Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Capps Has Got to Go
On the face of things, the Twins have been playing pretty well lately. After a 6-game slide they've bounced back and have won 6 of their past 7 games and had it not been for a bullpen implosion against Milwaukee over the weekend we would be talking about a 7-game winning streak...and that's the face of things. When one turns the power up on the microscope, however, you see a team that is barely getting by, mostly because of a shaky back end of the bullpen. It hasn't been great all year, but things have really took a turn for the worse over the past 4 games and most of the blame lands squarely on Matt Capps' shoulders.
On Saturday, the Twins jumped out to a 7-0 lead over the Milwaukee Brewers and looked to be in cruise-mode en route to another victory. Carl Pavano wasn't lights out, but made it through 7 2/3rds innings giving up 3 earned runs, tipped his cap and handed it off to the bullpen to get the last 4 outs. Perkins came in and did his job striking out the only guy he faced. Capps came in with a 3-run lead to start the 9th inning, gave up three straight singles, got two outs and then gave up another double Nyjer Morgan and a single to George Kottaras to blow the game. Phil Dumatrait had to be called in to get the final out of the inning.
On Sunday the Twins got themselves into a donnybrook, with Nick Blackburn giving up 6 runs and Zack Greinke surrendering 5. The Twins also got the Brewer bullpen and held a 9-7 lead going into the top of the 9th. Gardenhire once again called on Capps to close the game and he proceeded to give up a lead-off single to Rickie Weeks, got Nyjer Morgan to ground into a fielder choice and, and gave up another single to Corey Hart. At this point, Gardy must have been steaming because with a 2-run lead, Capps had men at 1st and 2nd with only one-out and all-world hitter Prince Fielder strolling to the plate. Gardy decided to make a change calling on Glen Perkins who proceeded to strike out Fielder and pinch-hitter Casey McGehee to save the game and the day.
On Monday, suddenly-hot Brian Duensing threw a complete game shutout for our Twins as they cruised to a 7-0 victory. We were spared of any Capps meltdown for one day.
Last night, the Twins once again found themselves clinging to a small lead late in the game. Up 3-1 after getting to starter James Shields early in the game, Gardenhire maddeningly called on Capps once again to try and close out the victory. He must have immediately started kicking himself for making that choice as he watched Capps give up a lead-off bomb to B.J. Upton. Then a single Casey Kotchman. A fly-out, a line-out...could it be? No. A walk to Kelly Shoppach. Men at 1st and 2nd with 2-outs and a 1-run lead. Gardy had once again seen enough and once again called on Perkins to clean up Capps' mess, which he did on 3 pitches, getting Johnny Damon to ground out to short. Glen Perkins 2, Matt Capps 0.
As it stands at this very moment, the Twins are 7 games out of 1st place in the AL Central. After a game tonight to close out their series with the Rays, the Twins have 16-straight games against AL Central opponents beginning with a 4-game weekend set with their rivals from the Southside, the Chicago White Sox. If the Twins stand a chance at pulling off a miracle comeback in this division, they have got to be able to close games out when they have a lead in the 9th inning and right now, that means the Matt Capps has to be removed from the role. Right now they have two guys who are better options in the 9th, starting with Glen Perkins.
Glen Perkins has easily been the Twins most consistent reliever all season. After falling from grace and finding himself at Triple-A last year, Perkins has resurrected his career and is pitching as well as ever. Over his last 21 appearances, he's given up only 5 earned runs. He has a 32:11 K:BB ratio over 30.1 innings this year which is excellent and I think he has proven over the past 3 nights that he can get the job done when it matters. If there's a more pressure-packed situation than closing a game, it's closing a game when the guy who's supposed to be the closer can't do it.
Aside from Perkins, the case could be made that Joe Nathan deserves his old job back. Since coming back from the DL in late June, Nathan has thrown 5 innings of work surrendering one-run (the one run came in his first appearance off the DL) while striking out 5 against 0 walks. Not only that, his velocity is looking a whole lot more Nathan-like lately. Last night he threw 13 pitches, 9 of which we strikes. His fastball averaged 92.72mph and touched as high as 93.2mph. In the two seasons prior to Tommy John surgery, Nathan's fastball was averaging 93.6mph...earlier in the season Nathan was struggling to hit 91-92mph on the gun and now he's averaging almost 93mph...that's a good sign.
Either Perkins or Nathan would probably be a better option in the closer role at this point and I think either guy could succeed in the role. I have to imagine the Twins would love to get Nathan back in the closer role given that he is basically a very expensive set-up man right now. I'd be fine with either option, I just know Capps has to go. Every win is a precious commodity at this stage of the season and the Twins cannot afford to have a guy in the closer role who can't get the job done.