Johan vs. The Yankees

Normally I’d do a “Game Diary” for an event like this, with “The Official Pitcher of Aaron’s Baseball Blog,” Johan Santana, going up against the dreaded New York Yankees. However, when someone offers to bring me Chinese food to eat during the game, I have a hard time passing it up, and I have an even harder time keeping a running diary while scarfing down hunan chicken. So, what follows is not quite a game diary, but rather a whole bunch of random thoughts and observations I had while watching last night’s 7-2 Twins victory.

Enjoy …

  • Everyone is making a big deal about Mike Mussina being 20-2 with a 2.77 ERA in 24 career starts against the Twins. While that’s certainly impressive, you have to remember that, for much of that time, the Twins were one of the worst teams in the American League. Plus, Mussina has a career ERA of 3.60 against everyone, so the fact that it’s 23% lower against a team that stunk for about a decade doesn’t seem like such a huge deal (although obviously a .909 winning percentage is).
  • What exactly does Luis Rivas have to do not to be in the lineup? As I said on my blog yesterday, at this point I’m resigned to the fact that Rivas would have to murder multiple members of Ron Gardenhire‘s family in order for Michael Cuddyer to be given consecutive starts at second base

    Rivas came into this game hitting .244/.269/.391 for the year and his .269 on-base percentage was the worst of any regular in the American League. He’s hitting .188 since the All-Star break, .171 in August, and Gardenhire was recently quoted in the local paper here talking about how frustrated he is with Rivas’ lack of worth ethic. Yet there he is, game after game, sucking up outs at the bottom of the lineup.

    Over at the Twins message board that I frequent, there is a “game thread” for people to chat during each game and someone always posts the “game preview” from The preview includes a “Who’s Hot” and “Who’s Not” for each team and, the other day, after noticing Rivas’ name popping up as the “Who’s Not” more than a few times, I made some snide remark about it.

    Last night, he was once again included in the preview, which said: “Who’s Not: 2B Luis Rivas, 7-for-50 in his last 16 games.” One of the other posters on the message board went back through the archives and actually looked up how often Rivas has been featured as the Twins’ “Who’s Not.” Turns out, he got that honor on August 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 18.

    Congrats, Luis!

  • This is Mussina’s first start since coming off the disabled list and I’ve always wondered if pitchers, as a group, tend to struggle in their first game back from an injury. It seems reasonable that they would, because they’re likely rusty, might not be completely healthy, and are usually on a pitch count. Someone (not me) really should do a study on this, if only for the gamblers out there.

    Minnesota play-by-play man Dick Bremer agrees with me: “Mussina is falling behind most of the hitters and maybe that’s to be expected … he hasn’t pitched in about six weeks.”

  • I know the Twins are struggling offensively and Gardenhire wants to “shake things up,” but I just don’t see the logic in putting Jacque Jones and Torii Hunter in the #2 and #3 spots in the lineup. Jones has a .319 on-base percentage (.309 against righties) and Hunter has a .315 on-base percentage (.338 against righties). These are the two guys you want hitting directly in front of Justin Morneau?

    By the way, Lew Ford has a .391 on-base percentage this year, including .438 since the All-Star break and .444 in August.

  • The Twins have three Canadians on the team right now in Corey Koskie (Anola), Morneau (New Westminster) and Jesse Crain (Toronto). There are two guys in the Metrodome crowd tonight wearing hockey helmets and “Team Canada” hockey jerseys. I have to say, I kind of like being the favorite non-Canadian team of the people of Canada. Heck, once the Expos are out of Montreal, we might move up to #2 on the overall list, behind the Blue Jays. That’s got to be good for something, right?
  • I just took a look at Hideki Matsui‘s numbers this year — .304/.398/.534. I was someone who had high expectations for him last season, so I was surprised when he hit just .287/.353/.435. However, his numbers this year are nearly identical to the prediction I made for him before last season, which was .290/.390/.525. Much like the Twins with their roster and lineup decisions, I often get things right, it just takes a while.
  • The Metrodome crowd is loudly booing Derek Jeter every time he steps to the plate, and when Santana nearly hit him with a fastball up and in, they cheered even louder. I’m generally not a big fan of booing and I’m not quite sure what Twins fans have against Jeter (unless they’re all readers of mine and I’ve convinced them that he’s vastly overrated), but it still made me smile. So much for “Minnesota nice,” huh?
  • You know you’re in good shape when you hear, “Tanyon Sturtze getting loose down in New York’s bullpen.”
  • I’ll admit, while I’d rather win the division by 20 games every year, it is fun to scoreboard watch. When people start instant messaging you with “INDIANS DOWN 2-0 IN THE FIRST!”, you know it’s a pennant race.
  • This is definitely Shannon Stewart‘s night. He led off the game with a homer, drove in a run with a double down the left field line in the fourth inning, and made a great catch up against the wall in left field, crashing into it and falling down as soon as he caught the ball.

    As much as it pains me to admit this (although maybe not, since it has helped the Twins), the Stewart-for-Bobby Kielty deal has been a fantastic one for the Twins. Stewart was outstanding down the stretch last year and, when healthy this season, has been excellent. Meanwhile, Kielty has been injured and generally useless, hitting .233/.342/.376 with the Blue Jays after the trade last year and .205/.309/.352 with the A’s this season.

    I still think the reasoning behind the deal was faulty, and Stewart hasn’t been nearly as good as he’s been given credit for, but clearly there are at least a few reasons why Terry Ryan is running things in Minnesota and I’m just writing bullet-point columns about the team.

  • A day after I discussed his surprising lack of walks (five non-intentional in 160 plate appearances), Morneau drew a free pass against Sturtze in the fifth inning, laying off a couple borderline pitches. Clearly he’s been reading my blog and making the proper adjustments. He really should forward the link to Rivas, although “the proper adjustments” in Rivas’ case might involve picking a new sport.
  • Speaking of walks … Mussina bounced a 2-2 pitch to Cristian Guzman, who tossed his bat away and started jogging to first base. Guzman has a bit of a reputation for being a little lackadaisical at times, and this didn’t help matters (for those of you who, like Guzman, are unfamiliar with the rules of baseball, it’s very difficult to draw a walk on a 2-2 pitch). To his credit, Guzman completely ignored what he had just done and went back into the batter’s box with a straight face. This is similar to the time I got into a fight in elementary school, got thrown to the floor, busted my chin open, and then attempted to just go back to class with blood pouring down my shirt.
  • In addition to booing Jeter, the Metrodome crowd is now chanting “YANKEES SUCK!” at the top of their lungs. This upsets me to no end, not because I care what my fellow Minnesotans do, but because it is just stupid. The Twins came into this game 2-16 in their last 18 games with the Yankees and the fans are now taunting New York because the Twins actually have a late-inning lead on them two nights in a row?

    The crowd at the Dome is clearly copying the fans in Boston, where I’ve heard “YANKEES SUCK!” chants can pop up at other, non-Fenway Park places too (like the Patriots’ Super Bowl parade). I’m of the opinion that Red Sox fans shouldn’t be chanting something like that unless and until they actually beat the Yankees in a meaningful series. That said, I think it’s far more acceptable coming from Boston fans than Minnesota fans, because at least Boston has a rivalry with New York. The Twins just have a really bad record against them.

  • The slowest non-Matthew LeCroy player on the team (because that distinction must be made), Henry Blanco, legged out a triple to the gap in left-center. The ball just kept rolling to the wall, slower and slower, hit the wall, bounced back toward the infield, and then just sat there. There wasn’t a single Yankee outfielder in the picture the entire time. I think maybe Bernie Williams decided to give Blanco a 30-second head-start or something.
  • With the game just about out of reach, Bremer says, “A rough night for Joe Torre and Mel Stottlemyre.” Yeah, poor them. Maybe they can go home and polish their World Series rings.
  • I just realized I’m nearly done with this column and I’ve barely gushed about Santana. Through seven innings, he had completely shut the Yankees’ lineup down, allowing just two measly hits and no runs, while striking out six.

    Unfortunately, with the Twins leading 7-0 heading into the eighth inning, Gardenhire sent Santana back out to the mound with 93 pitches already thrown. Santana then gave up back-to-back singles to Ruben Sierra and John Olerud, let Sierra score on a wild pitch, and then gave up another single to Enrique Wilson. Grant Balfour relieved Santana and did a nice job, although he let Olerud score on a ground out.

    So, instead of having this final line …

     IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR     PIT      ERA
    7.0     2     0      0      1      6      0      93     3.12

    Santana had to settle for this …

     IP     H     R     ER     BB     SO     HR     PIT
    7.0     5     2      2      1      6      0     105     3.23

    Normally, I’m all for giving a guy a chance to get a shutout, but Santana was already at 93 pitches with six outs left, so there was very little chance of him finishing the game with fewer than 115-120 pitches. There’s no reason to have your 25-year-old ace throw 120 pitches in a blowout win, and it ended up costing Santana 0.11 points of ERA.

    The interesting thing about what happened to Santana in the eighth inning is that it meshes with what a lot of people think of him, which is that Santana’s not particularly durable and is sort of a “six-inning starter.” In fact, right after the game ended, I got the following e-mail from a reader named Steve:

    Santana is a great pitcher, and he has validated your faith in him. However, even during his recent string of unbelievable success he has shown that he is only good for 90 or so pitches. I’ve followed him closely … when he gets to about that level his performance drops markedly.

    Perhaps it’s due to the offseason injury, or perhaps it’s due to his years in the bullpen, but he doesn’t seem to have the stamina that other “horses” do, like a Schilling. None of this is to say that Santana isn’t good; he’s great — a deserving Cy Young candidate for sure. But when the 7th rolls around and Santana reaches that magic number, Gardenhire should have the bullpen already up and running.

    That’s all seemingly very reasonable, but the problem is that Steve’s observations don’t agree with the actual numbers. Prior to last night, batters hit just .225 against Santana after he surpassed the 90-pitch mark, with a .300 on-base percentage and a .393 slugging percentage. If you’d rather go by innings, Santana has held batters to .211/.314/.356 from the seventh inning on.

    The perception of Santana not being a workhorse may have been correct in the past, but it is definitely not the case this season. Santana has now thrown 100+ pitches in 16 consecutive starts, during which time he is 11-4 with a 2.13 ERA and has averaged 7.4 innings per start. In case you’re wondering, Curt Schilling has averaged 6.9 innings per start this season.

    There were reasons for Gardenhire to have the bullpen “up and running” in the eighth inning last night, but Santana’s stamina was not one of them.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

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