Important Game #3: Looking up from the Valley

Here’s a little refresher on the series, before I begin:

Basically, the premise of the series is that certain games have an effect that is far greater than their mere impact on the win-loss column. These games are mentally and physically definitive of a season, and before the new season begins, by looking back and remembering and feeling the emotions of last season one more time, we can understand what happened, what went wrong, and most importantly, what went right. So, climb aboard the side-burn express, and keep your hands, arms, feet, heads, and all other extremities inside the vehicles at all times as we embark on one final excursion through the highs and lows of last season.

September 6: After a Crippling Loss to the Indians, the Twins find themselves 7 games down with 28 games to play.

Courtesy of MLB.com.

Two of the last four years, the Twins did not make the playoffs. In 2007, well, the team just wasn’t ever that good. Joe Mauer spent half the season dealing with varying injuries, and from day one the pitching situation, well, sucked. When your team starts the season with Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson, you don’t really have a right to expect much. In 2008, I came to the conclusion that Jim Thome is evil when he homered for the only run in game 163 (for which I have not forgiven him). However, that was also the Twins’ fault for very nearly getting swept by the ROYALS the last weekend of the season to have to play game 163. In the other two of the last four years, the Twins have had to come back from spectacular deficits, only to win the division on the last possible day (Thanks, Royals, for 2006). The rub of both of those two seasons, is that at some point both teams found themselves in the valley, looking up, Twins fans cursing the Tigers and wondering if the Wild, Timberwolves, or Vikings would be any good (maybe, no, and it’s a crapshoot, respectively). However, both times, the Twins managed to come back. However, unlike 2006, we had little reason to expect it this time around.

Partial Division standings as of Sept. 6, 2009. Ugly, right? The Twins: down 7 with 28 to play. Captured from MLB.com.

The Twins had just finished losing two of three to the lowly Indians, who had just finished trading everyone with value, and had just wrapped up a 14-14 August. In a sense, that’s all I personally expected from the Twins at that point: a mediocre, maybe 50-50 record the rest of the way. In fact, that’s exactly what the Twins were: a mediocre, 50-50 team (see inset image). Given the White Sox’s recent hot streak, I more expected them to catch the Twins than for the Twins to catch Detroit. Of course, the White Sox ended up spluttering to a 79-83 record after contesting for first place for most of the summer.

I chose this game for a very specific reason, despite the fact that it came just a couple days after another similar loss: it embodied one of two problems that the Twins had all season long. The first problem, the one not present in this game was that when the offense was firing on all cylinders, the pitching wasn’t running at all (see, for example, the entire home Los Angeles Angels series in late July/early August). The ERA of the starting staff last season (yes, I know ERA is flawed, and no, I don’t care) was, I believe, 26th in the majors. The bullpen was very good most of the season, although there was a Crainwreck for most of the first half of the season and the Twins insisted on keeping a mediocre-at-best long reliever on staff all season.

Brendan Harris doing an apt impression of the whole offense's decision avoid the ball with their bats. Courtesy MLB.com.

The other kind of game, and the one that was so confounding, given the excessive number of runs the Twins scored last year, are the games where the pitchers did their jobs, but the offense took a day off. These games, generally weren’t against good pitchers (those I could understand), but against such luminaries as David Huff, he of the 5.61 ERA last season. Nothing against Huff, of course, I’m sure he was doing his best to keep the Twins under wraps. Of course, it helps when the lineup that produced 5.01 runs per game last year on average managed to score 1 run on THREE hits. There were also four walks, but that’s hardly the point. The Twins offense coughed this one up.

Courtesy MLB.com

And it was a shame they did so. Nick Blackburn pitched a Nick Blackburn kind of game. He gave up a handful of hits (7) and a handful of runs (3), while generally keeping the Indians’ bats in check for his 6 2/3 innings of work. However, a pitcher like Nick will not win many games without a strong offensive presence to back him up, and Blackbeard’s buccaneers simply couldn’t get anything going at all. The one run came on a single by Denard Span, who drove in Nick Punto, who had doubled in the previous plate appearance. However, the game itself was a disappointment, as the season itself felt, at least after Important Game #3. However, there were still many better days to come, including the upcoming Important Game #2.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: