July 20, 2013
Twins 3, 2
A remarkably similar contest to Friday's 3-2 loss. Obviously the score was exactly the same, but both games also followed a similar script. On Friday Scott Kazmir pitched five marvelous innings before giving up two runs in the sixth after an injury visit, and last night Corey Kluber didn't even come out for the sixth inning because of what is being called "hip tightness." And like on Friday night, the sixth inning turned out to be a crucial turning point in the game, with the Twins coming back from a 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 lead.
Why are the Minnesota Twins 12 games under .500? They don't score many runs, but the biggest reason has to do with their rotation. Before last night's game, the only pitcher with an ERA+ of 100 or greater was Samuel Deduno, and he hadn't been in the rotation the entire season. Nine Twins pitchers had made starts on the season, 7 out of those 9 had an ERA of 4.50 or greater. In an era when strikeouts are more prevalent than ever, the highest strikeout ratio for pitchers with enough innings to qualify belongs to Kevin Correia with a 5.0 SO/9. Correia ranks 43rd in the league, and only 45 pitchers have enough innings to qualify. Now the ability to strike out batters doesn't necessarily correlate with effectiveness, but it certainly helps, and the Twins starting staff doesn't have talent right now to pull of "pitching to contact" that the early 00s rotations did.
Well, Kevin Correia pitched a rather typical game from a strikeout standpoint, whiffing three Indians in 6 innings, but he only allowed three hits, and two of those hits game in his last inning. Correia retired the Indians in order the first through the lineup, and it wasn't until there was out in the fourth inning that the Indians got their first hit (a Jason Kipnis single). The Indians' only two runs of the game came the next night Kipnis stepped to the plate in the sixth inning. Lonnie Chisenhall had led off the inning with a single, but then was removed on a fielder's choice, with Michael Bourn taking his place at first. After Asdrubal Cabrera flied out to left, Kipnis hit a two-run bomb to left field, continuing an opposite-field trend for Kipnis' extra-base hits.
That 2-0 lead seemed safe, as Corey Kluber had to that point shut down the Twins on three hits, striking out seven along the way. He thrown 93 pitches, but probably had another inning in him. But the hip scoreness chased him from the game early, and with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau leading off the bottom of the sixth, Terry Francona went with his only left-handed reliever, Rich Hill. Hill had warmed up in the seventh the previous evening, but Francona left Joe Smith in to face those same two hitters. Well, this time Hill was used Mauer and Morneau, and the takeaway was that Francona's choice on Friday was a no-win scenario. Hill walked Mauer to start the inning, then gave up a single to Morneau to put runners on first and third with nobody out. Then, like on Friday, a Chisenhall error turned a potential rally into a full-blown rally when he tried to go home on a grounder to third. His throw was wild, and not only did the runner score, but the Twins now had runners on second and third with nobody out.
Bryan Shaw was then brought in, but he didn't fare any better. He allowed a Chris Colabello single that tied the game, and when Jason Kipnis bobbled a potential double play ball, the Twins took the lead. Once again, poor defense and poor relief pitching doomed the Indians in one crucial inning, and they wouldn't recover. The Twins bullpen, which is their strength, shut down the Tribe over the last three innings to clinch the game and the series. If I was a betting man, I would wager that neither Rich Hill nor Bryan Shaw will be with the Indians after July 31st, but if the Indians continue to play defense like they have the last two nights, it won't really matter who's on mound unless they're striking out everybody.
The one saving grace from last night is that Tigers lost again as well, but you also take away a sense of missed opportunity. Had the Indians won these two eminently winnable games, they'd be sitting in first place right now, as well as in an excellent position in the Wild Card race if it came to that. But instead they are now 3.5 games back in the Wild Card with two teams (Yankees and Rangers) between them and the leaders.
Roll Call (28 Commenters)
|Mr. Bad Example
|Daniel Van Meter