Ortiz 5, Bloggosphere 1
In front of 8,793 fans at Tropicana Field, the Twins couldn't get it done on Thursday night. Ramon Ortiz, for the first time as a Twin, let an inning truly get away from him; the offense, in frustrating fashion, squandered more scoring chances.
Luis Castillo: Minnesota's leadoff hitter went 3-for-5 with a run scored, raising his season average to .314. His bunt single in the 5th inning moved Jason Bartlett up to second base with nobody out just prior to Punto loading the bases. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau then left the bases full, collecting three outs between them. Castillo is hitting .467/.500/.467 in the three games since his return to the lineup, with four runs scored, one walk and zero strikeouts.
Nick Punto: LNP went 4-for-4 in Thursday's game, reaching base on all five plate appearances thanks to a free pass in the first inning. In the 5th inning he followed Castillo's bunt single with one of his own. Over his last five games, Punto is 10-for-23 for two RBI, three runs, three walks and three strikeouts. Since April 20, he's raised his batting average 118 points (current line of .250/.333/.344).
Jason Kubel: Kubel collected three hits, one to each field. He continues to see the ball well, and is having quality at-bats although he may not see many pitches. His line continues to rise, and after Thursday's game sits at .268/.307/.341. If he regains his power stroke and continues to get at-bats, Kubel could be poised to have a good summer.
Glen Perkins: Perkins pitched three innings, surrending only two hits and striking out two. He walked none, allowed no runs, and effectively shut down the Devil Ray offense innings 5-7, giving the offense the chance to claw their way back into it. Three scoreless innings lowers Perkins' ERA over a run, to 3.18.
Jesse Crain: Carlos Pena, Crain's first batter, watched strike three come through the zone and lucked out as it was called ball one. Two pitches later, Crain left a fat pitch directly over the heart of the plate, and Pena knocked it into the rafters...which counted as a home run, apparently. While the third pitch probably was a strike (it looked like one), he still let the fifth pitch hang in the wheelhouse. Crain's had a tough two weeks, having been scored on in four of his last six appearances. The four runs he allowed on April 23 will probably haunt his ERA most of the season.
Ramon Ortiz: Finally eaten up by the infamous "big inning", this was Ortiz's first start this spring that wasn't quality. In the bottom of the 3rd, after allowing a base hit, Joe Mauer set up high and tight on Rocco Baldelli. Ortiz missed his spot and left the ball over the plate, and Baldelli lifted it over the left field wall. After two more singles (four consecutive hits), Ty Wigginton hit a can of corn right back to Ortiz. Bartlett was slow getting to second base as Ortiz wanted to turn the doublt play, forcing Ramon to hold the ball longer than he intended. That split second made his throw come a little behind Bartlett, ruled an error on Ortiz, and all runners were safe.
With the bases now loaded and still nobody out, B.J. Upton singled in a run before a Pena sac fly plated one more. The damage was done as the Twins offense couldn't take advantage in later innings, and Ortiz puts in his first poor performance of the year.
Joe Mauer & Justin Morneau: Of the 19 runners left on base by the Twins offense, 14 were left on between these two. Mauer (9 LOB) struck out with the bases loaded and nobody out in the 5th, struck out again with one on to end the 7th, and grounded out with the bases loaded in the top of the 8th as the Twins rally came up short.
Justin grounded into a double play in the 5th to end the Twins bases-loaded threat, and his throwing error in the 2nd inning led to runner at first and second with only one out. Ramon Ortiz was able to work out of the jam by striking out Jonny Gomes and inducing a ground out by Dioner Navarro.
And In the End...
...the love you take is equal to the love you make. But that's a story for another day, birds and bees.
In the end, these last two nights are less symptomatic of a larger problem and more "just-one-of-those-things" that happens to an offense over the course of a season. Minnesota's middle of the order won't continue to come up short in run-scoring situations, and Cuddyer's return (hopefully sooner rather than later) will thicken the meat between Punto and whoever hits eighth. With Castillo back at the leadoff spot, as long as Bartlett and Kubel continue to hit better, and as long as Tyner defies all predictions of success (or lack thereof), the offense will be fine.
Tonight, the Twins welcome the BoSox into the 'Dome. Owners of the most wins in baseball and yet another mean lineup, on paper this matchup is much more threatening than the Devil Rays. Last season the Twins were 5-1 against Boston, including 3-0 at home.
[EDIT: You get a double-dose posting on Friday morning, as cmathewson puts up a fantastic piece on Twins pitching prospects of the past and recent drafts. It's much more interesting than what I wrote, so be sure to check that out below.]