Now two months into the season, the Twins season has certainly been filled with ups and downs and a lot of surprises. So, with an off day at hand, I wish to go over the top three surprises and the top three disappointments.
1) Carlos Silva - Silva came into this year having had a solid 2004 season in which he won 14 games and had a respectable 4.21 ERA. Silva, however, also gave up 255 hits in 203 innings, a league high, and only struck out 76 batters. Those seemed to be signs that league batters were on to Silva and that this year, he could only take a step back. Instead, Silva has been the best and most reliable starter on the staff so far. He still has allowed more hits than innings (68 in 60 innings) and only has struck out 21, but thats Silva's established game now: he uses his sinker with nearly ever pitch, causes double play after double play. He is now 3-2 with a 2.85 and has had two straight great starts, including a complete-game. He has also provided, with Radke, a good example for Kyle Lohse on how to improve his pitching. Expect Silva to win at least 10-15 games this year with an ERA around 3.50.
2) Kyle Lohse - When Kyle Lohse was called up in 2001, there was a lot of hype. This was, after all, the winnings from the Rick Aguillera yard sale in 1998. Lohse, however, disappointed for a long time, never quite living up to his potential. With a strong pitch selection, Lohse has always had the tools. Now, he seems to be putting it all together. After a lousy start and a short banishment to the bullpen, Lohse has been great his past two starts as well. He's now 4-3 with a 4.22 ERA. Lohse finally made a key change that seems to have lead to this success, as he dropped his straight four-seamer and curveball in favor of a more Radke/Santanish selection of two-seamer, slider, and change-up. Now, having a little help from his peers, he is mastering the change-up. It seems that things can now only get better for Kyle and the Twins.
3) Jesse Crain - In a bullpen that is the best or at least one of the best in the majors, Jesse Crain was not expected to be the best reliever on the staff by a longshot. But, so far, he has been outstanding, going 5-0 so far with a .96 ERA. When Juan Rincon was suspended, it was Crain who stepped up into the set-up role and excelled in front of Joe Nathan. In all of the Twins' recent extra-inning victories, its been Crain who has stymied the opposing offense and picked up the win. With a great, moving fastball that has hit 100 and an outstanding slider, Crain is going right after hitters with lots of success. He should continue to be solid all-season and hopefully will be a key to the Twins going to the postseason. I just hope this time Gardenhire learns his lesson and uses Crain in key situations (Yankees anyone?) when he's needed most and when he's at his finest.
1) Torii Hunter- I have said it before, but I have to repeat myself: Torii has been awful this year, at bat and in the field. Yes, he has six HRs and RBIs, but he got most of those RBIs early on in a few games and his only hits recently seem to be with the bases empty. Torii is hitting .237 with a abysmal .307 on-base percentage for a number five hitter. He only positive has been his 13 stolen bases in 16 attempts. However, once again, most of those came early, when pitchers weren't on to him. Now, he has been caught three of his last 6 tries, as he now often looks foolish on the base paths. He also continues to flail at the same terrible breaking pitches, especially with men on base. And his biggest fall has been in his defense, where he has looked mediocre at best. Bad diving attempts, pitiful errors, errant throws, and so on. These are not what we expect from Torii Hunter. Nor do we expect him to place the blame on other players, after he appear to be the next true team leader. Thats the biggest disappointment.
2) Jason Bartlett - Jason Bartlett started the year as best he could, having a great spring training and stealing the starting shortstop job from Nick Punto, Juan Castro, and Alex Prieto. He looked poised to be a potential rookie of the year, showing great hitting in the minors and the potential for good defense. However, he hit just .242 with 2 HRs and 12 RBIs, feeling that he had lost his stroke and was sent down to the minors, giving way to Juan Castro's recent ascension to the starting role. Though Bartlett should have hit better, and likely will once he is called back up, the blame for this disappointment falls mainly on the management staff and front office, who decided to play both dice. Where they had infinite patience with the early struggles of Michael Cuddyer, they did not show the same patience to Bartlett. That's not fair play. I understand the logic, as Cuddyer won the job and was promised it and needed time to adjust to his new everyday job. But the same logic applies to Bartlett and if they wanted to let Cuddyer play, they should have done the same for Bartlett. Maybe he would be a large hitting streak now, but instead he's bumming in the minors waiting to get called back up to where he belongs.
3) Scott Ulger - The two main coaches on team besides Ron Gardenhire seemed to have their work cut out for them, yet they apparently have left it out to dry. I say this because bad, bad problems continue to plague Twins players and they are not getting fixed. From Brad Radke's first inning troubles (lately it hasn't been SO bad) to JC Romero's control problems to Torii Hunter's bad pitch selection to Justin Morneau's inability to hit the outside pitch, nothing has been touced. How can we expect Morneau to hit 40 HRs if he can't adjust or be helped to make the right adjustments when pitchers start to hit the outside corner on him? That's Ulger's job, but where is he? How can we expect Romero to be a great reliever if Anderson doesn't constantly work on his control issues and his confidence? And lastly, how can we blame the players if all the other guys aren't doing their jobs either? Anderson isn't completely to blame and he's done a good job all-around with a so-far phenomenal overall pitching staff. At some point, J.C. must work out his issues. However, Ulger certainly needs to get it together, because he isnt doing enough or showing that he is even trying.