Twins 4, Rangers 1
The best thing about baseball (besides seeing the Twins win), will never be the home run. The best thing will always be watching a starting pitcher own an offense the way Scott Baker owned the Rangers on Saturday night. For eight innings last night Baker was the pitcher he's capable of being. All eight of his strikeouts came on the fastball, and in fact for the first six innings he almost went with the fastball/changeup combination exclusively. Although the off-speed pitch hasn't been as effective for Baker this season, and in spite of Nelson Cruz hitting a double and home run off that exact pitch (Texas' only two extra-base hits of the game), Scott must have been feeling it last night. He only threw one breaking ball prior to the seventh inning.
Carlos Gomez continues to swing a hot bat, now nine for his last 15 and hitting .357/.400/.643 in July. His single off of Feldman in the second inning scored Michael Cuddyer, who had doubled to plate Justin Morneau. Gomez would single again in the ninth before stealing his eighth base of the year (negated by being caught stealing in the second).
The eighth inning insurance run started with a two-out hit by Alexi Casilla, who was just 1-for-5 on the night with his third stolen base of the season. On the plus side, Casilla saw 26 pitches in his five plate appearances, which is exactly what the Twins need him to do. If Gardy is going to continue to hit Casilla second (and really, wherever Alexi hits the rules should be the same), taking pitches won't just be good for the young middle infielder, it'll be good for everyone else. Casilla isn't a great hitter at this point; if he takes more pitches the idea is that he'll work more walks and get on base more often. Even if he doesn't start walking more often, he'll see a lot more pitches and, hopefully, a few more good ones to swing at than he would just seeing two or three offerings. Finally, in addition to making the pitcher work a little harder it gives the rest of the offense a chance to see the starter throw a few more times. That's never a bad thing, either.
Cuddyer hit homer number 15 in the top of the fifth, and I'm not sure how in the hell Cuddles got enough of it to put it out. Rangers' starter Scott Feldman didn't look too bad last night, and on this occasion fed Cuddyer a nearly unhittable curveball. One "just make contact and see what happens" swing later (it had been a 1-2 count, it looked more like a protective swing than anything else), and Cuddyer had taken a pitch at his ankles and lofted it into the left field seats. Naturally, stupid fans threw the ball back onto the field. IT'S A HOME RUN BALL. YOU'LL NEVER CATCH ONE AGAIN. KEEP IT.
Other game notes...
- Nick Punto has appeared in 12 games this month, and has reached base in nine of them. His OBP for the month? .400. He's only 4-for-28, but the man has taken 12 walks. I don't care if he hits .143, if he's getting on base, leave him in the lineup.
- Joe Mauer was hitless last night, but so was Ichiro Suzuki. Mauer's .367 average still neads all of MLB, with Ichiro (.359), Hanley Ramirez (.347), Carlos Beltran (.336) and Albert Pujols (.334) rounding out the top five.
- Ron Gardenhire was ejected in the ninth, arguing that Cruz ran out of the baseline attempting to get around Joe Nathan's tag. Or attempted tag, at least; Cruz is very very sneaky, sir. By my count, that was Gardy's 45th ejection since becoming manager of the Minnesota Twins.
- If Cruz was out on that play, it wasn't by Natha's swipe-tag. Joe flipped the ball to Morneau at first, and I'm pretty sure Justin had the ball an instant before Cruz's hand touched the bag.
- Jason Kubel is having another great month of baseball, walking twice in Saturday night's game. In my realistic dreams I didn't think Kubel would be hitting .312/.371/.552 at any point during the season. But I'm glad he is...
- Denard Span didn't reach base in last night's game, the first time that's happened since June 26. He's hitting .321/.379/.415 in July.
- Scott Baker has now thrown eight quality starts in 2009.
- With Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Kubel and Joe Crede all on pace to hit more than 20 home runs this season, it would be the first time since 1987 that more than three Twins topped that benchmark. The last time five Twins hit 20 or more bombs was in 1986: Gary Gaetti, 34; Kirby Puckett, 31; Kent Hrbek, 29; Tom Brunansky, 23; Roy Smalley, 20.
Stars of the Game
#3: Carlos Gomez (2-for-4, RBI, .013 WPA)
#2: Michael Cuddyer (2-for-4, 2B, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R, .117 WPA)
#1: Scott Baker (8 IP, 6 H, 8 K, 2 BB, 1 R, .503 WPA)