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Monday, April 23, 2012

Twins Brave Faces not Fooling Anyone

Since the beginning of a young 2012 season the rhetoric from the Twins Clubhouse has been the same: ‘This is not the same club that lost 99 games in 2011’. This is a thought that has been echoed constantly by both Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan as well as by several veteran players, so often in fact, that it has me wondering if the Twins organization truly believes this.

The Twins are currently sitting at 5-11, fourth in the AL Central, ahead only of the surprisingly bad Kansas City Royals. In some ways the message of the Twins leadership couldn’t be truer. After a hapless opening series sweep in Baltimore the Twins have started to play better baseball and have picked up offensively. The Twins are currently 9th on the Major Leagues in team batting average at .257, 14th in OBP at .317 and 6th in hits with 140 through the first sixteen games of the season. Despite this the Twins are only 21st in runs scored, 18th in home runs and 19th in RBI.

It was inevitable that the Twins would break out of their opening funk as they have some powerful bats in their lineup. Josh Willingham has proven more than an adequate replacement for Michael Cuddyer taking a .328/.425/.655 with 5 HR and 12 RBI into the last days of April and is doing exactly hat he was brought in to do. Despite this improved offensive effort, the Twins might find themselves losing over 90 games again this season, for one reason only, their starting rotation.

The Twins are indeed a different team from last year; they have not nearly had the number of injury concerns in the early going. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have been healthy and performing well and aside from Nick Blackburn missing a start primarily as a precautionary measure with forearm soreness the only real injury blow the Twins have been dealt was that of Scott Baker; and what a blow it was.

I have said this before and I will say it again. The Twins rotation is simply not good enough to compete at a big league level. Let’s take a look at how they have fared in the early going. Through 16 starts, the Twins rotation (including Swarzak) has an ERA of 6.39, a combined WHIP of 1.60 and opposing hitters are hitting a combined .305 against Twins starters. Granted there are some things to consider. Jason Marquis has only made one start, Francisco Liriano has looked truly horrible and the rotation has been a little uneven without Blackburn over the last week or so. There are certainly positives too. Liam Hendriks has looked excellent in his first two starts and looks as though he could mature into a solid middle of the rotation starter. Carl Pavano has pitched solidly in his last two starts but been undone by one bad pitch on each occasion. What the Twins have on their books currently is 4 guys who are realistically back end number 4 or 5 starters and Francisco Liriano; who looks in line for a demotion to AAA unless he gets back on track quickly.

Bullpen bound? Or even Rochester Bound?
I take a great deal of frustration reading blogs and articles as well as the messaging from the Twins Clubhouse that paints an unrealistic picture of the Twins rotation. Yes the Twins have always had a focus on ‘pitching to contact’, of letting their sound fundamental defense do the work, but this philosophy is now so ingrained in the minds of Twins fans that we have come to expect pitching mediocrity from our starters. I can’t remember the last Twins game I watched where I saw a starting pitcher go 8 IP+ and give up 2 or less runs (I believe it as the last game of the 2011 season, when Pavano tossed a 5 hit shut out against the Royals). My point is simply this. The Twins pitching philosophy has weakened our rotation and bullpen to the point that it is not capable of mounting a challenge in a competitive AL Central division. The Twins minor league system, while housing some solid prospects, has very few MLB worthy arms (the exception would be Kyle Gibson, but his status is uncertain while returning from Tommy John surgery). The Twins are ideally placed in this years draft to begin reversing this trend. If this franchise is to consistently get back to winning ways, we need to start by getting a bunch of young, high ceiling, winning arms. Any thoughts?

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