Alright, dudes, we have some work to do real quick-like if the Twins are going to have a winning record by the time Beau gets back. That should be no problem against the Rangers today, right?
Neftali Feliz has been closing for the Rangers since shortly after his career started, and they made the correct but all-too-rare move to take this great young pitcher and make a starter out of him, maximizing his usefulness. He pitched seven scoreless innings last week, giving up four hits and two walks while striking out four.
Aussie Liam Hendriks is 23 just like Feliz, so they've got that in common, at least. Hendriks started four games last year, pitching 23.1 innings, striking out 16 while walking 6. His ERA in the small sample was 6.17 while his peripheral numbers were much, much better. His K rates in the minors make him a promising pitcher while his BB rates should also make him a favorite of the Twins' brass. The strikeouts dropped a little when he hit AAA, but the walk rate stayed absurdly low (three walks in 49 innings). He doesn't throw very hard, either, so the guy's a Twin through and through.
So, why did I not know just how good this guy was in the minors? Is it because his name makes him sound like an insurance adjuster or something? Well, for whatever reason, I'd forgotten the guy had such promise, and now I've talked myself into being excited for this game. Now just don't remind me that he'll be facing the Texas lineup.
The Twins made some solid contact in the first few innings, but Texas made some sparkling defensive plays to keep the damage to a Danny Valencia sac fly in the second. 1-0 Twins for the first time all season. But would it be enough?
It would not. Swarzak put up another perfectly reasonable start, the big Texas inning was one where the Twins needed a sparkling defensive play or two. Instead the first 5 Rangers reached (4 singles and an error) resulting in 3 runs. Minnesota would get a few guys on base over the course of the game but never get the big hit to bring the game back within reach.
There are plenty of people who will say Texas is better than the Twins. Tonight the Rangers got a little bit more pitching, a little bit more hitting, and a little bit more defense. That was enough to make this a not terribly exciting end to the Twins longest winning streak of the year.
Last season was crap, but the Twins managed to beat the AL champions five of the eight times they played including three out of four in Minnesota. The bad news: Swarzak pitched in that game. The good news: the loser was Duensing, who went two innings and gave up seven runs. Swarzak went the next six, giving up only two runs.
Harrison also lost in the homestand, in the one game where Liriano was awesome. That was the game where Harrison got hit in the head, the Twins decided to score a bunch, and messed up Liriano's groove. Don't mess up Swarzak's groove and 158-4 stays in sight.
TEXAS 4, MINNESOTA 1
Record - 49-56 (4th in Central, 3.0 games out of 3rd, 6.0 games out of first)
Highest WPA - Thome (2 for 4, RBI) and Baker (7.0 IP, 2R, 4 SO, 0 BB) Lowest WPA - Dumatrait (1.0 IP, 2R) and Kubel (o for 4, GIDP) NOTES - I'm beginning to think the 2011 Twins aren't very good.
I suppose I could do the usual thing and tell you which batters and pitchers had the highest and lowest WPA for the game, but seriously, why should I bother? Last night was beyond laughably bad for several reasons. Joe Mauer inexplicably played the entire game despite not exactly being a McGriff-like model of durability. That seems to be to be a case of serious managerial malpractice. Did the reporters present at the postgame ask a single question about this decision? Not as far as I can tell from the articles available as I write this (0100 Tuesday). I could grouch about Mauer playing or mediocre journalism more, but I'm guessing the number of eyes that care to revisit last night by reading this are already going to be pretty low.
Moving along, the storyline for last night (apart from being blown out of the water) is Cuddyer's turn as a pitcher. According to the AP, this was the first time a position player took the hill for the Twins since John Moses pitched an inning in relief. That was 31 July 1990, in a 13-2 loss to the California Angels. Moses actually pitched twice in 1990, each time in a loss charged to Allan Anderson, throwing an inning in each appearance. The other was in a 13-1 loss to the Red Sox on 19 May, when the Sawk hung 5 runs on Anderson before he was given the hook after 0.2 IP. In all, five position players have now pitched for the Twins: Julio Becquer (10 Sept 1961), César Tovar (more on him in a minute), Dan Gladden (27 June 1988 and 7 May 1989, both Fred Toliver losses), John Moses, and now Cuddyer.
Anyway, Cuddy's now played every position on the diamond except shortstop and catcher. The question is, why didn't he play all nine last night? If you believe (or have resigned yourself to the fact that) the Twins will not trade Cuddyer at the deadline because they're overly fond of him, then there was absolutely no reason for him to not become the second Twin to have played all nine positions in a game. I suppose one could make the argument that doing so would simply remind Twins fans of this game when it comes up in bar trivia 30 years from now, but quite honestly, that's not good enough. In a game where history has significant weight, Ron Gardenhire and the coaching staff squandered a golden opportunity for Cuddyer to join (in order) Bert Campaneris, César Tovar, Scott Shelton, and Shane Halter as the only players in baseball history to perform that feat. I don't think there's any shame in that. I would have kept watching, no matter how bad the score got, simply to see Cuddyer pull it off.
A few words about pulling it off, then. If you don't already know, Campaneris was the first player to pull it off, back in 1965. Tovar became the second three years later, on 22 September 1968. When he took the mound in the first inning of that game, do you know who stepped in to face Tovar? That's right - Bert Campaneris. (Campy fouled out to Ron Clark at third base.) Tovar recorded one strikeout - the always-prolific Reggie Jackson. In the second Tovar was behind the plate, and you can guess what his box score reads from there: P-C-1B-2B-SS-3B-LF-CF-RF. Tom Hall, who came on to pitch the second, got the win. Rod Carew played short for an inning. Graig Nettles manned center field for four innings. If Graig Nettles could play center for four innings, there's no reason the Twins couldn't have let Cuddyer play short, catcher, and everywhere else last night. It would have given Twins fans an opportunity to fondly remember César Tovar, a player who deserves more remembrance than he gets, and would allow Cuddy to check off an item or two more on his bucket list. With a game as bad as last night's was, and it was far, far worse than hitting Malört out of the bottle like a cowboy, the club has to give something back to the fans who stick around until the bitter end, something to deaden that throw-up-in-the-mouth taste. Cuddy playing all nine would have done it. Instead we got nine innings of suck and needless risk to the franchise player (yeah, I'm not over that).