Catbird Seat: May Day in Twins TerritorySummer is a time of fun, frivolity and general laziness. Happily, as the days get longer, the baseball season gets longer too.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
Summer is a time of fun, frivolity and general laziness. Happily, as the days get longer, the baseball season gets longer too.
The Twins, out of the gate, look like they’ll need the long season to get themselves untracked. To be honest, what we’ve seen from them to this point has been pretty underwhelming.
It didn’t help to have Joe Mauer out for the first month of the season with what was essentially a sore back. The return of his bat to the lineup last weekend against Kansas City gave the team a sorely needed boost.
However, they also lost two of three games in that series and haven’t poked their heads over the .500 mark more than a couple of times during this young season.
For a team that was supposed to be the ‘total package’ coming out of spring training, that’s a bit on the disappointing side. Yet it is a long season, and there’s still plenty of time to improve play to the point where the team is a contender. Most of the pieces are in place.
I say ‘most’ because there is still some work to do.
For starters, there’s figuring out what in the heck happened to this team’s once-unhittable bullpen. The glory days where Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier (and heck, even back to JC Romero) would set up a Pat Neshek to get to Joe Nathan are long gone. Guerrier is trying to come back after a subpar 2008, Crain has been hurt, Neshek has been hurt, and whoever gets the ball in the eighth hasn’t been a household name.
Pitching – generally a Twins strong point – has been anything but. Kevin Slowey has a perfect record but has been very hittable. Scott Baker has been just plain hittable since signing his long-term extension over the summer, but is coming back from injury. Francisco Liriano has been ordinary and Nick Blackburn has been the same. Only Glen Perkins has shown the sort of stuff needed to be a consistently winning starting pitcher.
Offensively, the Twins have been generally better, which they’ve needed to be to stay in games when their pitching hasn’t helped. Unfortunately, there are issues here too. Ron Gardenhire’s insistence that yes, Nick Punto is too an everyday player have helped keep Brandon Harris and his hot bat too far away from the lineup. Conversely, you could say the same thing about Alexi Casilla and his .160 batting average. Harris can play second as well, so perhaps it’s time to give him a chance.
And then there’s the matter of Carlos Gomez, who has found a way to become even less of an on-base threat than he was last year. The kid has all the ability in the world, but appears unwilling to use it to do the most important thing a speedster can do – get on base. His .196 batting average, .245 on-base percentage and only two stolen bases indicate something needs to be done.
The Twins are doing a better job working pitchers, and that’s showing up in their offense. Michael Cuddyer, despite his .253 batting average, already has 13 walks so he’s getting on base. Even Punto (11 walks) and Denard Span (10 walks) are getting into the act.
The latter two help set the table for the heart of the order, and that is showing in the RBI totals for Justin Morneau (21) and Jason Kubel (16). So there’s a fair bit going right when the Twins are at the plate.
Joe Crede’s three home runs at third base are a whole season’s worth at the position for some past Twins teams, and when he finds his stroke the team will be set at that position.
It’s a long season. There’s certainly no reason to panic. As ordinary as the Twins have been, they’re still only two games out of first place as of this writing.
Yet patterns are already emerging that, if corrected in a timely manner, could make the rest of the summer a fun time in Twins Territory.