Sunday, July 15, 2007

Pull out the broom - A clean 4 game sweep!

The Twins just completed a 4 game home sweep of their 2006 playoff nemesis Oakland Athletics. While this helped the Twins pick up a couple of games on the Indians and Tigers, what differences did they show over the 4 game series? I saw a few things that were very impressive, and a few things that showed they still have things to work on.

I'll start with the problems I saw in the 4 game series-
  • Our bullpen, while far and above better than the Indians and Tigers, still have a few weak spots. Juan Rincon has been awful of late, allowing 11 earned runs and 14 runs over his last 9 1/3 innings of worked, managing to blow Johan's shutout during this series. Maybe Rincon's lack of steroids are hurting him this year. Dennys Reyes has also had trouble recently, with hitters batting .317 against him (compared to .197 last season). We have 3 reliable arms out of the bullpen (Neshek, Guerrier, and Nathan), and the other guys need to pick up the slack.
  • Nick Punto is creeping ever closer to the Mendoza Line. While he did have a 2-run triple in Sunday's game, he was 3 for 14 in the series. You know that you need to up your production when 3 for 14 actually RAISES your batting average. Punto has been spectacular in the field, but with Cirillo proving he deserves at bats, he will be out of a job within a couple weeks if he doesn't start hitting.
  • While they won the 4 games, the Twins still didn't provide the scoring they are capable of. They averaged 4.75 runs per game in the series, but against other teams that won't be enough to cut it. They left a remarkable number of runners on base and they simply can't do that if they hope to win. The Twins left 65 runners on base over the 4 game series, which is waaaaaaaaaay too high. ( Games 1-4: 15, 18, 15, 17)
  • The Twins are starting Garza in the next series, virtually assuring that Kevin Slowey is to remain in the minors for the time being. With no game Monday, the Twins could have skipped their 5th starter, but instead are going with the Garza. They are also keeping Johan on 5 days rest, pushing Baker back to a Thursday start.
While those are all very fixable problems, since the Twins have shown they can hit, and Reyes and Rincon have pitched well in the past, I'm most concerned about Nick Punto. He hasn't shown any signs of turning his hitting around, and they simply can't keep playing him if he is hitting that poorly. My solution? Utilize his speed. He has tried to bunt for singles less and less frequently as the season has gone on, instead choosing to hit away. He needs something to spark his batting average, and he sure loves diving head first into first base. Maybe a few bunt singles will help. Also, using Nick Punto as a late inning glove and base stealing threat may prove to be a more useful role for him on this Twins roster.

There were also many things that looked extremely positive during the series:

  • Well, obviously, the Twins won all 4 games in the series. This is the kind of run they needed, especially since they haven't been particularly amazing at home this year. They also were able to pick up 2 games on Detroit and 1 on Cleveland, and now face the Tigers with the chance to pick up 3 more games on them. The Twins will be trotting out Garza in his second start, then Santana, and Baker.
  • Luis Castillo showed signs of life! Castillo, who is a good offensive and defensive player, rarely shows any emotion while on the field. The last time I recall seeing any emotion out of him (not including postgame celebrations) was when he committed his first error of the season, and you could see him yelling at himself. That was over a month ago, and he has been his usual self since then, trotting out to the field each day and doing his job. Much to my chagrin, Castillo actually showed that he cares on Sunday, with his 9th inning leadoff triple. Right when he hit the bag, he let out a scream of success and it sparked the Twins to their 4-3 win.
  • They faced the only pitcher you could possibly place higher than Johan in the Cy Young race right now in Dan Haren, and beat him. Haren didn't get the loss thanks to Guerrier allowing 2 runners to score, but the Twins were able to score 2 runs off of him and make him look human. The Twins helped in upping Haren's era for the 7th consecutive start, while subsequently making Johan's credentials look better. Win-win-win situation!

Well, this is about as good of a start to the second half as one could have hoped! Let's just hope that Garza can continue the run on Tuesday against Nate Robertson and the Tigers at the Dome.