Talkin’ Twins: 4/11/13

Posted: April 11, 2013 by Crackin' Wax in Minnesota Twins, Talkin' Twins
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It’s been nearly two weeks since Opening Day 2013 and the Twins have already proven to be much more surprising on multiple levels than many Twins fans, like myself, could have predicted. What the Minnesota club has done in these two weeks that isn’t so surprising is find themselves wallowing near the bottom of the pile of lowly teams that make up the American League Central Division. They’ve won games that many thought they shouldn’t and they’ve lost games that many thought they should have won. They’ve shown us small bursts of hope and brilliant flashes of humiliating failure. It’s like 2011 and 2012 all over again–yet not.

Let me just stop you right there, smarty-pants. If you’ve read the first paragraph with any amount of attention, then you can concede that I’ve already pointed out that it’s just been nearly two weeks into the fresh season. No team at this point in the season will come anywhere close to resembling the team they’ll be at Game 162. The first nine games that the Twins have played merely serve as a microcosm of what could reasonably be expected of this team through and to the end of 2013.

THE GOOD SURPRISES
Unfortunately, this portion of this article will be noticeably short. That in no way is meant to discount the good the Twins have been able to accomplish thus far.

Above .500 — While the Twins aren’t there now, they did breach that threshold for a short while. What’s so surprisingly good about that accomplishment is that not only is it a feat they were unable to achieve at all in 2012, they did so against the defending American League Champion Detroit Tigers and likely AL East contending Baltimore Orioles. If they’re going to be as competitive as GM Terry Ryan and President Dave St. Peter suggests, Minnesota is going to have to make beating teams like these a habit.

Relievers — Other than a couple of poor performances by a couple of poor pitchers (one of whom was summarily sent to the minors after a one-pitch grand slam outing), the relief corp has been strong. Considering that the starters are only averaging 5 innings per game, a major weakness in the Twins’ last two losing campaigns, they’ve given the Twins a chance to win nearly each game of this young season. Collectively, the ‘pen has kept their ERA below 3, has lost only 1 game and Closer Glen Perkins has won a game and has converted both of his 2 save opportunities. It’s doubtful, however, that the relievers will be able to keep up their strength for very long if the starters struggle to reach at least the 7th inning on a consistent basis.

THE BAD SURPRISES
The pre-season hype powered by the Twins media machine might have led you to believe that certain aspects of the team would be just as good as it’s ever been, maybe even better. So far, they’re wrong.

Aaron Hicks — One of my more reserved yet initial gut feelings about the rookie seems to have become a reality. Making the jump from AA, past AAA and straight into the majors may not have been the best thing in the world for either the Twins or for Hicks. My gut was telling me that he needed more seasoning and development, but the Twins insisted that he’d won the starting centerfielding job outright. Okay, I can grasp the fact that he may have been the best option in that position DURING SPRING TRAINING. How many of you out there think that Spring Training is just as difficult and competitive as the regular season? Well, it’s not. There’s a reason that the word “training” is in the phrase “Spring Training.” Typically, players are competing against each other for roster spots, not against other teams for hard earned W’s. Hicks might have been the best choice to play centerfield for the Twins in Spring Training but he wasn’t the right choice for the regular season. While it’s true that four Minnesota batters are currently under the Mendoza Line, none are as far below it as Hicks. Batting at a dreadfully dismal .057, Aaron has just two hits in his young Major League career in 35 chances. Not only is he the worst hitter on the team, his 16 strikeouts puts him on the bottom of the Twins list (only 1 other hitter in the MLB has more SO’s–Houston Astros’ Brett Wallace with 17). His fielding and baserunning has also been called into question by Manager Ron Gardenhire. It seems to me that the kid just isn’t prepared for the big time just yet.

Joe Mauer — It was told through beat writers and social media that #TheHolyMauer was back in MVP form. The expecting father of twins was said to be on track to catch more games this season than he had done in any previous season. He was supposed to be more focused. He was supposed to be sharper. He was supposed to be more prepared. After just nine games, he’s shown no signs of focus, sharpness or preparedness. While Joe has more at-bats than any other Twin, he’s also posting some very un-Mauer-like numbers. He’s swinging a .275 average and has struck out ten times–more than once per game. Joe has also only been walked twice so far, bringing his OBP down to just over .300–ranking him 9th on the team in that category. Since being slotted in the 2-hole, his RBI production has also suffered. He’s driven in just one run so far this year–his own from an opposite field solo shot (also his sole home run of the season thus far). These numbers do not indicate a return to MVP form. They do not show a man with focus. What they show is what I am seriously hoping is nothing more than an early season slump. I’d be awfully surprised if Joe continued to play this way the entire year.

THE NOT-SO SURPRISING
While there is the good and there is the bad, there is also the predictable. Things we saw at the end of 2012 that permeated through the Hot Stove and Winter Meetings and into Spring Training 2013.

Starting Pitching — It’s very difficult to solve a problem simply by replacing it with a similar problem. The starting pitching rotation has been embarrassingly abismal the last two years. Keeping arms healthy was a major issue. Forcing non-starters to start was another and calling up minor leaguers before they were ready was yet another. In order to circumvent this problem, Terry Ryan all but completely restocked his cabinet of starting arms. It is unfortunate, however, that the arms he brought in are subpar at best–and they’re already proving that. Sure, Liam Hendriks tossed a few good innings the other day, but the production of Vance Worley and Mike Pelfrey is worrisome. Ironically, Pelfrey is the only starter who has notched a win so far this year. In just two games, Pelfrey has tossed 7.1 innings and has racked up a 7.36 ERA. Vance “Vanimal” Worley has hurled a second-best 11 innings of work in two games but has posted a 5.73 ERA. Kevin Correia is the only Twins starting pitcher that seems to be performing at an acceptable level. In his two games of work, he’s thrown more innings and has posted the lowest ERA with 3.14. None of these starters, however, is anywhere near being a strikeout pitcher. After a total of nine games, the highest total of strikeouts by any one Twins pitcher is 5. That’s not 5 in 1 game. That’s 5 for the season so far. If these starters can’t make it into the 7th inning each game, the bullpen will be overworked. Then, just as in the past two seasons, the domino effect will take place yet again. One problem which causes another which causes the next. I’m afraid to say it, but just from the sample of these past nine games, I’m very worried that the dominos are already starting to tumble on 2013.

WHAT’S NEXT
The Twins are hosting the New York Mets at snow-covered Target Field for an early Interleague weekend series. It should have been the homecoming for Johan Santana, but he’s been shelved with more arm and shoulder trouble. Scott Diamond is due to return to the team and make his 2013 debut. The homestand continues with a 3-game set with Josh Hamilton and the Angels. An off day is followed by a quick road trip to Chicago, then it’s back home for another Interleague series–two games against the Miami Marlins, managed by former Twins backup catcher Mike Redmond. I predict that the Twins will scratch 1 game out with the Mets, get swept by the Angels, take 2 from the ChiSox, and sweep the Marlins–just enough to keep them just below .500.

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