AP Photo, by Paul Battaglia
I walk away happy as a clam from any baseball game that features a successfully executed suicide squeeze. It’s a great, gutsy, and increasingly rare play, and last night, with the Kansas City Royals in town (I actually heard some radio guy refer to them as the "red hot Royals"), the Twins –with ex-Astros (Adam Everett and Mike Lamb) at both ends of the squeeze– worked it to perfection. That, of course, was a good thing, since the Twins in the early going are once again playing like a team that needs to scratch and claw for every run.
Eventually you have to suppose opposing teams are going to figure out a way to keep Carlos Gomez off base (the obvious solution: don’t give him anything to hit, let alone bunt), but right now he’s making it look easy, and with a guy who has that kind of speed leading off –and Joe Mauer hitting behind him– the Twins have the potential to manufacture a run every time he gets on base; once he gets on first he’s demonstrated he knows how to get around.
As far as the anemic offense is concerned, there’s probably no point in getting too wound up about it just yet, even if the production (12 runs in five games) is disconcertingly reminiscent of last year’s misery. Surely, though, you’d think, the middle of the order will come around, and surely, you’d think, the bottom of the order can’t possibly be as bad as it was last year, even if you have the sinking suspicion that the bottom of the order very well could be as bad as it was last year.
We’ve had several years now to watch Justin Morneau –and I’ve watched him very closely– and when the guy is going bad he’s an absolute train wreck. Right now he’s not even close to being right. I know he and hitting coach Joe Vavra have access to videotape up the wazoo, and I can’t for the life of me understand why Morneau has such a hard time figuring out what he’s doing wrong. I mean, yes, I know, it’s an extremely difficult thing, hitting major league pitching, but he looks anxious and off balance and he’s jumping at pitches and beating them into the ground. His first (and thus far only) hit this year might have been the only truly decent swing he’s had in five games, and it was exactly the kind of swing –waiting on a pitch he can’t pull and driving it the other way– that keys his success when he’s going good.
The Cuddyer injury is unfortunate, but if it gets Jason Kubel a chance to play every day for a couple weeks it might be a blessing in disguise. I’m already tired of Craig Monroe (five strikeouts in nine at bats), and Kubel’s present situation resembles nothing so much as where Cuddyer was a few years ago. Kubel is now a couple years removed from his catastrophic knee injury, and it’s time to see what he can do when given a chance to play every day. I know there are plenty of folks out there who have given up on him, but anybody who saw the guy swing the bat in his minor league stops before the injury can’t help hoping he can still be the player he was once projected to be. And naysayers should keep in mind that Kubel is still just 25 years old.
Another guy I really don’t like in the early going is Brendan Harris. He showed he could hit a little bit last year in Tampa Bay, but he appears to be seriously lost on defense. Even watching him in pre-game drills he looks stiff and hapless and clumsy around the bag. A good hitter can go through slumps at the plate that temporarily obscure how good he really is, but first impressions on defense are generally pretty reliable. And given the emphasis the Twins place on making the plays in the field, I think Harris is going to be on a very short leash.
The good news: the starting pitching has actually been pretty damn stout. That was a very sharp and very encouraging comeback from Scott Baker last night (the guy had thrown 41 pitches through two innings, and managed to leave with two out in the sixth, a one-run lead, and a respectable pitch count of 84), and the bullpen looks to be as outstanding as ever. And after one turn through the rotation the starters have walked just one batter.
Today we’ll get our second opportunity to marvel at Livan Hernandez, one of the most brazen slop tossers in the big leagues, a guy with the stuff to be a Town Ball ace. Try to just enjoy the show, and for the time being I’d advise you to fend off all thoughts of Ramon Ortiz and his April tease of a year ago.