GameChat – Indians @ Twins, 7:10 pm

It only SEEMS like the Twins have been moved to the American League East Division this season. In fact, they remain members in good standing of the AL Central Division, despite having played only two of their first 34 games within their division.

Tonight, they begin to rectify that issue as they host the first game of a brief two-game series against Cleveland.

Justin Morneau, who is eligible to come off the DL on Wednesday, reportedly took live batting practice before the game, though we still have no official word on when he may find his way back in to the lineup.

I’m sure we’ll all be watching Carl Pavano closely tonight for evidence that his arm is about to separate from his shoulder. He either has or hasn’t been having shoulder soreness, did or didn’t have an MRI, which did or didn’t show anything wrong, but was or wasn’t sent to an outside physician for a second opinion and may or may not lead to a cortisone shot, after which he may or may not miss a start or even may or may not go on the DL himself.

Thank goodness we’ve cleared that up.

INDIANS

@

TWINS
Choo, RF Span, CF
Kipnis, 2B Dozier, SS
Cabrera, A, SS Mauer, 1B
Hafner, DH Willingham, LF
Santana, C, C Doumit, DH
Brantley, CF Plouffe, 3B
Lopez, Jo, 3B Mastroianni, RF
Kotchman, 1B Butera, C
Duncan, LF Carroll, 2B
  _Gomez, J, P   _Pavano, P
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Cleveland 0 0 0 2 2 0 0 0 1 5 8 1
Minnesota 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 3 0 4 5 0

Our guys made it interesting, thanks to a Ryan Doumit moon shot in the bottom of the eighth, but the Tribe scored one run off of Matt Capps in the top of the 9th and that was the ballgame. We did see Francisco Liriano’s first relief appearance and he was very good… right up to the point where he walked three straight batters. He got a strike out to end the inning at that point, so I guess on balance it was a successful appearance. Starting pitcher Carl Pavano threw just 72 pitches in his six innings of work.

Noon game on Tuesday to wrap up the short series.

.

Pull the Plug? Not… Quite… Yet

A 10-24 record. Ouch.

That’s the worst record in baseball. All of the hopes that Twinsville had for this team to at least be competitive coming in to the season have pretty much been flushed down the drain. I don’t think you’ll find any writer or fan holding on to the, “we’ll be fine if we can just turn this thing around,” lifeline at this point. Everyone seems to want GM Terry Ryan to just blow this thing up and start rebuilding for 2014 and beyond, right?

Well… maybe not quite everyone. At least not quite yet.

I’m as frustrated as anyone, especially with some of the flat out ugly baseball being played by the Twins. I’ve seen and heard enough of the Target Field Circus, thank you very much. For that reason alone, I’m on board with many of the roster moves that the Twins have made recently.

But before we completely write off this season, I think we need to ask ourselves two questions.

First… has anything gone right?

The reason you ask that question is to attempt to identify what’s gone wrong. If you can’t identify anything that’s gone right, then fine… blow up the roster and start over. But I don’t think that’s really the case.

Going in to the season, there were a handful of things that I felt needed to fall in to place for the Twins to be anything remotely resembling a contending baseball team:

  1. Mauer, Morneau and Span needed to be healthy and productive;
  2. They needed Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit to adequately replace the bats lost in Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel;
  3. They needed improved defense, especially up the middle of the infield and in at least one corner outfield spot;
  4. They needed to hope they could find enough arms to piece together a bullpen that would be able to hold leads and keep games from getting out of hand late; and
  5. They needed improved starting pitching.

Obviously, the jury is still out on Justin Morneau, but I have to admit that if you had told me going in to the season that Mauer and Span would be putting up the numbers they’re putting up while playing almost every game, I’d have been happy to take those results. I’m also quite satisfied with Willingham and Doumit, at this point. The middle infield play has been far better than it was a year ago and while the outfield hasn’t been spectacular, I don’t hold my breath every time a ball is hit to one of the corner OF spots, so that’s a step up. The bullpen has actually been a pleasant surprise. (Be honest… how many people would have been willing to bet Matt Capps would not have blown a save yet at this point in the season?)

Frankly, while you can certainly improve other things here or there, it has been the rotation that has been almost exclusively responsible for where this team is sitting in the standings right now.

The second question we need to ask ourselves pertains to our expectations. How far behind the Division leaders did you think the Twins might possibly be by this point in the season?

When I looked at the goofy schedule that MLB put together for the Twins’ first six weeks, there was little doubt in my mind that they’d be at least 6-7 games out of first place at this point. True, I would have predicted that the Detoit Tigers would be at least six games over .500, while I don’t think anyone would have looked at the scheduled opponents for the Twins’ first 34 games and predicted a .500 record. Instead, the Tigers are right at .500 with a 17-17 record, while the Division-leading Cleveland Indians are just one game better at 18-16.

The Twins have faced AL East teams 17 times already. The Tribe: 7 games against the East. Detroit just nine games. At the same time, Cleveland has already accumulated an 8-7 record against other AL Central teams and Detroit is 7-4 within the Division. The White Sox, sitting in 3rd place in the Division at the moment, have already faced Divisional foes 18 times, putting up a 9-9 record. None of those intradivisional records include any games with the Twins, yet, as Minnesota’s played just two games within the Division, splitting a pair against the Royals.

So, what’s my point?

That’s a fair question.

My point is not to say that this is a Twins team destined to bring home a Championship. It’s not even to say that this team looks like it has the potential to be a very good team. But then, I didn’t believe this team would fall in to either of those categories when they broke camp in Fort Myers.

What I believed then was that, if things fell in to place and management was willing/able to make key adjustments when necessary, this team could be competitive within their Division (at least competitive enough to make them remain fun to watch)… provided that the Tigers didn’t run away and hide from everyone (which I really didn’t expect them to do).

So I guess my point is that I still believe that’s possible.

The Tigers have certainly done their part by underperforming against expectations and nobody else in the AL Central is very good.

If the Twins can get more performances out of their rotation like they’ve gotten out of Scott Diamond and PJ Walters, and fewer like they’ve gotten out of Francisco Liriano, the next couple of months could be very interesting to watch.

The Twins spend the next eight weeks playing games within their division and interleague games. Of their six interleague series opponents, only the Reds (17-16) have won more games than they’ve lost. Meanwhile, Cleveland will spend the last week of June and most of July facing AL East teams and interleague games include series against the NL Central leading Cardinals, as well as two other teams with winning records (two series with the Reds and one vs. the Marlins). The Tigers spend the end of May and first few days of June matched up with the Red Sox and Yankees and after interleague play (which also includes a series against the Cardinals) finish the month of June by spending a week visiting the Rangers and Rays. Their July is sprinkled liberally with other AL East teams, as well as the Angels. Meanwhile, the only series the Twins have with an AL East team between now and August is a mid-July series in Target Field against the Orioles.

If the Twins only win 10 of their next 34 games, then I’m on board with everyone else… put up the Yard Sale sign and sell off any asset you can get a fair return for.

But the more I look at the schedule… and what other teams in the AL Central Division have done… the less I feel like there’s any real rush to make drastic and irreversible decisions. The starting pitching needs to be better than it has been… pure and simple. But if that can be accomplished, I see no reason this Twins team shouldn’t still be able to live up to our limited expectations of them before the season started.

We could still have a little fun this summer.

– JC

Fun Twins Things


(photo: Foxsportsnorth.com)

10-24: The Twins record through their first 34 games, roughly 20% of their season.  Going in to 2012 I thought the Twins would be slightly better than a .500 ballclub, optimistically projecting them to win 83 games.  Yet here they are, 14 games under .500 with little reason to expect the Twins will be much better in the 128 games left on the schedule.  With that in mind, here is a list (of arbitrary length and order) of fun Twins Things from 2012.

  1. Josh Willingham – Willingham is leading the Twins in just about every offensive category you can think of, batting average, RBIs, on-base percentage, home runs, etc.  He’s come to Minnesota and established himself as a fan favorite.  Plus he looks like he’d be right at home chopping down trees in the forest with another Twins newcomer, Ryan Doumit.  Offense and tree chopping, two of my favorite things.
  2. Scott Diamond – Not exactly a success story in 2011, in his two starts since being called up in 2012 he has been perfect.  He’s pitched 14 innings without giving up a run and now has as many Wins in just two starts as any other Twins pitcher.  Also, Dick and Bert think that he looks like Cliff Lee, so take that for what it’s worth.
  3. Jamey Carroll – Before Sunday’s game FSN showed clips of some Twins players wishing their mothers (and sometimes their wives, too) a happy Mother’s Day.  During his segment Jamey Carroll referred to his mom as “the Bomb dot com.”  That was one of the best moments of 2012.  He’s also playing pretty great defense and was even rocking some variant of the Fu Manchu for a couple weeks.  Great stuff.
  4. The Joel Zumaya Saga – It is unfortunate that Zumaya couldn’t stay healthy and wound up heading back to the operating table before Spring Training was even in full swing because Zumaya had an opportunity to be the flame throwing reliever the Twins desperately need in their bullpen.  While the signing ultimately did not work out, there was plenty of fan excitement over the winter, speculating on the health and possible impact of a guy like Zumaya playing for the Twins.  Plus I liked saying, “Zoom-zoom”.
  5. Trevor Plouffe‘s hair – Love it or hate it, Plouffe’s curly locks have provided more humorous commentary in the Knuckleballs GameChat’s than just about any other Twins topic in 2012, follicle related or otherwise.
  6. Brian Dozier – For a while there when Dozier was hitting .400+ in AAA and it seemed like just about everyday some Twins blogger would be pining for the Twins to bring Dozier up to replace Carroll or Casilla.  Carroll and Casilla, in the meantime, managed to play pretty solid defense, but ultimately their lack of success in the batter’s box (and pretty much ever other Twins hitter as well) forced the Twins’ hand and they called up Dozier to be the everyday shortstop and he has not disappointed.  He’s been fun to watch defensively, getting to balls deep in the hole and showing off some pretty decent arm strength.  And he hit a home run yesterday!  Dozier is having fun playing baseball, and he’s even more fun to watch.
  7. Ryan Doumit’s defense – Just kidding.
  8. Lots of Roster Movement – 33 players have made appearances for the Twins this season.  Of those 33 players, 13 made the Twins debut (Jamey Carroll, Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit, Jeff Gray, Jared Burton, Clete Thomas, Sean Burroughs, Matt Maloney, Erik Komatsu, Brian Dozier, Jason Marquis, Darin Mastroianni and P.J. Walters).  Lots of new faces, lots of action on the waiver wire and plenty of evidence that Terry Ryan and crew realize the on-field product stinks and are looking at ways to make it better (Like when they sent Danny Valencia down to Triple-A, that was my favorite).

So it is not all bad.  There are some fun things to watch and follow every day.  If I missed any, feel free to fill me in.  

Baseball is still fun, even if 10-24 is not.

-ERolfPleiss