Twins 4, Athletics 3: Tolbert Comes Through Late, Liriano Dominates

Coming into Saturday night's game in Oakland, the Twins injuries and absences approached critical mass. Orlando Hudson: still out with the hand injury. Michael Cuddyer: bereavement leave until next week. J.J. Hardy: late scratch, sore left wrist. Justin Morneau: asked for a night off, stomach flu. It's during games like this that your pitcher and replacements in the lineup need to step up and deliver. And last night we saw both in a 4-3 victory of the Oakland Athletics. Francisco Liriano had another dominant start, pitching 7 innings giving up only one run and striking out 10. And Matt Tolbert came up big with a two out single to score pinch runner Hardy in the top of the ninth. With the victory, the Twins climb back to 10 games over .500 at 33-23, even their record at 3-3 on this west coast road trip, and keep pace 3.5 games ahead of the Detroit Tigers, who won 4-2 in Kansas City.

Details, a new kind of box score I'm toying with, studs, duds and other notes follow after the jump.

In the early innings, it looked like Oakland was going to get to Liriano, as Rajai Davis led off the first with a double to deep left center and Mark Ellis followed with a single to right. But Kurt Suzuki grounded into a Punto-Tolbert-Harris double play to score the game's first run but limit the damage. And in the second inning, Liriano walked leadoff hitter Adam Rosales and gave up a two out single, but got out of the inning with two strikeouts. From that point on, Liriano cruised, striking out 7 of the next 11 Athletics batters and giving up no more than one base runner in any inning.

On the other side, Oakland starter Trevor Cahill was also on his game, giving up only two hits through the first five innings. But the Twins made the most of limited opportunities. Jim Thome led off the second inning with a long double to deep left field. Jason Kubel and Delmon Young followed with deep fly balls to center field to advance Thome to third, then home to tie the game at 1-1. Then in the sixth inning, Joe Mauer hit a ground rule double over the head of left fielder Eric Patterson (playing shockingly shallow). Thome and Kubel followed with walks to load the bases, and Delmon Young delivered a two run line drive single to right, putting the Twins up 3-1. The damage could have been greater, but right fielder Gabe Gross made a smart throw to third to nail Kubel on yet another questionable call by the umpires. 

Unfortunately for Liriano, the bullpen was unable to hold onto the lead. With primary setup man Matt Guerrier pitchign two innings on Friday night, Jesse Crain came in to pitch the eighth. While Crain struggled mightily earlier this season, he's been much better of late, not giving up a single run in his last eight outings. After retiring the leadoff hitter, Ellis and Suzuki hit seeing eye ground ball singles to right. After getting Kevin Kouzmanoff on a fly ball, Adam Rosales lined a triple to left center past Denard Span (who was shading quite a bit to right center) and tie the game 3-3. Alex Burnett relieved Crain and got pinch hitter Daric Barton to fly out and end the inning.

It was up to the Twins hitters to bounce back, and they responded. Danny Valencia led off the inning with a strikeout against Brad Ziegler, and Justin Morneau came up to pinch hit for Brendan Harris. Oakland manager Bob Geren wanted no part of MLB's best hitter this season and intentionally walked Morneau (Hardy pinch ran) to bring up Nick Punto. And this was where Geren's strategy fell apart. Punto drew a 6 pitch, full count walk to bring up slumping Denard Span. Span disappointed, grounding out to third but barely beating out the double play. So it was up to Matt Tolbert and his .161 batting average to save the day. And Tolbert lined the second pitch he saw to center field and put the Twins up for good. Closer Jon Rauch was solid, giving up a single but striking out two to end the game. 

A New Kind of Box Score

In the near future, I plan to write a more detailed article, but I wanted to introduce some of the "Total Run Accounting" metrics (you've seen them in my previous recaps) in a simplified box score format.

Player Total Runs Batting Running
Denard Span, CF -1.09 -1.18 +0.09
Matt Tolbert, 2B-1B +0.15 +0.15 0.00
Joe Mauer, C -0.69 -0.69 0.00
Jim Thome, DH +1.43 +0.90 +0.53
Jason Kubel, RF -0.75 +0.10 -0.85
Delmon Young, LF +0.83 +0.83 0.00
Danny Valencia, 3B +0.09 +0.15 -0.06
Brendan Harris, 1B -1.02 -1.02 0.00
Justin Morneau, PH +0.31 +0.31 0.00
J.J. Hardy, PR-SS -0.16 0.00 -0.16*
Nick Punto, SS-2B +0.21 +0.21 0.00
Totals -0.68 -0.24 -0.44

 

First, all these numbers are relative to league average. Because the average team scores 0.52 runs in each inning, for nine innings any team starts with an "expected" 4.68 runs scored. And each player's contribution, positive or negative moves the final number of runs up or down. For the Twins last night, the overall contribution was -0.68 runs, meaning the Twins scored a total of four runs.

(*) I'm working on a "feature" of my latest software where a base runner on second base is penalized a small number of runs on an attempted double play behind him. In this case, Hardy was penalized for not advancing home on the double play, and this is not sensible. In reality, the -0.16 runs should be assigned to Span.

Studs

  1. Francisco Liriano: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 10 SO. Liriano deserved the win last night, if not for Crain coughing it up.
  2. Jim Thome: 1-2, 2B, 2 BB, 2 R. Thome not only scored two runs, but he was very good on the bases. He advanced on both fly balls in the second inning, and he got a great jump on Young's single in the sixth to score from second. He doesn't and up in the black very often on the base paths, so we have to give credit.
  3. Delmon Young: 1-3, 3 RBI. Delmon knocked in the first three runs with the sac fly and two  run single. He continues to come through this season.
  4. Matt Tolbert: 1-5, RBI, 2 SO. My metrics don't account for late inning situations like WPA does, but he came up big with the game winning hit.
  5. Alex Burnett: 0.1 IP, W. Congrats to Burnett for getting his first Major League victory.

Duds

  1. Denard Span: 0-5, SO. Span is now 1-25 on this road trip, and his batting average has fallen from .293 to .265.
  2. Jesse Crain: I don't think he pitched that poorly (like we saw earlier this year), but he gave up the lead.
  3. Brendan Harris: 0-3. Harris now has a .158/.243/.221 line. It's hard to believe we don't have anything better at the moment.

Notes

  • Danny Valencia now has three base hits in 11 at bats. All three hits have been ground balls that failed to reach the outfield. I'm glad he's gotten the hits, but I have not been impressed with him so far at the plate. At the moment, his bat looks like a limp noodle when he's hitting. I hope he bounces back, but I now understand why he's homer-less on the season.
  • Nice night for Justin Morneau. Pinch hit, intentional walk, then sit back down. I really hope he feels better today, since you know Gardy will want to sit Mauer.
  • Even though he's had almost nothing to show for it, Tolbert has been hitting the ball sharply of late. But they've been sharp fly balls and he doesn't have the power to leave the yard. Good to see him hit a line drive.
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