The Twins on Sunday got a fine pitching performance from Hector Santiago but couldn’t score enough to avoid a bad outcome, when the White Sox won in extra innings, 3-1, to take the series from the Twins.
This column presents 5 thoughts from Sunday’s game.
1. The Twins’ start to the season has surprised some people. The Minnesota Wild, meanwhile, have fallen behind 3-0 in their best-of-7 playoffs series.
So, which of these two things is more likely: The Wild erase the deficit and punch a ticket to the next round; Or the Twins win the American League Central?
A reader posed that question Sunday afternoon, and I looked into it. At the time of the writing, FanGraphs was giving the Twins a 2.2% chance to win the division. Historically, teams have advanced from the Wild’s position just 1.96% of the time. It’s more nuanced than that, of course, and you can read the column if you’re interested in the idea.
Technically I’d say the answer is about equal odds, but we’ve got to recognize that it’s one of those just-for-fun questions. There’s no actual way of knowing either answer.
2. Aesthetically, triples are one of the prettiest plays in baseball, if you ask me.
In terms of excitement, inside-the-park home runs have to be on par. Brian Dozier, ladies and gentlemen.
He’s going to hit home runs this summer, and this one counts just as much as the ones that leave the yard to find a new home in the left field bleachers. I’ve been impressed with Dozier’s speed so far this season, especially stealing bases. He’s got five of those already.
The reason I like triples better than in-the-parkers is that nobody has to screw up to make a triple happen. One player can combine coordination, anticipation, speed and a little luck to move himself to third base. Round trippers typically need a weird bounce or a mistake from the opponent.
3. Ervin Santana was excellent in a one-hit shutout Saturday, and Hector Santiago followed that with a fine performance.
Santiago lasted 7 innings with 6 hits, and no runs allowed. He shaved his ERA to 1.47 on the season, and Minnesota’s starting staff as a whole now owns a 2.66 ERA through the first dozen games of the year. Raise your hand if you saw that coming.
Another encouraging sign from Santiago: He didn’t walk a batter and he got 6 strikeouts, including two punchouts in the 4th inning, when he’d let two runners on with nobody out. Especially the third out was impressive to me. Santiago went right after Kevan Smith with three sinkers, and got the out on a swinging strike up the zone to strand White Sox runners at second and third base.
Allow me to be the first to offer the opinion that the starting staff won’t have a 2.66 ERA by the end of the year. That shouldn’t diminish what the group has accomplished so far this season, especially Santana and Santiago.
4. Byron Buxton is going to continue to be a story until something gives.
He was 0-for-3 with a walk and two more strikeouts Sunday. His non-strikeout out was a deep fly ball to left field, so that’s perhaps some progress. It has started to feel a bit like Buxton needs one authoritative hit to get a good feeling back at the plate. I can’t imagine it’s a good feeling going through him when he walks up to the plate right now.
That was especially true in the 4th inning, when the Twins had the bases loaded with two outs. James Shields put Buxton behind in the count right away with a couple curve balls, and then tried to bounce a pitch in the dirt to get Buxton to chase for strike three. Buxton didn’t bite – but to me the fact that pitchers are throwing such ridiculous two-strike pitches is an indication of what they think of Buxton’s ability to lay off right now. They’re trying to get away with highway robbery, although Buxton doesn’t always give in.
In that particular case, Buxton left three Twins runners stranded on the bases by swinging through another curveball. He’s going to have to make more contact if this is going to work out for him at the plate. I think he can. But if you’re the Twins you’ve got to be unsettled right now by the thought of Buxton not panning out as a Major League hitter.
5. Speaking of Buxton, he was involved in a play that allowed Chicago to tie the game in the 8th inning. With one out, Matt Belisle hit Jose Abreu with a full-count breaking ball that didn’t break as much as the veteran righty wanted it to. Avisail Garcia moved his teammate to third base with a single to the outfield, and Matt Davidson followed with a fly ball to center.
Buxton parked under it and got ready for the inevitable tag to the plate. In addition to his top-end speed, Buxton has a really great arm, which is what made the 8th-inning showdown all the more exciting.
If Buxton could cut down the run at the plate, not only would it preserve a one-run lead for the Twins, but there’d be another play to point to and suggest Buxton’s incredible defense is saving the Twins some runs in the field, even while his bat is costing them runs at the plate.
But Buxton didn’t make a good throw. His pellet into the infield skipped a few times and was off line to the third base side, which prevented Jason Castro from being able to tag the slow-footed Abreu. That run tied the game at 1-1 and forced extra innings, where the White Sox eventually won it.