Two Weeks In: Who Is This Team?

I swear if there’s one thing I’ve grown more tired of than people using small sample sizes to “prove” how good or bad a player is, at this still-early point in the season, it’s people who do so while even admitting that they’re using small sample sizes. Let’s be brutally honest here, statheads, stats over a single two week period, even if it’s the first two weeks of the season, are almost completely worthless.

That’s one reason that, despite the disadvantage I have of living in blacked out Iowa, I’ve made considerable efforts to hang out in the local Cedar Rapids sports bars as often as possible this month. This allows me to actually watch the Twins, rather than just look at the box scores, to judge who’s doing well and who isn’t. Naturally, it also gives me the opportunity to purchase overpriced beer and fried food, but that’s just a sacrifice I’m willing to make for my team and our readers.

One thing about having a blog like this is that you eventually feel compelled to write something, even if almost everything you have to say has most likely been expressed elsewhere. With that said, here’s what I think about what I’ve seen of the 2012 Minnesota Twins:

I don’t know what to think.

Are they the team that might just as well have been using toothpicks for bats in their opening series sweep at the hands of the mighty Baltimore Orioles? (That’s the American League East Division LEADING Baltimore Orioles to you, Mack!) Or are they the team that took two of three games from Albert Pujols’ Angels? Or the one that got swept by Joe Nathan’s new buddies from Texas? Or the guys that have taken two out of the first three games from the Evil Empire in Yankee Stadium, no less?

It’s probably just stating the obvious, but since that’s one of the things I do best, here’s a rundown of a few things we probably have found out about this season’s edition of the Twins:

Spring Training numbers mean zip, zilch, nada, not a friggin’ thing.

  • Remember all those good vibrations we were getting in March from Francisco Liriano? Three starts in to the season and he’s the same head case he was last year. Maybe he’ll turn things around yet, but man has he looked bad after being pretty much unhittable in Ft. Myers.

    Luke Hughes, we hardly knew ye

  • For the second season in a row, Luke Hughes put up very impressive numbers in Spring Training. The same Luke Hughes who’s now been Designated for Assignment because the team needed his roster spot for Jason Marquis on Wednesday and Hughes is out of options. I suppose he COULD pass through waivers, but expectations are that some team will claim him and he’ll get a chance to join another organization’s Big League roster. Best of luck to Luke (unless he ends up with the F’ing Yankees or White Sox, of course).
  • There was a lot of hand-wringing in Spring Training over Justin Morneau with many people pretty much writing off his career. He’s attacking the ball at the plate with an intensity we haven’t seen since before his head came in to contact with a Blue Jay knee at second base almost two years ago. Three home runs in the two games he’s played at Yankee Stadium so far this week isn’t too shabby.

Josh Willingham can hit baseballs really, really well. Yes, defensively, balls hit in his direction can turn in to an adventure, but this is a fan base that’s been watching Delmon Young in LF for a couple of years… we can deal with Willingham. Especially if he keeps hitting the ball consistently. You can’t get much more consistent than starting the season with a 12 game hitting streak.

Reports of the demise of Joe Mauer and Denard Span were a tad premature. Both are still really good at baseball. Mauer still hits in to too many 4-6-3 double plays, but as is the case with Morneau, we’re seeing a version of Mauer we haven’t seen on the field in far too long. Span looks poised to reclaim his spot atop the rankings of AL lead-off center fielders.

Jamey Carroll is pretty much exactly what we thought he was… a solid shortstop that will field the balls hit near him and make good throws to first base. If the position hadn’t been such a disaster last year, that might not be big news, but I enjoy not having to hold my breath every time a ground ball gets hit that direction.

Alexi Casilla is really bad… or really good… face it, none of us have figured that out for sure ever since the Twins got him in return for JC Romero. We still don’t know, but I like the Lexi that’s been playing in Yankee Stadium this week.

The bullpen hasn’t sucked. Again, faint praise, perhaps. But given the angst most of us felt about the situation and the fact that a couple of guys that were counted on to fortify the pen have either been injured or pushed to the rotation, things could be much worse out there. I’m a bit nervous about Glen Perkins, though.

So with all of this stuff going well, why the hell have the Twins lost twice as many games as they’ve won?

The answer, of course, is a familiar one. This team has a rotation that simply is not very good and the pitchers are being backed up by a defense that’s not much better. I don’t need two weeks worth of statistics to tell me that’s a dangerous combination.

Liam Hendriks and Anthony Swarzak have looked marginally promising. Carl Pavano looks to be what we all know he is… a marginal, but gutsy, innings-eater. Maybe Jason Marquis will be something similar. Nick Blackburn hasn’t been awful, but his ceiling isn’t terribly high, not to mention this “mystery shoulder tightness” thing he came down with this week.

The bottom line is that we still really don’t know what to expect from this team after two weeks. The rest of April will continue to be a challenge, due to the brutal scheduling this month and the iffy pitching situation, but there’s nothing like a couple of wins against the F’ing Yankees at their place to raise spirits a bit. Win another game to claim the series tonight and I may not be able to contain my giddiness!

- JC

6 thoughts on “Two Weeks In: Who Is This Team?

  1. Good assessment of what we have seen so far. I particularly agree with your recognition that we don’t yet know what kind of team this is going to be. I have a feeling the most intriguing aspect of this season is going to be how the roster evolves into the core for the future and what moves Terry Ryan makes to bolster the minor league talent, especially how he might get some major-league ready guys.

  2. Hey, the Twins are 4-2 against teams not currently in 1st place! :)

    Really, I haven’t seen anything that changes my view of the team and makes me think it could be a contender this year, but I am happy that Morneau, Mauer, Span, and Willingham have played just as well as I had hoped. Shame about Baker and Liriano, though.

    Lexi remains what he’s always been: a generally bad player who occasionally has a big game or a little hot streak and does some exciting things. Still, I wish I could say as much for Valencia at this point, yeah?

  3. Pingback: GameChat – Twins @ Yankees #4, 6:05 pm – Knuckleballs

  4. Tough loss tonight, but even in the loss, there were encouraging signs. I get a feeling there are going to be a lot of 7-6 games this year. The sticks are going to put up some numbers pretty regularly, but the pitching is going to allow them, too. Going to be an adventure.

    PK, I agree… it really will be interesting to see what sort of moves TR makes as the season goes along. How soon does he cash in his chips? I don’t expect it to happen until June, at least… earlier than that is kind of foolish because that’s when values start rising. He’s going to have some options, though.

    Valencia woke up a bit tonight, frightwig… maybe he’ll warm up this weekend.

  5. Fun read. Offense is nice. The MLB network guys were ripping Target Field to shreds after Morneau hit his second homer in NY. Did they say Morneau has hit as many HRs in NY as at Target Field since Target Field opened?

    Love Willingham. He is slow out in the field, though. At one point I said to a friend, “Delmon would’ve got to that ball a lot faster before he fell down.” Sorry, just a small-sample observation, not hating on the Player of the Week.

    I didn’t know you are in Cedar Rapids. Friends and I have tickets to the Kernels game against the Snappers on Friday, June 22. From there we head to Cincinnati to see the Twins Saturday and Sunday. I have never been to Cedar Rapids. Let me know if there’s something I shouldn’t miss.

  6. That series between CR and Beloit in June comes right after the MWL All-Star Game, I believe, so it starts the 2nd half of the season. I hope Sano and Rosario are still with the Snappers at that point, but it wouldn’t be too surprising to see one or both headed to Ft. Myers by then. Beloit has their first visit here May 2-4 and I’ve already laid claim to my company’s suite at Memorial Stadium for that first game on May 2. Sure, I have to invite my staff to join me, so I don’t get the room to myself, but they aren’t bad people to hang out with.

    As for things in CR you “shouldn’t miss,” you’re already going to the ballgame… there honestly isn’t much on the list beyond that. But if you want some help knowing where the best wings are or something along those lines, just let me know. There’s a good chance I’ll be at that game the 22nd, as well, so maybe we can at least say hi.