For Christmas 2002, I asked my parents for an A.J. Pierzynski jersey. My dad can’t ever do anything halfway, so he shelled out $200 for an authentic jersey rather than a knock-off. It was great; I did—and still do—love that jersey. The problem is that I only had it for a year before A.J. was shipped off to the Bay Area. I continued to proudly wear the jersey to Twins games for the following two season, but I just have not been able to wear it to games this year. While I was happy for A.J. that he got his ring, doing so cemented the fact that he is now ‘one of them" (as opposed to the guy who would watch Twins games from the Giants clubhouse), and I cannot wear a jersey bearing a name of someone who plays half his games on the South Side of Chicago.
Where am I going with this? Well, thanks to $100 in gift certificates to the Twins Pro Shops thanks to my ridiculous spending on my Twins credit card, I recently decided that I was in the market for a new jersey. I wanted to get the jersey of a player who will be here for a while, so I don’t go through what I experienced with my A.J jersey all over again. That ruled out Shannon Stewart, Torii Hunter, Kyle Lohse and Brad Radke. I wanted to get a jersey of a player I actually liked. That ruled out Lew Ford and Luis Rodriguez. I didn’t want the jersey of a middle reliever, which ruled out Juan Rincon, Jesse Crain, Willie Eyre, Pat Neshek, and Dennys Reyes. Finally, I didn’t want to get the jersey of a player that would most likely, in the future, be remembered for what he did with another team. That ruled out Luis Castillo. This left me with only a few choices, and the one that was most exciting to me was Francisco Liriano.
It wasn’t really a hard choice. While I appreciate what Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are doing as much as anyone else does, the two collectively have less charisma than oatmeal. They just don’t get me excited the way Frankie does. So I plunked down my gift certificates and another $100 to order a #47 jersey. The jersey had to be ordered, as the supply of Liriano jerseys hasn’t even begun to approach the demand. I got the call yesterday that the Jersey was in and stopped at the Roseville pro shop on my way home from work, threw it on, and walked out the door and off to the Metrodome, excited to be one of relatively few people heading to the game wearing the jersey of that night’s starter.
Then the game started.
There is no need for me to remind anyone who watched that game that Liriano stunk, but allow me to reiterate: Liriano stunk. His line from last nights game:
5 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 6 SO, <b>3 HR</b>.
While that line certainly doesn’t impress, it really understates how poor Liriano’s performance was. Liriano threw 97 pitches—an atrocious total for that few innings—40 of which were balls. While he walked 3 batters, he got into 3-ball counts with even more. It was a truly stinky performance.
I understand that I shouldn’t be ragging on the guy, and I don’t think I am. He’s been fantastic since his move to the rotation and everyone’s going to be less than stellar on occasion. Even Johan’s looked mortal his last two starts. There’s a very good chance Liriano was riddled with exhaustion after his whirlwind All Star Tuesday that started at 3 am and likely didn’t end until nearly 24 hours later. These things happen. Even Hulk Hogan lost sometimes.
The problem is that, facing a 12 game deficit in the AL Central and a 9.5 game deficit in the AL Wildcard race, the Twins can’t afford to have Liriano be anything less than dominant each time he steps to the mound. Last night’s game wouldn’t have even been close had it not been for two innings of lights-out relief from Kyle Lohse. Santana and Liriano need to be sure things until the end of September for the Twins to have a prayer of making it to the postseason. If those two can’t carry the team on their backs, the Twins already slim margin for error will evaporate.
On a completely unrelated topic, Lew Ford had me seeing red last night by grounding into a 5-4-3 double play with nobody out and Shannon Stewart on first in the fifth inning. Lew Ford hasn’t been good for much this year. Or last year for that matter. He can’t ever seem to hit the ball in the air and he cancels out his excellent athleticism with his incredible ability to take his mind out of the game.
One of the most frustrating parts of watching the Twins over the past month has been Ron Gardenhire’s insistence on platooning Ford and Jason Kubel in left field. With Cuddyer grabbing a firm hold on the job in right and Hunter a permanent fixture in center, left field has become crowded with Ford, Kubel, and Shannon Stewart. It’s pretty evident to anyone with eyes that Shannon Stewart should not be relied upon to play defense everyday. Not only is he capable of little more than a hobble right now, but he’s never had great range defensively or even a mediocre arm. He belongs in the DH spot whether he likes it or not. This leaves Kubel and Ford.
For some reason, Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire has decided that Lew Ford deserves almost equal playing time as Kubel. Apparently, he doesn’t buy into this “fourth outfielder” thing that many teams have in a guy who only plays when one of the three regulars needs a day off. The fact of the matter is this: Lew Ford might be a decent fourth outfielder. However, his talents do not warrant playing him everyday in the outfield or even half that often.
I know what many of you are saying right now, "But 2name, Kubel was hurt last night." You are correct, but I’m not talking about just last night. This has been a regular trend lately. Gardenhire just seems to be afraid to let Kubel face left-handed pitching, so on the days the Twins are facing a southpaw, he marches out the right-handed batting Ford.
Now, usually a platoon is a great thing. It usually manifests itself in a left-handed hitter who struggles against lefties facing only right-handed starting pitchers and keeps those same guys in the lineup to mash righties. The Twins would have been well advised to do more platooning when Jacque Jones was here. But here’s the catch: platoons only work when the right-handed hitting half of the platoon hits lefties better than his left-handed hitting counterpart. Right now, Lew Ford couldn’t hit a left-handed pitcher in my softball league.
The statistics bear this out. Lew Ford has been abysmal against lefties (.221/.277/.377 in 77 AB)*. Kubel, while getting only 27 AB against lefties, is a significantly better .296/.345/.519. He’s actually hitting lefties better than righties.
So why is Gardenhire sticking to his platoon? I can’t answer that question. It’s asinine. Not only is Kubel out-hitting Ford against lefties, but even if you accept that that fact is an aberration, it still behooves the Twins to start him against good left-handed pitching. Kubel is supposed to be an important part of the Twins’ future and he’s going to need to be able to hit those same lefties Gardy’s currently afraid to bat him against. In order to develop Kubel’s bat against lefty pitchers, he should be allowed to face them now when the Twins chances of making the postseason are marginal at best.
This all leads me to my point. After grounding into that double play last night, Ford was taken out of the game because he strained his oblique. He was put on the 15-day DL immediately following the game. This is a bad thing for Lew Ford. This is a good thing for the Twins, Twins fans, and Jason Kubel. Here’s to hoping Jason Tyner makes Lew expendable.
*It’s not like Ford’s beating the **** out of right-handed pitching either. Against righties he’s hitting .241/.320/.286. How one can put up a slugging percentage that much lower than their OBP is beyond me.