By: Sam Ekstrom | KFAN.com
The Twins dropped the second game of their series with Cleveland in lackadaisical fashion, losing 5-2 on Tuesday. Even manager Ron Gardenhire was more demure than usual in his post-game presser.
“It’s one of those games that just didn’t go anywhere. Nothing happened,” said Gardenhire.
A bright spot, however, was Josh Willingham’s home run in the second inning that set a major-league record six games in the making.
Back in the second inning of the Twins’ Aug. 9 game at Chicago, Chris Colabello hit a solo home run to the opposite field. Four days and 46 innings later, Willingham’s solo blast at Target Field gave the Twins an all-time best 23 consecutive runs produced via the home run ball, breaking the mark of 22 set by the 2002 Phillies.
Gardenhire wasn’t all that enthused after the loss. Maybe because the Twins are 3-for-49 with runners in scoring position over their last six games.
“You can’t rely on home runs all the time. It’s nice when we hit them, but you’re going to have to drive in some of these runs with less than two outs,” Gardenhire said.
At any rate, the record is unique for a number of reasons; none greater than the fact that the typically light-hitting Twins were the team to break it.
Despite their chronic inability to homer at Target Field, the home-run binge has vaulted Minnesota into the top half of the league in home-run hitting – that is, if you consider a tie for 15th “top half.” Maybe a better barometer would be this: the Twins’ 114 home runs are just one off the league average of 115.
Minnesota homered 14 times during their historic streak, giving them a league-leading 20 for the month of August. Remember, this team hit just 15 homers in the entire month of April. Strange, right?
It helped that the Twins called up power-hitting rookie Oswaldo Arcia on Aug. 1. He hit three home runs during the streak.
Slugger Josh Willingham also returned from the disabled list on Aug. 9 – the day the streak began – and has homered twice since.
Justin Morneau, perhaps insulted at teams’ lack of interest in him at the July 31 trade deadline, showed flashes of his former self and hit three home runs over the weekend in Chicago.
Even with the streak, it would still be preposterous to call the Twins a power-hitting ballclub. More appropriately, they are a streaky-hitting ballclub, possessing no real power bat, but many average power bats.
The Twins currently have five players between 10 and 15 HRs (Morneau, Dozier, Willingham, Plouffe, Arcia) and four players that are within one or two HRs of double digits (Mauer, Doumit, Hicks, Parmelee). If all four of the latter players reach double figures, the Twins will tie their franchise record for most players with 10 or more home runs – nine, which was accomplished by the 2004 squad.
Ironically, the Twins could threaten another obscure record from their 94-loss team in 1997.
The 1997 Twins had eight players with 10 or more home runs, but zero players with more than 15. Zero.
If Justin Morneau and his 14 home runs get traded, which seems like a distinct possibility, the Twins could potentially find themselves with nine players between 10-15 home runs.
You can be the judge on whether that’s impressive or embarrassing.
While the Twins’ week-long home-run derby was fun to follow, it will probably wind up being an aberration. Not a trend.
By: Sam Ekstrom | KFAN.com
It wasn’t a thing of beauty, exactly.
Sixteen fly balls – several caught at the wall and several more caught on a run in the gap, only two strikeouts, a fastball that topped out at 87 mph, and a “loopy curveball” that traveled slower than most folks drove on their way to the game.
Yet, at the same time, it was brilliant.
Twenty-three of 29 first-pitch strikes, a brisk 102 pitches all together, and not a single walk – in fact, only one three-ball count the entire evening.
That was Andrew Albers’ two-hitter of the Cleveland Indians in a nutshell.
Said Twins’ manager Ron Gardenhire, “That was special tonight. In front of our crowd we had a chance to watch this young man throw the baseball, and I think you saw a wonderful defensive night for us.”
Following his debut start of 8.1 scoreless innings, Albers thought he was being realistic with his post-game comments last Tuesday.
“It's probably not going to get much better from there," he said.
Monday, he was eating his words.
“It’s pretty unbelievable. I didn’t think it would get any better after last start, and here we are again, and it did. It actually got a little bit better. That’s incredible,” said Albers, now 2-0.
Albers has now thrown 17.1 scoreless innings to begin his big-league career, just eight outs away from setting the all-time record for starting pitchers. Remarkable, especially when you consider that the 27-year-old was starting at the Single-A level just two years ago.
“It’s pretty surreal. It’s something you don’t expect,” said Albers, all smiles. “Yeah, it’s been a battle to get here. I think everybody kind of faces some adversity in order to get to this point, and, certainly, I feel like I’ve had my share, and to overcome it and have two outings like this to start your career, it’s just hard to put into words.”
Pitching at home for the first time, Albers got to experience what only a handful of pitchers get to experience in their careers: 30,000 fans standing in anticipation of a complete-game shutout.
True to form, Albers didn’t drag it out when the crowd rose with two outs in the ninth. Nick Swisher offered at the first pitch he saw and grounded out to shortstop to end the game and set off the Target Field fireworks.
“It’s fun playing behind him, and he is always strike one,” said second baseman Brian Dozier, who homered in the game. “He just fills the zone up – in and out, in and out – and gets them to chase.”
It must have felt good for Ron Gardenhire to see his coaching staff’s pitch-to-contact gospel executed with near perfection. Fourteen hitters were retired by Albers in three pitches or less.
“A pace like that, knowing he’s throwing the ball over and they’re swinging, keeps your fielders in the game,” said Gardenhire. “They’re not standing around. They don’t get complacent. ‘What’s happening right now? They’re going to hit the baseball, and we’re going to catch it.’”
But pitching to contact isn’t enough if you can’t locate.
Said Chris Herrmann, Monday’s catcher and Albers’ minor-league teammate, “Albers doesn’t really throw hard, but he has a lot of different pitches, and he knows how to throw strikes, and he knows how to use the entire plate. I felt like that was really effective for him; just using the entire plate and not just one side. It keeps the hitters off balance.”
Off balance might be too understated for Indians’ third baseman Mike Aviles, who flailed at a 65 mph curveball and popped out to end the eighth inning.
“We only used it a few times tonight and just for that reason: because hitters aren’t expecting it,” said Albers. “It worked out pretty well. We got Aviles to pop up. We got a few guys to hit some ground balls and got some more pop flies.”
Albers has just four strikeouts in two lengthy starts, but that number is overshadowed by a resounding 0.00 ERA.
The Saskatchewan native acknowledged that he’s not overpowering. His low-velocity, strike-throwing style begs hitters to be impatient and swing away, which is exactly what happened Monday. Over a third of Albers’ 76 strikes were balls put in play.
“My stuff’s not good enough, you know? I don’t throw that invisible slider that nobody can see coming, and they’re going to swing and miss through it. I don’t throw 95 to throw it by them, so I’ve got to try and get them in and out of the box as soon as I can and hopefully miss their barrel.”
“[The defense] has been just incredible,” continued Albers. “They could probably fill SportsCenter’s Web Gems with just our guys tonight. It was unreal.”
Infielders Brian Dozier and Pedro Florimon made remarkable plays to prevent hits, while outfielders Clete Thomas and Oswaldo Arcia recorded several fine catches on well-hit balls.
However, Albers’ performance one-upped them all.
“[These nights] don’t come around very often. You play this game a little longer, and you realize that. It’s pretty special,” said the rookie.
By Sam Ekstrom | KFAN.com
Who said Justin Morneau had no trade value?
The first baseman homered twice in the first game of a day-night doubleheader and powered the Twins past last-place Chicago by a 7-5 score.
Morneau’s seventh-inning slam was the seventh grand slam of his career and the Twins’ second of the season. It came off reliever Nate Jones with two outs and turned a 3-1 deficit into a 5-3 Twins lead.
Morneau added a solo shot – his 13th home run of the year – in the top of the ninth, giving him five homers since the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. At that time, it was reported that the Twins wanted more in exchange for Morneau than other teams were willing to give up, but after his recent power surge, those clubs may be having second thoughts.
The Twins could still trade Morneau and his expiring contract before the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline.
Chris Colabello and Oswaldo Arcia also added solo homers for the Twins. Colabello gave the Twins an early lead with a first-inning blast to right field, while Arcia’s longball in the eighth extended the Twins’ lead to 6-3. Minnesota tied their season high with four home runs, doing it for the fifth time.
Starting pitchers Kyle Gibson and John Danks both allowed three earned runs before giving way to their respective bullpens. The Twins’ pen was effective again with Brian Duensing (5-1), Jared Burton, and Casey Fien delivering scoreless outings before closer Glen Perkins allowed a harmless two-run single in the bottom of the ninth.
On the other end of the spectrum, Chicago’s bullpen suffered its MLB-leading 28th loss of the year. Four of the five Chicago relievers who appeared allowed an earned run.
On a day when the Twins hit seven home runs, it seemed fitting that Oswaldo Arcia’s 10th-inning bomb would be the clincher in the second game of a doubleheader.
Arcia’s solo blast to center field off Dylan Axelrod (4-9) – his second home run of the day – broke a 2-2 tie and propelled the Twins to a day-night sweep of the White Sox.
The low-scoring 3-2 final, ironically, concluded a day of offensive firepower at U.S. Cellular Field. The two teams combined for 11 home runs in the two contests, including five solo homers in the nightcap, accounting for all the scoring.
Chris Herrmann began the home-run derby with his third dinger of the year in the fourth inning, but Alexei Ramirez hit his second homer of the day in the next half inning to knot the game at 1-1.
Sox center fielder Blake Tekotte gave Chicago the lead with his first career home run in the sixth inning before Chicago’s bullpen imploded again.
Josh Willingham – on a newly-repaired meniscus – led off the top of the eighth with a game-tying homer against right-hander Matt Lindstrom. Two innings later, Axelrod gave up another lead-off jack: Arcia’s game-winner.
Meanwhile, the Twins’ bullpen was strong as usual in relief of Liam Hendriks, who was called up to make a spot start and only allowed two runs in six and a third innings. Caleb Thielbar, Josh Roenicke, Brian Duensing (6-1), and Glen Perkins only needed 37 pitches to get through 3.2 scoreless innings. Perkins finished it off with his 28th save of the year.
The teams meet again at 3:05 p.m. Saturday.
NOTES: With the loss, the White Sox are now tied with Miami for the second-worst record in baseball (43-71)… Chicago traded outfielder Alex Rios to Texas early Friday in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations.