Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Darkest Before The Dawn

Talk about dark.

Yesterday, Francisco Liriano had his worst start of the young season statistically. In just five innings (actually, 5-plus), he gave up seven runs, all earned, and watched his ERA climb to 9.42. And yet, I think we watched a possible turning point.

In each his two previous starts, Liriano only gave up four hits – and yet he gave up four runs in each, too. He gave up that many runs because he also put eight additional guys on base with walks. Yesterday he only gave up one walk, but gave up eight hits in five innings.

Er, make that one inning. The eight hits became seven runs because so many were strung together. The Royals produced a six-run fourth inning that included six straight hits. Actually, let’s put “hits” in quotes…

1st AB – Melky Cabrera gets a ground ball through the left side of the infield.
2nd AB – Alex Gordon gets a ground ball over second base, just out of the reach of shortstop Matt Tolbert and second baseman Michael Cuddyer.
3rd AB – Billy Butler grounds a hit between third baseman Danny Valencia and Tolbert.
4th AB – Another ground ball up the middle that neither Cuddyer nor Tolbert can reach.

By now, the 1-0 lead has turned into a 2-1 deficit, we’ve seen four grounders become hits, and there still aren’t any outs. Nor will there be any time soon.

5th AB – Wilson Betemit – Hey, an actual line drive! A soft line drive, but a line drive.
6th AB – Mike Aviles doubles when (you guessed it) a ground ball goes past Danny Valencia down the third base line. Two more runs in.
7th AB – Matt Treanor grounds out to third baseman Danny Valencia.

At this point, a Bronx Cheer rose from the Target Field faithful. A fielder … FIELDING?!? That’s awesome!

8th AB – Alcides Escobar is sawed off - and ends up floating a soft blooper in front of right fielder Jason Kubel. At least it was in the air. Another run scores.
9th AB – Chris Getz hits a….well, you know. Cuddyer ranges and dives to field it, throws to first base, but pulls Justin Morneau off the bag. It is scored as a hit, driving in the sixth run. Getz is eventually picked off of first by Liriano.
10th AB – Liriano strikes out Melky Cabrera.

In case you didn’t have an abacus handy, that was eight hits and six runs, or just about all the damage that Liriano gave up. Liriano’s seventh “earned” run came after he had left, when reliever Glen Perkins gave up a double which scored the only batter Liriano had walked.

So while the box score was ugly (and watching it live was even uglier), it was a positive step forward in a lot of ways. This was the first outing where Liriano didn’t hurt himself.
It’s also worth noting that even with all those balls in play, Liriano still struck out four in five innings.

(One side note: It’s tempting to put the blame on the range of the infielders, but sitting down the first base line, I have trouble judging that. I’ll say this – there weren’t any obviously missed plays. But there were several times during the game that both the infielders and outfielders looked a step slow to me.)

But this felt like a bad luck game with an inordinate amount of bad luck. Change that to an exponentially inordinate amount of bad luck. I’m choosing to believe that the dawn has just about arrived.


TT said...

Well hit ground balls often find holes. I don't think we can it "bad luck" and hold Liriano blameless just because the hits were all on the ground. Which is not to say that better infield defense wouldn't have ended that inning a lot quicker.

The Twins used to win some games with a combination of good pitchers who put the ball in play and fielders who turned them into outs. The pitchers may still be operating on that strategy, but it appears the defense is no longer up to it. When you have a manager who is considering a middle infield of Cuddyer and Hughes you have to wonder whether defense is really a priority in this organization. The rhetoric is there, but the choices all seem to be for offense over defense.

jason said...

I was sitting on the third base line, front row, and I will say this....Valencia has 0 range. none. He was standing in concrete. He should have come up with 3 balls that got past him. One was in the first and the other two were in the marathon inning.