Scott Baker entered the fourth inning yesterday in command of an easy win. He had a 6-1 lead and a superb chance to pick up a win after last week’s miserable loss Cleveland. He left it with a 6-5 lead in a game that would eventually turn into a disheartening 11-6 loss. What happened?
Let’s page through MLB.com’s GameDay and take a look at the at-bats to see if we can figure out what went wrong.
Phase 1 – High Fastball Happy Time!
Brandon Inge(RH) homers on a fly ball to left field.
Baker throws three straight fastballs to Inge. The first two are both balls, but just barely so. The third one is barely a strike, on the inside lower edge, but Inge lifts it into the left field bleachers. It wasn’t a poorly placed pitch.
Ryan Raburn(RH) walks.
Baker throw four more fastballs, all of them very high. Only the second pitch was even close to a strike. That’s seven straight fastballs, by the way, six of which are balls, and the seventh might have been if Inge didn’t hit it for a homerun. By the way, Baker usually throws about 60% of his pitches as fastballs to right-handed batters.
Phase 2 – Mixing Pitches, Mixed Results
Alex Avila(LH) strikes out
Baker finally throws an off-speed pitch, his slider, which is taken as a called strike. Then he goes back to all fastballs for the next four pitches. Most of them look like they were in the strike zone, and Avila was swinging, fouling two off before missing one that was up and away.
Ramon Santiago(LH) singles up the middle.
Baker’s fastball is finding the zone now, as he gets a called first strike on Santiago with it. Then he throws a changeup on the outside edge of the plate, but it is grounded up the middle.
Austin Jackson(RH) walks
Jackson never takes that bat off his shoulder. He watches a slider in the dirt and two fastballs that miss low. (One actually looks like it was a borderline strike). Then he watches two more fastballs that catch a good part of the zone.
Then comes the pitch questionable enough that announcer Bert Blyleven questions it. Baker throws a slider that misses the outside edge of the zone. To be fair, Baker is very good at throwing his slider for a strike, almost as good as he is at throwing his fastball for a strike. But it misses, and Jackson reaches without so much as a timing swing. This was probably the most critical pitch of the inning.
Phase 3 – Back to Fastballs
Johnny Damon(LH) grounds out to second base, scoring Ryan Raburn.
Four straight fastballs to Damon. He swings at the first two. He watches the third one sail high. The fourth one catches quite a bit of the zone. He pulls the fourth one on the ground to Hudson whose only play is to first base.
Magglio Ordonez singles to right field, scoring Santiago and Jackson.
Two more fastballs, both very close to the middle of the strike zone. Ordonez fouls the first one off and connects solidly on the second, driving it to the opposite field.
Phase 4 – Mixing in Some Luck
Miguel Cabrera called out on strikes.
Hey, a slider! It is fouled off for strike one even though it’s on the outside edge of the strike zone. Cabrera also fouls off a fastball that is also on that outside edge of the strike zone. Baker comes back with another fastball that missed – you guessed it – high. And finally he tries again with what missed with Jackson. This time his slider sails inside and high but catches enough of the plate to get a called third strike call.
So what do we have? It looks like Baker had trouble spotting his fastball early and got into trouble trying to work out the control issue. He nearly survived by mixing in some pitches against the bottom of the order, but was hurt by a grounder up the middle and a bad pitch choice that set the table for the top of the order. With his back against the wall, he went back to fastballs, which were hit hard enough to score some runs. He finally got out of the inning by mixing in the off-speed pitches again.
I had hoped that this might answer some questions, but it raises more than it answers. Is Baker consistently having trouble locating his fastball down in the zone? If so, why so many fastballs? And why go to the cutesy off-speed pitch (one of the few thrown in the inning) for the most critical pitch against a the guy leading the league in strikeouts? And then go back to fastballs against the heart of the order?
Maybe those answers will become apparent in his next start. But I sure hope I don’t have to watch another inning like last night’s fourth to get them.
Bring on the Damn Yankees
Prior to the fourth inning last night, I was looking forward to the next time the Twins play a true contender. In two weeks the Twins visit Yankee Stadium. Coincidentally, it will also be the next time TwinsCentric, Twins bloggers and Twins fans will be having a get-together, this time at Major's in Bloomington. The date is May 15th, it's a 12:05 game, and I'm anticipating a good-sized crowd yet again. It may also be the day this team graduates from AL Central contender to World Championship contender, so set the time aside now.
Is that last sentence hyperbole? Not historically. Prior to 1991, if you ask older Twins fans what the most meaningful home run in Twins history was, they won't point to anything from 1987 or from any other postseaason game. They'll point to Harmon Killebrew's home run in the game before the All-Star break in 1965. Why?
Because it was against the Yankees, that's why. The Yankees always won the pennant up to that point, even though the Twins were a perpetual contender. His game-winning blast made the team, the fans and the organization believe. It also announced to the Yankees and the rest of the world that it was time for some new blood.
If you don't think something similar is needed this decade, where the Yankees have dominated the Twins in head-to-head matchups and consistently broken Twins heart in Yankee Stadium, I assume you've been sleeping since 2004. I know the Twins can't afford to look two weeks ahead, but that doesn't mean we can't. And I am. And I'm planning on watching the drama with a bunch of other Twins fans, be it good or bad.
More TwinsCentric Stuff
- Nick is not happy about last night's game, and with one performance in particular.
- Parker dives into Liriano's dirty slider.
- Seth reviews some of the positives from a really ugly loss.