Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Short Stories: Twins 6, Tigers 2

Some games read like a novel, but this one felt more like a collection of short stories. And since we literary types relish that symbolism thing, it's gotta be nine short stories, with morals like....

Inning 1 - Delmon Young has NOT improved enough in left field.

When your defense makes John Gordon gasp for your safety, it's safe to say things haven't improved. How can Young be so completely helpless out there, and could it somehow be related to his offensive struggles? Remember, before he came here, NOBODY complained about his defense. He even played center field a little in Tampa Bay.

At this point, absolutely everything is on the table regarding Young. Is there something wrong with his eyesight? Is the move from right field to left field so traumatic that it affects his batting? Or, is there something wrong with his legs or back that affects his play in the field and at that plate? Gawd knows he doesn't look that comfortable running. Or, um, might he have had "a little help from his friends" in Tampa Bay? I'm not ruling anything out.

We have a new Cristian Guzman on our hands here - someone who was on a trajectory for greatness but has jumped the track, and we're going to be dissecting the hell out of him for the next three years. And he WILL be around for three years, by the way. Right now he's not good enough to become expensive. Remember Luis Rivas? Just bad enough to remain affordable throughout his arbitration years, but promising enough to remain desirable.

Inning 2 - Nick is right. This is a more patient team. And tonight it paid off.

The first run of the game scores tonight because Michael Cuddyer worked a walk before Joe Crede hit his home run. The Twins drew four of those walks from Armando Galarraga in the 5.2 innings he pitched.

But the patience wasn't effective because one walk scored. It was effective because that's how you attack Galarraga. In Gardenhire's pregame talk, he spoke of how Galarraga lives around the edge of the strike zone, trying to induce batters to swing at his slider that dives on the outside of the plate. You get to Galarraga by laying off enough pitches so that he needs to throw the ball over the plate. And that paid off all game, most demonstrably on a 2-1 pitch to Crede.

In fact, when Galarraga left the game, he had thrown 57 strikes and 42 balls. That ratio should be closer to 2:1. By showing a higher level of patience, the Twins had Galarraga pitching uphill all night.

Inning 3 - Joe Mauer might be bionic.

How much do we know about this kidney surgery, really? Is it possible that sacroiliac pain was really the result of implanting some kind of spring-loaded gyro-thingy (it's a technical term) into his lower back? His home run this inning was AGAIN to the opposite field (all of his home runs have been) and on an 0-1 pitch.

What's more, it was a near duplicate to the one he almost hit in the first inning. Except this time he had enough sense to hit it at a lower trajectory so Clete Thomas couldn't get to the wall in time to rob him. Who decides to hit the ball exactly the same way, only with a lower trajectory, and then does it?

(A: The bionic man. That's who. Nnna-na-na-na-na-na-na....)

Inning 4 - I think I'm always gonna be more comfortable in the low rent district.

Tonight I was joined in the slums of the press box by Seth Stohs of SethSpeaks.net, next to Phil Mackey, Doogie Wolfson and a few other semi-degenerates. It was fun examining every decision (and non-decision) and I've decided I like sitting in the slums. I'll take that any time over a quiet and reverent room. Hell, I'd be OK moving it to the blue seats, and include a handful of beers in the mix. (Though it would be hard leaving the free hot dogs.)

Inning 5 - Jim Leyland is smarter than me.

I didn't recognize before this series just how dependent the Tigers have become on Carlos Guillen, who is on the DL. During the offseason they jettisoned several hitters to improve their defense, leaving Guillen, Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera and Curtis Granderson as the primary offensive threats.

The problem is that Ordonez and Cabrera are both right-handed, and Granderson is such an asset as a leadoff hitter that it seems foolish to have him bat between them. Because of this, Leyland batted left-handed hitters Clete Thomas (who was called up less than a week ago) third and Jeff Larish (who is hitting .250 in 128 career at-bats) fifth. Neither is a tremendous prospect.

In the first inning, when Thomas hit into a double-play to end an early threat, I was thrilled with Leyland's unconventional approach. By the sixth inning, when Thomas was 2 for 3 and Larish had slugged a home run to start the Tigers scoring, I was less impressed with my opinion.

Inning 6 - Jim Leyland is still smarter than me.

In the bottom of the sixth, with Galarraga struggling, down 5-1, and with runners on first and second base, Leyland brought in Ryan Perry. Perry is basically the Tigers version of Juan Morillo. He throws almost exclusively fastballs that are in the upper 90s. In 12.1 innings this year he has struck out 10 - and walked 11. And while right-handed batters are hitting .105 against him, left-handers have hit .286.

Oh, and did I mention that the first batter he's going to face is Denard Span? A patient left-handed hitter? Who would then be followed by Tolbert, Mauer, and Morneau? All of whom are patient left-handed hitters? I was already doing a very tiny happy dance before he had thrown his first pitch.

And very short-lived. Because he struck out Span looking. Then he stayed in for the seventh and struck out Tolbert before Bionic Joe™ got a hit. Didn't matter. He got through the seventh, and did fairly well in the eighth before being pulled by Leyland. It was exactly the kind of confidence-building outing that I would have LOVED to see Morillo have.

Inning 7 - Ron Gardenhire is as baffled as we are by his bullpen.

At the midpoint of the sixth inning, Slowey had thrown 97 pitches and had been in and out of trouble all night, but the team held a 4-1 lead. We wondered if anyone would be warming up in the bullpen? Nope. Or at least not until the inning went a little long and the lead was extended to 5-1. At that point we were a little surprised to see that Jesse Crain, who previously had been trusted with protecting smaller leads in the eighth, would be coming in.

It was most surprising because Crain is right-handed, and the next two batters were not. But who is Gardy gonna bring in? Breslow? Can't trust him with a lead right now. Mijares? Might need to trust him with the eighth inning. And so the right-handed Crain faced two lefties, giving up a home run on a high fastball and then walking Granderson.

At which point, Gardenhire (and the booing stands) had seen enough so he went with Mijares to get him out of the jam. Except now the batter was the right-handed #2 hitter Placido Polanco. And waiting at #4 was right-handed hitter Miguel Cabrera. Fortunately, Mijares was back to his old self and retired all three hitters he faced.

But now who would pitch the eighth? Finally, the matchups favored the Twins, because the inning started out with the left-handed Larish (who Mijares retired) and then came a couple of right-handed hitters, so the Twins brought in Matt Guerrier.

This was bullpen shuffling at it's most desperate, and you have to feel for Gardy who needs to play a nearly perfect hand when he's short-suited.

Inning 8 - Disdain makes me think violent thoughts.

I like TC Bear. He's no Phanatic, but few mascots are. I've met TC Bear, he's treated my kids well, and I generally respect anyone who has the guts and stamina to jump around for hours wrapped in a wool carpet. So I don't have a problem with our mascot.

So why would I pay cash money to beat the super-imposed dancing TC Bear to death with a bat on the Jumbotron?

I'm not entirely sure, but I think it's because the whole dancing video reeks of disdain. Let's show people dancing in the stands. And since people don't really get into it, let's super-impose TC Bear dancing, too. Don't feel like you have to really do anything TC - just twist back and forth a little bit.

And the icing on the cake? TC Bear does his little half-hearted dance for just ten seconds, and then they just loop it over and over so he 'skips' about twenty times during the feature. The whole thing is so phoned-in that it just screams "We know it's contrived. You know it's contrived. And gawd knows that TC Bear knows it's contrived. So how about you, us and TC just make the best of this and shake our groove things for a couple minutes to fulfill our obligatory fun quota?"

You know how I want to fulfill the fun quota? I want to see a super-imposed overly-caffeinated Matt Tolbert join TC Bear after his third skip and beat him within an inch of his life. And then turn towards the stunned and suddenly immobile fans and sniff the bloody bat like Gomez after a foul ball. Now that, to me, is a rally starter.

Inning 9 - Gomez isn't going anywhere if Gardenhire has his way.

Gardenhire addressed the elephant in the room during his pregame comments, praising Gomez and talking about how they're working on his swing and how hard he works, etc. And, to be fair, Gomez worked a walk against Perry tonight, and he battled to do it, and he was the only Twins who earned one against Perry unintentionally.

And if you're Gardenhire, why wouldn't you want him here? He's a great defensive replacement. He's a great pinch runner (and it was great to see him steal tonight on the second pitch after he got on base). And he's a constant reminder to Delmon Young that he's replaceable. He's got value on this roster for Gardenhire.

The question is, why isn't Bill Smith insisting he go to Rochester? He needs at-bats. He still has plenty to prove in AAA. It slows down his service time. And it sure seems like it would be the best thing for the kid.

So nine lessons learned, and still plenty of questions left. Awesome. Let's see what happens tomorrow night.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Quick Note: Attendance Matters

A few months ago (it's prior to the Joe Crede signing) we noticed that the Twins payroll had been shrinking since 2007, and we wondered just how much the recession might hurt the Twins. Then, in March, we did a little breakdown of some of the Twins revenues and found out that of the $140-millionish revenue the Twins bring in, only around $50 million was directly related to their gate.

Yes, I know I need to do a part two of this revenue series. There's a reason I haven't. It's because I'm a slacker. I think we've established that fully over the last few years. Soon, I promise.

Since we're about 25% of the way through the home season, I thought it might make sense to check in on attendance. Especially because I had the impression early that attendance was down.

And it is, but not much. Through 20 games this year, the 496,956 while is was 515,630 through 20 games last year. So it's down just 3.7%. And even that number is debatable, because last year the Twins had already hosted Boston (which is always a strong draw) and had hosted three more weekend games. That could more than make up the difference.

On the other hand, at the same point last year, expectations were still fairly low. Alsom my gut feel is that attendance really picked up as it became apparent that the Twins were going to be more competetive than we thought. How much of that is due to exceeding expactations, and how much is due to just the onslaught of summer is unclear. I just don't have time to crunch the numbers, to be honest.

But it appears that the recession shouldn't hurt the Twins gate revenues much. 3.7% of $50 million is $1.85 million. And if we assume that the Twins payroll reflects about 50% of their overall revenues, that's less than $1 million difference. Any decrease in payroll over the last couple years can't be attributed to the recession.