From all of us here at Knuckleballs to all of you – we hope you are enjoying a wonderful Independence Day and the Freedom that is truly Born in the USA.
If you saw the rather dramatic ending to the Twins game last night – let’s just call that miraculous – you are taking full advantage of the holiday weekend and pulling some late nights. But I’m going to take advantage of the blog soap box, however short, and reminder what this holiday is about – those we have lost in defense of this country’s pursuits of freedom.
I hope you have the chance to acknowledge that while spending time with your families and a little baseball…
So this season has certainly de-escalated quickly, hasn’t it Twins fans?
Ask any group of Twins fans what went wrong and you’ll get a wide variety of responses. Of course, there’s no shortage of I-told-you-so’s going around out there, either. Haters gonna hate and nothing makes haters happier than when things go badly and they can loudly proclaim how smart they were to hate in the first place.
The thing is, I don’t think anyone is (or at least they shouldn’t be) shocked by what’s happening with the Twins. Was an 8-20 start “expected”? No, not by most of us. But I’m more disappointed than surprised and I would imagine that I’m not alone in feeling that way.
General Manager Terry Ryan clearly made the decision during the offseason that 2016 was going to be the year he would push the first wave of young potential stars into the big league fray. He wasn’t interested in adding any free agent that might block a significant young talent. His only big move was the addition of Korean slugger Byung Ho Park and that particular move is looking very good.
To appreciate why Ryan was relatively passive during the offseason, you have to start with the understanding that, all along, 2016 was going to be another season in the longer rebuilding process. I think most of us recognized that.
It would be the first full season of big league ball for Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and Tyler Duffey.
It would, hopefully, be a near-full season of Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios.
We would also likely see significant Major League playing time for several more building blocks for what, at some point, could be the next great Twins team. That group might include Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, Alex Meyer and perhaps several other highly touted bullpen arms.
That’s a lot of youth and it’s probably unrealistic to expect all of those guys to perform well enough to propel the club into serious contention for a postseason spot.
Still, the Twins came real close to nabbing a wild card spot last year, so was it really unrealistic to expect them to improve the following season? Maybe, maybe not.
It’s not unrealistic to believe it’s POSSIBLE to improve on their prior season’s results, but you could argue that it was unrealistic to EXPECT so many young players to step up in one season, without any of them finding themselves overmatched, at least temporarily, by Major League competition.
Many of the challenges we foresaw occurring this season have become reality.
The Twins strike out a lot. Only the Astros and Blue Jays hitters have K’d more than the Twins so far in 2016. We knew this would happen and there was no shortage of warnings uttered before the season that it could be disastrous.
Miguel Sano has been a bad outfielder. We knew he wouldn’t win any gold gloves out there, but I’m not sure he’s been any worse than anyone would have expected. He’s actually shown some of his athleticism at times, even while also clearly not being confident that he can field the position well.
The hope was that Byron Buxton’s presence in center field would somewhat minimize the damage done while Sano learns right field on the fly. Then Buxton failed to get on track with the bat and had to be sat down and, eventually, demoted.
That problem was exacerbated by Eddie Rosario’s significant regression at the plate. While Oswaldo Arcia’s bat has perhaps made up for Rosario’s poor start, that also left the Twins with the prospect of having Arcia and Sano constitute two-thirds of the defensive outfield. That’s not optimal, by any means.
Yet, to me, if the worst problems this team had were on the offensive side, I wouldn’t be too worried.
They aren’t ripping through opposing pitchers, but there’s enough good stuff going on (Joe Mauer, Byung Ho Park, Sano, Arcia and surprising production from Eduardo Nunez and Danny Santana) that there would be time to get guys like Dozier, Buxton and Rosario on track (or replaced) and still have a very nice season.
Alas, the bats aren’t the worst problems.
The worst problems are exactly where they have been for years – on the pitchers’ mound.
We were uneasy about the bullpen going in. Maybe – MAYBE – Glen Perkins, Kevin Jepsen and Trevor May would hold down the back end of the bullpen, but starting the season with essentially the same mediocre (or worse) middle and long relief from a year ago was scary.
Then Perkins went on the Disabled List and Jepsen has been ineffective. Newcomer Fernando Abad and Michael Tonkin have looked good, but they’ve seemed to largely be used in situations where the Twins have already fallen behind, virtually wasting their effectiveness.
Ryan Pressly and Casey Fien have been awful and Ryan O’Rourke, since being promoted, hasn’t fared any better.
I’ve read comments that the starting pitching has been better than some expected. I don’t understand that at all.
Yes, we’re all very pleasantly surprised that Ricky Nolasco has made the decision to hand him the fifth rotation spot look extremely wise and Ervin Santana hasn’t been awful most of the time, but outside of that, I just don’t see why anyone thinks the starting pitching has been anything but a train wreck.
Phil Hughes and Kyle Gibson have been awful and Tommy Milone has been bad enough that he was the guy who eventually lost his rotation spot.
There’s some potential for improvement, perhaps. Jose Berrios has shown the filthy stuff he has in his two starts and, if he’s given time to settle into a routine, he could quickly become an effective big league starting pitcher. Tyler Duffey will never be confused with Berrios in terms of his stuff or velocity, but Duffey still looks better than at least 60% of the guys who opened the season in the Twins’ rotation.
The conclusion I’ve drawn from this is that “fixing” the Twins right now isn’t that complicated – or at least it doesn’t have to be.
I wouldn’t touch the offense right now. Let things play out a while and do what you have to do to get guys like Buxton, Kepler and Polanco raking in Rochester so they’re ready to come back up in a month or two and stick.
If you insist on making some kind of change, fine. Bring up catcher Juan Centeno from Rochester. At this point, I wouldn’t even care whether it was John Ryan Murphy or Kurt Suzuki that you replaced. Neither of them should figure in the long term plans for the Twins, anyway, and it might be time to promote either Stuart Turner or Mitch Garver from Chattanooga up to Rochester so they can both get regular innings behind the plate.
While you don’t want to read too much into one month of work, I don’t think there’s much risk in replacing Pressly, Fien and O’Rourke in the bullpen. I’d see what J.T. Chargois and Buddy Boshers have to offer.
My rotation, for now, would be Nolasco, Santana, Hughes, Berrios and Duffey. The stint on the DL that Gibson is doing gives the Twins some time to get good looks at Berrios and Duffey. I like continuing to see Meyer start at Rochester, until he proves once and for all that he’s best suited for bullpen work.
If Hughes doesn’t get it together, the Twins will need to figure out what “injury” he has and let him work through that while on the DL for a while, too.
The limited roster changes I’ve described would be a good start, but it shouldn’t be the end of the transition.
If the club is still wallowing toward the bottom of the standings a month from now (which seems almost certain at this point), it will be time to start dealing away those players who have some market value and likely aren’t part of the next generation of competitive Twins teams.
There’s no longer a reason to try to blend young players into a veteran clubhouse. Frankly, many of the young players coming up have won at Elizabethton, Cedar Rapids, Ft. Myers and Chattanooga over the past four years and they’re probably more equipped to create a “winning clubhouse atmosphere” at Target Field than the Twins’ veterans are.
I am not going to hold out much hope that the Twins will recover from their disastrous start to fight their way back into contention for even a wild card spot, but that doesn’t mean the season is over or that there shouldn’t/couldn’t be something well worth watching over the rest of the season.
It may not always be pretty and there will certainly be plenty for the haters to hate on, but it doesn’t have to be boring or meaningless – unless the front office allows it to become so.
Whether it is an update to WordPress 4.5 or to the latest update to our Theme, one or the other caused us to lose the ability to use our custom banner, so we’ve brought back our old, original theme, for now, just to be able to use a version of our banner. It’s kind of like wearing a throwback jersey. 🙂
We will be attempting to resolve this issue and/or looking for a new “look” for our blog. In the meantime, we will continue to post occasional articles, even if the site itself doesn’t look quite the way we would like it to.
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the upcoming 2016 Major League season and I’ve gone through every division thoroughly enough to make predictions that I am absolutely confident in.
Yeah, that’s a lie. In fact, that sentence included multiple lies. I’ve barely given a passing thought to the likely fortunes of any team in the National League, I can’t honestly say I’ve thoroughly considered any division and I’m not at all confident my predictions will be anything close to accurate.
Yet, here we are. The season is underway so I might as well make some predictions. After all, if I’m way off, I’ll never mention them again, but if I benefit from a healthy dose of dumb luck, I’ll have opportunities later in the season to link back to this post as evidence of how smart I am. Win-win.
Let’s start with the National League.
1 – Nationals, 2 – Mets, 3 – Marlins, 4 – Phillies, 5 – Braves
Almost everyone seems to be handing this division to the Mets, but I think the Nats’ roster is just better and Dusty Baker will whip that roster from start to finish. Of course, he may whip them so hard that the organization won’t be competitive again for a decade, but that’s a different issue.
Ordinarily, I couldn’t imagine any way the Phillies would escape the division cellar, but that was until I looked at the Braves’ roster.
1 – Giants, 2 – Dodgers, 3 – Diamondbacks, 4 – Padres, 5 – Rockies
As with the Mets, the Giants seem to be the consensus pick in their division. The Dodgers could be very good, but they also could be very mediocre. The Giants, at worst, will just be good, so I’ll take my chances with them.
1 – Pirates, 2 – Cubs, 3 – Cardinals, 4 – Reds, 5 – Brewers
Going back to swimming against the tide, I’m not going with the popular pick, which would be the Cubs. It has nothing to do with really not liking the Cubs or Cubs fans. Yeah, that’s another lie. It has everything to do with not liking the Cubs or their fans.
I do, however, really like the roster the Pirates have assembled and I think they’ll do very well.
NL Wild Card: I’m going with the Mets and Dodgers because the bottom three teams in their divisions are worse, in my opinion, than the bottom three in the Central. Oh, and I really don’t like the Cubs.
I’ll pick the Giants to win the National League pennant.
1 – Blue Jays, 2 – Yankees, 3 – Red Sox, 4 – Rays, 5 – Orioles
I’m not sure there’s a division in baseball with one team that is more clearly the favorite, in my mind, than the AL East. Maybe the Red Sox will be much improved and maybe the Yankees will find the fountain of youth. I don’t think either is particularly likely, but one (or both) could happen and the Jays could still be good enough to take the division.
1 – Astros, 2 – Mariners, 3 – Rangers, 4 – Athletics, 5 – Angels
I’d love to say I see the Astros regressing, but it’s just not likely. The Rangers are a popular dark horse pick, but I just don’t see it. I can, however, see Seattle bouncing back up into relevancy before Felix Hernandez’s career is completely wasted by the Mariners. And speaking of an organization completely wasting a future Hall of Famer’s career, the Angels are going to stink again, despite having the best player in baseball playing centerfield for them.
1 – Twins, 2 – Royals, 3 – Tigers, 4 – Indians, 5 – White Sox
I have three reasons for picking the Twins to win this division. One, I genuinely see them being much better than they were a year ago (at least if the decision to keep Nolasco in the Opening Day rotation is the last really costly decision the front office makes); two, there is no position in baseball in which one season’s exceptional performance is less likely to be repeated than that of relief pitcher and the Royals will not repeat if their bullpen suddenly becomes anything short of extraordinary. Combine that with three other teams who I simply can’t see as likely to be terribly strong and it means the Twins could see opportunity knock. Oh, and third, I really want to be able to point back to this post in October if the Twins do win this thing.
AL Wild Card: The Royals should easily get one of these spots. Frankly, I could see the Tigers getting the other, but I’m going to go with the Mariners because the AL West competition will be the worst of the three AL divisions.
I’ll take the Blue Jays to win the AL pennant and take home the championship trophy over the Giants in the World Series.
Now, please forget these picks unless and until a significant number of them turn out to be right and I link back to this post six or seven months from now.