty of run-producing opportunities.

Know what?  I think they're up to the challenge...the M&M boys destroyed pitching in May.  Joe Mauer, even after a relatively cold close to the month, put together an astounding .333/.442/.387 performance, including an incredible 19 walks.  Justin Morneau had already hit well in April, but he did even better in May.  While "only" hitting four home runs, he once again displayed the ability to let power be a secondary trait when simply being an exceptionally good hitter and merely driving the ball will do.  He batted .336/.405/.496, hitting with authority to all fields.

With the pitching hitting some stumbling blocks last month it's even more imperative that the bats stay alive.  If the as-of-yet under-performing Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer (both have had brighter moments recently) can join the guys listed above, we might be talking about a legitimate pennant race by this time next month.

State of the Pitching Staff

First things first:  In case you haven't heard the status of Nick Blackburn (who was hit in the face by a line drive on Sunday afternoon), he expects to make his next start on Friday against the White Sox.  All gold stars and warm fuzzies there.

As for the rest of the boys, there's been some good mixed with some bad.  Boof Bonser had a target on every pitch he threw in May (six starts, 30.1 innings, 38 hits, 35 runs, 8.60 ERA), and is likely headed to the bullpen.  While Thursday's starter is still listed as TBA as of this printing, it's likely that Scott Baker will take Bonser's slot.  Last week, under the guise of keeping Glen Perkins on a 5-day rotation, Bonser's start was bumped back a day.  That move happened to coincide with Baker's final rehab start...wink-wink, nudge-nudge.  If for any reason Blackburn is unable to go on Friday, you might see Boof make one final start there before getting a new role.

On the whole, while there were some big boosts from certain hurlers in May (specifically Kevin Slowey and Perkins), it was still the pitching (and defense for that matter) that kept the offensive boom from netting more than a +2 record for the month:

Month

WHIP

Runs/Game

K/9

BB/9

H/9

HR/9

April

1.37

4.2

5.79

2.68

9.64

1.14

May

1.46

4.4

5.30

2.70

10.45

0.97


Finally, down in Rochester, Francisco Liriano had his best outing of the season (by far) on Saturday, going 6 1/3rd, allowing a single run on three hits, a walk and seven strikeouts.  He'll be back eventually, but until that time comes there are still things that need to be ironed out.  A number of starting and relief roles in flux right now, and that's never good for a contender.

ON THE HILL  

 

Tuesday:  Kevin Slowey  (2-4, 3.38 ERA)

 

 

¨        2008:  34.2 IP, 30 H, 24 K, 6 BB, 6 HR

¨        2007:  4-1, 4.73 ERA, 66.2 IP, 82 H, 47 K, 11 BB

¨        Fastball, changeup, curve, slider

¨        For a guy who "doesn’t have a strikeout pitch", he does pretty well.

¨        He threw a complete game in his last start, but still threw fewer pitches than he had in his previous three.

¨        As far as Slowey is concerned, accuracy is king.  He won’t overpower anyone, but all of his pitches can be thrown for strikes.  When he’s on his game he’s a marksman, and it’s beautiful

 

Wednesday:  Glen Perkins  (2-2, 3.90 ERA)

 

¨        2008:  30 IP, 37 H, 16 K, 6 BB, 4 HR

¨        2007:  0-0, 3.14 ERA, 28.2 IP, 23 H, 20 K, 12 BB

¨        Fastball, changeup, curve/slurve

¨        He had his first rough start in five his last time out, managing only four innings.

¨        Perkins has been throwing his changeup a bit more often this season, but at the cost of how often he uses his breaking balls.  This could be because of how similar is fastball is to his changeup in movement, which makes it more deceptive.

¨        He’s been hit very hard this year, especially for a guy who’s putting up solid number as he has.  Nearly 30% of balls-in-play against him have been line drives, which are the most difficult BIP to turn into outs.

¨        At least half of his breaking balls will miss the strike zone, according to pitch records.  It’s his only pitch with much horizontal break, but there can be a lot of it.

 

Thursday:  Scott Baker  (2-0, 4.09 ERA)

 

¨        2008:  33 IP, 31 H, 29 K, 5 BB, 6 HR

¨        2007:  9-9, 4.26 ERA, 143.2 IP, 162 H, 102 K, 29 BB

¨        Fastball, changeup, curve, slider

¨        Baker made his two rehab starts, and pitched well on both occasions.

¨        He gets good movement off both of his breaking balls which, opposite of Perkins, have less spin than his fastball and changeup.

¨        Baker relies on location just like Slowey.  Neither one of them are over-powering, but where Slowey can paint his pitches where he likes, Baker’s able to attack a bit more direct.

 

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