Author’s Note: I wrote this after we got swept by the Orioles, but it mostly holds true, added commentary after getting swept by the Royals and a loss yesterday to the White Sox in italics.
The Twins are again staring down the barrel of having the worst opening record in baseball for the second year in a row (only the Braves losing today will keep us neck and neck in a fight for last place), but being a Minnesota sports fan requires being a perennial optimist even in the face of heartbreaking defeat (see: 2015-16 NFC WildCard Game) and I’m, strangely, more hopeful about this year than I was last year.
So let’s start with the bad so far:
If we can’t beat the Orioles, we’re gonna have a bad time
Baltimore does have a lineup that hits homeruns, and that was the difference-maker in every one of the three opening games that we lost to them. However, as the saying goes, it takes two to tango. Would we have won Monday’s game if they hadn’t completely botched the rain delay and given both starters only two innings apiece? Maybe, I’m still hopeful that Ervin Santana can be as close to an ace as we have on the Twins, but we have to own up to the fact that Kyle Gibson looked flat out bad during his start and even though Phil Hughes was lights out through 40 pitches, the wheels started coming off the rails after that. In addition, our next two starters, Tommy Milone and Ricky Nolasco don’t show much promise either.
Milone showed signs of being a guy who can paint corners last year but his velocity has never been great and when his control is off guys jump all over him. Nolasco who has never had an ERA under 5 since he’s been with the Twins, and his 4 year/$49Million contract just make me want to curl up in the corner and cry. Our bullpen doesn’t look much better. Glen Perkins has yet to return to All Star closer form. Jepsen, who looked damn good last year as a setup man gave up a game-losing homer last night and Casey Fien is a bum and no one will ever convince me otherwise.
Yeah, we also got swept by the Royals, but they won the World Series last year so…
Where’s the beef?
On the offensive side, we’re looking anemic. We’ve scored two runs per game in every game so far this year. We’re basically the Leroy Hoard of baseball right now. (For those out of the loop, Hoard was the backup to Vikings’ legendary running back Robert Smith who famously said, “Coach, if you need one yard, I’ll get you three yards, if you need five yards, I’ll get you three yards.”) Our sluggers who we have counted on to produce have been pretty lackluster so far. Guys like Miguel Sano and Brian Dozier have looked pretty stymied at the plate, Dozier, who lead the team in HRs last year, went totally hitless in the first series. If we want to start winning, we’re going to need solid at bats from everyone in our lineup, especially guys like Dozier and Sano.
Yep. This just got worse after the first series. Beyond not having good hitting, we are striking out WAY too much. Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton and Byung-Ho Park all have 11 Ks in 19 ABs. That, combined with no power when we DO get hits is a game killer.
But, dear readers, it’s not all gloom and doom, there are some bright spots!
Taking the D-Train
Twins defense has a ton of potential. The oldest player in our starting outfield is Eddie Rosario who is 24 and he hit the most triples IN THE MLB last year despite the fact that he didn’t get called up until May, plus he has a serious cannon. Then you have Byron Buxton, still technically a rookie this year although he played a significant amount of time last year. Buxton has already made several highlight-reel plays so far this year and is one of the fastest center fielders I’ve ever seen. Miguel Sano, who hit 18 homers and racked up 52 RBIs in just 80 games last year while mostly DHing, has been moved out to right field to keep him in the everyday lineup. There were concerns about his ability to play outfield at all as Sano came up as a third baseman, and there have been a few hiccups along the way so far, but Sano worked with former Twins outfield great Torii Hunter this offseason to get his ducks in a row and he’s made some pretty killer grabs already.
Add to that Danny Santana who can literally play any position on the field other than catcher or pitcher, and solid starters at every infield position including All-Star second baseman Brian Dozier and Eduardo Escobar who may actually be the Twins solution at Short which has been a nagging issue for us over the last decade. I’m not sure what this feeling is but I think it’s the absence of terror when you look at the field and no-one on the field is a stopgap player who wouldn’t make most teams’ AAA roster. Feels good man.
Danny Santana pulled his hamstring in KC. Eduardo Escobar has committed 3 of the team’s 4 errors since I wrote this. So. You know…
Hits Not Unusual to be Loved by Anyone
While some of the guys we were relying on to get hits have yet to put good wood on the ball so far this season (yeah I said it) some of the guys we weren’t expecting to hit well have been getting it figured out. The jury’s still out on Byron Buxton who was atrocious at the plate in 2015 and spring training but banged two doubles in a row on Wednesday night. Danny Santana who actually got sent down to AAA because he looked like he was going to poop his pants and cry during every one of his at bats in 2015 is not only hitting the ball well but also nailed maybe one of the most perfect bunts I’ve seen in a long time.
Joe Mauer, who, admittedly, had his bell rung a few too many times when he was catching for the Twins, looked like he was trying to see the ball through a couple thirteen-fourteen bong rips last year, so far this year he’s looked pretty sharp and even cracked a home run during the last game of the series. The Twins also added Korean superstar Byung-ho Park (please no Cornholio jokes, even if for a while we thought we were going to trade away our third baseman, Trevor Plouffe, aka TP for our Byung-ho) who looks solid at the plate and last year set the Korean League all-time record for home runs in a season.
Buxton is terrible, BHP is terrible, Eduardo Nunez went 4 for 4 in our crippling loss to KC on Saturday and then got hit by a pitch right in his god damned wrist in his 5th at bat. So. You know...
There are few bright spots in our pitching game so far, non-roster invitee Fernando Abad has looked solid, Ryan Pressley has thrown surprisingly well so far, we still have yet to see what Ervin Santana can do in a full game and Kyle Gibson usually has the yips for his first game or so and then remembers that he has a brutal slider and dominates. However, I’m confident that this team is going to gel, we’re going to bring that Paul-Molitor-stubborn-bastard-ness to this season and start frustrating teams and winning games. The Minnesota Piranhas are going to make a comeback this year, and teams aren’t going to know what hit them until they’re underwater and chewed to the bone.
This mostly stands, Pressley looks okay but the rest of our bullpen is probably making him look that way as they are all pitching like they’ve never seen a baseball before. That said, this gif while Pressley was on the mound I think perfectly encapsulates how I feel about this season so far, just a lone garbage tumbleweed drifting across the mound as Pressley pounds one into the dirt.
How I feel.
But until next time, like the song says, “Cheer For The Minnesota Twins To-Day!”