As the entire rotation seems intent on proving that April and select portions of May were the exception and not the rule, Scott Baker has arguably been the strongest of the Twins starters. On Saturday night he dominated again over eight scoreless innings, blowing through the Padres with apparent ease, particularly early in the game.
San Diego's Chris Denorfia led off the game with a triple, but Baker responded immediately with consecutive strikeouts before Ben Revere tracked down Ryan Ludwick's flyball deep in center field. From there, the show belonged to Baker. Five of his first six outs were recorded as strikeouts, and he totalled eight through four innings. Just once, in the fifth, did the Padres manage to get multiple runners on base at the same time.
As usual, Baker wasn't afraid to challenge hitters by elevating his fastball. He's already had a lot of success with this strategy this season, and his confidence was on display last night.
Of Baker's 10 strikeouts, four came on "sinkers" (once again, Baker's fastball had so much movement that it was incorrectly classified by pitchfx) and six on the slider. You can see that half of Baker's strikeouts came on pitches high and above the strikezone.
Like Nick Blackburn just days ago, the only support the Twins could muster for Baker was a solo home run in the second inning. This time it came off the bat of Danny Valencia, homering for the second time in as many games.
Valencia had a good day, for the most part. His home run was integral to the win, but he also made a nice play late in the game by recovering on a grounder that took a funny hop off the bat of Jesus Guzman. The ball bounced off the heel of Valencia's glove and popped into the air, Danny tracked it, bare-handed the ball and made a good throw for the out.
For the Padres, Tim Stauffer was outstanding in his own right. He allowed just six hits over seven innings, striking out five and not recording a walk. I said in the pre-game that if he was on, the Twins would be in for a battle. And they certainly were. Luckily, Valencia was able to get ahold of one early.
With the win the Twins extend their winning streak to six, and have taken 13 of their last 15 contests. They're eight games out of first place, and are now officially having a better year than the Astros, Dodgers, Cubs...and Padres.
- Luke Hughes made a nice diving stop at first base early in the game. Largely I've been satisfied with how he's played there, and after picking up a pair of hits last night continues to hit a respectable .265 (including .345 over his last ten games).
- Valencia was removed after the eighth inning, as his arm tightened up when he made that recovery and throw to get Guzman at first. I'd imagine it's unikely he plays today, to be sure there's not a real issue with the arm.
- Matt Capps converted his third consecutive one-run-lead save. It's his 11th save. His ERA continues to come down bit by bit, currently hovering just over four.
- Baker's ERA has dropped to 3.24 after his eight scoreless innings.
- Inside Edge gave Baker a full 'A' grade for his overall performance, including 'A' grades in 19 of 23 sub categories. Suffice it to say he really didn't do poorly at anything.
- Stauffer shut down the Twins' lefties yesterday, as they went just 1-for-14 off balls in play. Right handers were a better, going 5-for-12 on balls in play.
Scott Baker, Danny Valencia, Luke Hughes, Matt Capps
I'm still not into handing out duds. At least, not in a game like this one.