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Nick Blackburn Continues Skid, Twins Season Slipping Away

Twins 4, Indians 7

I understand that you need to get Joe Nathan a little work.  But when he took a shot off his ankle/heel, I couldn't help but think that it was like a Ferrari owner getting upset when his new car got a dent after being entered in a demolition derby.  There's just something a little sad about running out your prize stallion when he's better off in the stable.

Today's game was highlighted (and I use that term lightly) by two scoreless innings by Nick Blackburn to lead off the game, a two-run Delmon Young home run, and then a bunch of wasted opportunities.  Following Young's sixth homer of the season, here's a miserable summary of how the team handled situations with their own men on base the rest of the way.

  • Bottom of the 3rd:  After Denard Span singles, Orlando Cabrera grounds into a double play.
  • Bottom of the 4th:  Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Joe Crede all earn walks to load the bases with one out.  Young grounds into an inning-ending double play.
  • Bottom of the 5th:  Nick Punto leads off with a single.  Span and Cabrera go quietly before Joe Mauer laces a liner between Shin-Soo Choo and the left field line.  Choo makes a nice sliding play to snare it for the third out.
  • Bottom of the 6th:  After Jason Kubel walks with one away, Cuddyer and Crede can't move him around.
  • Bottom of the 7th:  With one away, Punto doubles and Span walks.  Cabrera grounds into another double play.
  • Bottom of the 8th:  Mauer picks up a lead-off single.  Morneau, Kubel and Cuddyer are retired in succession.

There were just so many missed opportunities by the offense, and yet they still managed to score four runs.  But when they get men on base in eight innings and only score in two of them, that constitutes a failure.

Blackburn's third inning was the inning that would never end.  Home run (3-1), strike, home run (3-2), ball, hit by pitch, ball, ball, home run (3-4), strike, strike, ball, foul, foul, single, ball, double (3-5), foul, foul, OUT, strike, foul, ball, single (3-6), pulled from the game.  23 pitches was all it took to absolutely destroy Nick.  Hell, that 3-0 lead was erased in about two minutes.  Honestly, just eight pitches.  There's no other word to describe it other than catostrophic.

Jesse Crain stacked up a pitch count, but got through 1.2 innings and allowed just one run.  Oddly enough, that performance lowers his ERA.  By this time it was just the fourth inning, and although the score was 7-3 that's still plenty of time to put together a run; to chip away at what was (in spite of how it felt) only a four-run lead.  But we know how that turned out.

Jeff Manship pitched around a pair of walks and a hit to earn 1.2 scoreless innings, and Jose Mijares pitched through the seventh.  Matt Guerrier and Joe Nathan then combined for a pair of scoreless innings to complete the night.

Once the Indians scored six in the third, the entire makeup of the game changed.  Cleveland starter Aaron Laffey picked up a little luck with some help from his defense, and he topped it off by getting more than one Minnesota hitter to hack at balls outside of the zone.  High fastballs, tailing sliders, changeups out of the zone, it was maddening.  And it didn't stop with Laffey.  John Smith and Tony Sipp, in the middle innings when the Twins still had opportunities AND time, continued to take advantage of an offense that was pressing itself.  The results, for Minnesota, were ugly.

The Tigers lost today, but as of this writing the White Sox are leading Oakland by a run in the eighth.  If this plays out, the Twins will still be trailing Detroit by six games, but they'll also be trailing Chicago by four-and-a-half.  Forget about the Wild Card; Minnesota is 10.5 out on that front, and about to head to Wild Card leader Texas.  Yes, to Texas, where a bullpen that's been winded the last two days will be largely unavailable for at least the heat of game one.

I'm praying for a sweep of the Rangers.  And a little help.

Studs
#3:  Delmon Young  (1-for-4, HR, 2 RBI, R, -.007 WPA)
#2:  Denard Span (2-for-4, BB, RBI, .022 WPA)
#1:  Nick Punto  (2-for-3, 2B, BB, R, .061 WPA)

Duds
#1:  Nick Blackburn  (2.1 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 3 HR, 2 K, -.482 WPA)
#2:  Orlando Cabrera  (0-for-5, 2 GIDP, 5 LOB, -.210 WPA, although again some nice defense)
#3:  Delmon Young  (Both lists, I know, but that bases-loaded GIDP sucked)