Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Flip-flopping a Flopped Bullpen

So. I'm a wreck.

A happy, elated, jaunty wreck, but a wreck nonetheless. I'd forgotten how exhausting fall baseball can be. This decade the Twins have usually clinched relatively early and exited the playoffs even earlier. To be frank, I'm not sure I'm built for this. Which isn't to say I'm ready for it to end.

But the Twins have essentially begun the playoffs a week early, and they've begun them with a string of must-win games. Last night's was a classic playoff game, complete with a packed dome, stingy runs, and a self-adminstered angioplasty.

But I wouldn't have it any other way, and not just because it moved the Twins within a half game of first place. This is the kind of game the Twins need to win in the playoffs, and tonight they unveiled the new upside-down bullpen hierarchy that they hope is going to get them there:

9th - Joe Nathan
8th - Jose Mijares
7th - Boof Bonser
6th - Craig Breslow

Thank god. This is the problem that has plagued the Twins for the second half of this year, and a problem that both the GM and the manager seemed reluctant to attack. It took longer to solve it that it should have, but it looks like there is a solution, or at least there was tonight.

Nick Blackburn did well enough for five innings, and he'll get the "W", but the final four innings in a one run game are a lot more important than the first five. It appears that White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen agreed, letting starter Mark Buehrle throw 121 pitches to get him through the late innings. That's probably fine, but it's worth noting that Buehrle is the pitcher that will need to be used on Monday if the White Sox must play that last game against the Tigers.

(And while we're at it, Javier Vazquez is the pitcher that lines up for the White Sox last game on Sunday versus the Indians. Both now look like they could be critical games, and Ozzie has led frontal attacks on Vazquez's confidence and Buehrle's stamina the last two games. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out on the south side.)

Tonight's White Sox pitcher is Gavin Floyd, not John Danks as I said yesterday. Floyd is right-handed, known as a bit of a space-case, and he's been scary good against the Twins this year - better than Buehrle and better than Vazquez. He'll be facing Kevin Slowey who pitched a shutout against the Sox the last time he faced them in the Metrodome.

But the good news today is that it doesn't look like he's going to need to. With the new flip-flopped bullpen, a one-run lead is sustainable again.

Now, if only my systolic blood pressure was....

Speed Round Thoughts
- The magic number is six. I haven't seen the magic number guy at the dome yet. Is he there yet this year? Will he show up for tomorrow's game just so he can unveil it if they win?

- Manager Ron Gardenhire started LH-hitting Jason Kubel at DH over RH-hitting Michael Cuddyer because left-handers have hit .309 against Buehrle this year, and right-handers have hit just .267. La Velle E Neal had a nice tidbit in his blog about talking to Corey Koskie about the same thing and having Koskie confirm that Buehrle's cutter can be hit very hard by lefties when he misses his spot.

It's nice to see the coaching staff pay attention to this sort of thing. And it's even more encouraging to see them act on it. That said....

Over the last three years (2005-2007) left-handers and right-handers have hit Buehrle almost exactly the same statistically. But, he's faced almost four times as many right-handed hitters. Generally, the ratio is closer to 2:1, so when you see a ratio that high, it means that opposing managers are only letting the very best left-handed hitters face Buehrle.

So those equal stats were put up by very different groups of players - elite left-handed batters hit Buehrle about as well as the whole spectrum of right-handed hitters. Which means he's been quite a bit better against left-handed batters for his career. Maybe that changed a little bit this year, but don't take it as gospel that Buehrle can be hit by left-handed bats.

And, by the way, Kubel went hitless, though he did draw a walk. And the only Twins players to have multiple hits last night were Delmon Young and Brendan Harris. They both bat right-handed.

- Oh, and I did another podcast with Seth yesterday, this one with Nick Nelson from Nick and Nick's and Howard Sinker from A Fan's View. You can find the podcase (and subscribe) here.


Josh's Thoughts said...

The bullpen was insane last night. Gardenhire really made a gutsy call handing the ball over to Mijares in the 8th inning and it really turned out great.

TT said...

This is not the first time the Twins bullpen has held a lead. Nor is it the first time Bonser and Breslow have been effective.

I think what this series is showing is that Gardy has concluded Crain, Guerrier and possibly Reyes are done for the year as guys he can count on in close games.

He's hoping he can roll the dice and ride a few new arms into the playoffs. Lets hope Mijares success is not just from lack of exposure and Bonser can demonstrate some consistency, which he has sorely lacked.

This looks likely this race won't be decided until at least Sunday. Unless one of the teams has a 2.5 game lead after Saturday, the Sunday outcome will determine whether the White Sox play Monday.

Even if the Twins lose the last game of the series, the White Sox would have to pick up another game in the next two days to have a 2.5 game lead. And if the Twins win, they would have to pick up two games in two days.

If you have heart problems, keep the nitro handy.

Daymonster said...

Is my math correct. Lee will go against Vazquez in the last game against the Indians. Someone tell me if I am right.