Baseball is simple, particularly if the wind is blowing out to left field on a warm, clear day.
The Twins dragged a six-game losing streak in behind them, but left Chicago with much lighter baggage. They concluded the three-game series with the White Sox with a walloping win, so bursting with superlatives it’s hard to convey the nutty, excessive joy of it.
The Twins scored 20 runs. The White Sox managed only one, in the eighth inning. This last, lonely bit of scoring elicited big cheers from the remaining fans in the seats, according to my radio broadcasters.
One doesn’t want to gloat, but the pure ease of coasting through a game in which the team scores in six of the innings, gets a lead in the first, totes up seven runs in the second to vanquish the starter, and still has another six-run inning to come—this is euphoric baseball.
Hyperbolic baseball, actually. Joe Mauer had the kind of stat line fantasy players fantasize about: 3 for 4, a grand slam, six RBI, a double, a sac fly. This is also game 14 in his current hitting streak. PS, he hit the grand slam with two outs.
Mauer was in the DH slot today, batting second in Ron Gardenhire’s shaken, not stirred, new lineup. The key change was doing away with the dual leadoff plan of Denard Span followed by whatever mild-hitting infielder fit the bill, typically Brendan Harris. Gardy cut to the chase with this lineup: Span, Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, Cuddyer, Morales, Tolbert, and Punto.
There is a much debate from many quarters about lineup tweaking, but I am fully persuaded by the folks at Baseball Prospectus that the optimal lineup is not based on alternating lefties and righties, or putting your mightiest hitting in the 4-hole, bracketed by the two sub-mightiest. No, the ideal order is a sequence beginning with the very best hitter, and then tailing off.
Gardy pretty well followed that pattern today, but he’d have to start with Morneau to get it exactly right. The logic is that you want your best hitters to have the most at-bats. Now, true, you don’t want all these at-bats to occur with the bases empty, a very real possibility if Morneau follows the likes of Matt Tolbert and Nick Punto. Even I can’t embrace the full statistical majesty of the Baseball Prospectus lineup, for I’ve seen too much evidence of innings that work because of the structure of the hitting sequence.
But the Baseball Prospectus theory is certainly going to be proven on a day when everyone hits and hits. Everyone in the lineup had six plate appearances, plenty of time to get some clobbering done, no matter who followed whom. Only Nick Punto wasted his ample opportunities. He went 0 for 5, but he did have a key sacrifice to get the second inning explosion started.
The Twins did so much power hitting that their 20 runs required just 20 hits. The air and breeze were so perfect, the opposition pitching so tasty, that Matt Tolbert got his first home run in the form of a 3-run blast. Michael Cuddyer had another 3-run dinger, and Joe Crede settled for a solo shot.
Nick Blackburn had the good fortune to be surrounded by all this hitting, and he also had a fine game of his own. He gave up four measly hits over seven innings and struck out two. Note: that lifting wind to left was blowing when the Sox were at the plate, too.
Jose Mijares pitched an acceptable eighth: he lost the shuout by giving up an RBI single to Carlos Quentin, but kept the Sox from nibbling further.
In the ninth, Joe Nathan made another appearance in a non-save situation, and I’ve seen some angry fan chat about Gardy’s penchant for running him out without the game on the line. I presume these complaints come from fantasy owners who are giving up a precious relief appearance without any points.
I’m not sure it’s helpful to Nathan. All I know is that he hasn’t looked indomitable this year, and if he needs some work to get there, give him the work. Today, with no pressure whatsoever, he gave up two singles to two of the Sox’s weakest hitters. Is Nathan a thrill seeker or just rusty? Or, more frightening still, is our ace closer floating back down to earth?
Bartolo Colon started for the White Sox, but was chased to the dugout in the second. It’s hard to know from TV and harder still from radio, but I think this was more a case of the Twins having great offensive strength than it was Colon being especially defensively weak. You do need the two to tango, but the three relievers Ozzie Guillen tried as the game wore on fared no better.
Because of an error on Punto’s sacrifice, Colon walked away from this train wreck with only one earned run, though he gave up seven. Lance Broadway was tagged for seven, and Jimmy Gobble gave up five runs. DJ Carrasco had the serene job of cleaning up from the seventh inning on. He only gave up one run, as the Twins settled down and agreed it was time to stop making the hometown crowd watch such a drubbing.
I listened to the White Sox broadcast of the game, and the announcers did their best to entertain their audience, but it wasn’t easy. When describing the positioning of the outfield late in the game, they observed that the Sox were sluggish out there. I imagined them shuffling, back on their heels, barely ready to make the effort to get the outs. After the 7-run second, the radio broadcaster noted that now the Sox knew how the Twins felt last night.
Precisely, though I don’t wish it on anyone. Today was such a shower of scoring that it seemed surreal. It was so effortless that it didn’t feel like some grand baseball balance was being re-established, that today made up for yesterday. From a statistical point of view, today’s outburst was the inevitable mathematical polishing of the numbers. But it didn’t feel as if today’s experience was on any kind of continuum with the sorrows of the last six games.
If averages are made up of such wild highs and excruciating lows, the averages don’t describe the game at all.