Guts and Small Ball

AP Photo by Jim Mone

Francisco Liriano was almost as disappointing as Nelson Liriano. There has been a disquieting wave of injuries—to Michael Cuddyer, Kevin Slowey, Adam Everett, Scott Baker, Nick Punto, and, most depressingly, to Pat Neshek.

The offense has been erratic; the power and team on base percentage alarming. Up and down the lineup the new additions—and there are scads of new additions—have been underperforming at the plate. The bullpen has been as shaky as it’s been in years, and seems ill equipped to absorb the Neshek blow.

On paper, certainly, the Twins appear to be a team with all sorts of concerns, and so far almost any close scrutiny of the stats would seem to bear that out.

And yet—at this point, at least—every team should have such concerns.

The question, of course, is how the hell are the Twins doing it? How the hell do they even hang with a team like the Red Sox, let alone take three-of-four from the most powerful, most multi-dimensionally talented team in the universe? How has a team that has allowed more runs than it has scored, and that is thirteenth out of fourteen AL teams in both homeruns and OBP, managed to grind its way to twenty wins and first place in the Central?

That’s a damn good question, and I’m not sure I have an answer for you. It might well be a fluke. The Twins have handled the Central so far (at a 13-8 clip), and they’ve been pretty dominant at home (14-7). Where things get a bit worrisome is in the team’s numbers with runners in scoring position (.311 BA, .371 OBP, and .452 SLG) and runners in scoring position with two outs (.315, .376, and .420). In a freakish season (or in the case of a freakishly good hitter), an individual might sustain those sorts of numbers over 162 games, but you pretty much expect that they’ll eventually level out for the team and be more reflective of their overall performance, which so far hasn’t been terrific, to say the least. A small ball team in today’s American League pretty much has to have a dominant pitching staff. They certainly can’t expect to lead the league in homers allowed and live to drink champagne in the post season.

The Minnesota pitching staff, from the starters to the bullpen, has been gutsy. It’s been crafty. It’s battled and pitched in and out of jams and, on the nights the Twins have won, generally been just good enough. There hasn’t, though, been the domination we came to expect from Johan Santana every five days, and, in recent years, from the back end of the pen. Joe Nathan has been (mostly) his usual stout self, but with Neshek sidelined there’s a level of pressure—and right now it sort of still feels like desperation—that we’re unaccustomed to feeling in the late innings. Is anyone yet feeling entirely comfortable with any of our seventh- and eighth-inning options? If we’re going to have to start extending guys like Rincon, Reyes, and Crain (all of whom have battled arm problems) what kind of trouble are we potentially looking at or asking for?

I fully realize that at this point that’s just typical neurosis, but given what’s transpired thus far it also sort of feels like unpardonable gratitude, so like everybody else I’ll just wait and see and hope.

The division has obviously been a bit of a mystery in the early going, and everybody seems to be battling some problem or another. I’ve said previously that I think the Detroit Tigers are facing a constellation of problems that are going to bedevil them the rest of the way, and I still believe that. They obviously have the potential to put up outrageous offensive numbers, but they’ve been up and down, and their starting pitching has been putting them in a hole night after night; if I’m not mistaken, twelve of their sixteen wins have been come-from-behind affairs, and that shit will wear on even the best offense.

The White Sox? Can’t stand them, and I expect them to be as erratic as their manager all season (if Ozzie doesn’t get fired).

The team that’s been lurking in the weeds for the first six weeks—and, actually, they’ve just started lumbering ashore and shaking off the milfoil—is the Cleveland Indians. As exciting and unexpected as the Twins’ performance has been, am I alone in feeling more than a little bit queasy about the fact that, even after taking three-of-four from Boston, our local nine still finds itself with just a game-and-a-half cushion?

Finally, for all of us Jason Kubel fans—and there must be at least a couple dozen of us out here—is it time to shut up and accept that our pet project is entering Rich Becker territory? I suspect we may have no choice if Craig Monroe continues to energize the team with his offense and take away Kubel’s at bats. And after watching Monroe the last week I’m prepared to admit that I was probably wrong about him, provided, of course, that he continues to prove me wrong. Which, since I really am a fan, would make me nothing but happy.







Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.