Tuesday, April 15, 2008

No Way That Just Happened...

You know that scene in Tommy Boy where David Spade and Chris Farley are driving along with what they assume is a deer carcass in the backseat of Spade's characters once-cherry car when suddenly the deer wakes up, groggy, yet alarmed and starts thrashing out the windows, seats and roof as Spade and Farley scamper into the middle of the highway to avoid the wrath of the deer? After the mayhem ended and the deer stood majestically on the hood of the trashed car then trots off into the forest at which point, seething with disbelief Spade sputters out "No way that just happened..."

Spade, of course, personifies every Twins fans that witnessed the inaugural game in Comerica on Monday night. For the majority of the game, the Tigers looked dejected, they looked liked a 2-10 team: Ivan Rodriguez misplays a pop foul to prolong the inning that resulted in several Twins runs, Miguel Cabrera pulled Carlos Guillen off the base on a routine throw from third, Clete Thomas over ran a Kubel line drive which scored more. After each miscue, the crowd rained boos on the lifeless Tigers. Then... they lifted their heads and blinked. They remembered that they have these big, sharp teeth and these big, sharp claws. Nick Blackburn experienced the wrath firsthand in the 6th inning. "Any time a team with that kind of lineup gets on a roll, it can get dangerous in a hurry," Blackburn said. "Against this team, any mistakes are going to be magnified. They can wake up at any time." Suddenly, there was some sort of roll-reversal. Denard Span escorted what would presumably be an Ivan Rodriguez extra base hit off of reliever Matt Guerrier but was converted into a home run when he failed to secure the ball in his pocket. No way that just happened.

Neshek was asked to rescue Guerrier for the second time in just over a week. On April 7th against the White Sox, Guerrier had allowed both Jim Thome and Paul Konerko to reach before Pat Neshek was asked to get Jermaine Dye, AJ Pierzynski and Carlos Quentin prior to facing Joe Crede, who nailed a broken bat grand slam. Even though it was Neshek's slider that left US Cellular, Guerrier was burdened with the loss. Eight days later, a similar situation arose a few hundred miles east in Michigan. Neshek, after giving this game to the reeling Tigers, left the clubhouse without addressing the reporters, for the second time in the day leaving Guerrier out to dry.

After the second out of the Tigers' end sixth inning was recorded, 14 of the next 19 Detroit batters reached base safely. What transpired was essentially a repeat of what happened a week prior to Nick Blackburn, who in the 6th inning of the April 7th game against the White Sox, turned a one-run lead over to Matt Guerrier. Tonight Blackburn handed off a two-run lead over to Matt Guerrier. The once vaunted Twins bullpen has looked awfully mortal in 2008. Through the first 12 games the relief staff has been highly ineffective in late & close situation (as defined by B-R.com, late & close situations are PA in the 7th or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck). In those predefined situations, opponents were batting .294/.324/.441 with 10 runs score in 68 at-bats. Raise that batting line up a few points following the night in Detroit. Tonight was the first time Matt Guerrier allowed an inherited run to score when he surrendered a single to Edgar Renteria that scored Carlos Guillen from second. Inexplicably, Justin Morneau cut off the throw from Span which could have erased the hobbling Guillen had it been allowed through to the plate. Naturally it caught Renteria leaning towards second however there was a good chance the throw could have beat Guillen. There are certainly questions as to why Guerrier was asked to start the 8th inning. "We had a four-run lead. Neshek's a setup guy. If it's a three-run lead or a two-run lead, we use him in those situations. I would think Matt Guerrier could get through. At 9-5, I think we're doing OK there." Gardenhire said.

I do not need to reiterate the importance of lead-retention when it comes to a team like the Twins. In 2006 the Miracle Twins had a relief corp that held opponents to a .223/.276/.325 batting line in late & close situations. That season relievers combined to finish 26-10 with a 2.91 era. The lackluster Twins of 2007 contained a relief staff that possessed a significantly higher .258/.325/.413 opponent batting line in those same circumstances, they finished 20-18 with a 3.87 era. Through just the first 12 games, the bullpen managed to only lose the one game (the aforementioned Neshek debacle) but they have been substantially more hittable in the critical portions of the game, being touched up at .294/.324/.441.