Monday, April 10, 2006

Stumbling Out of the Gates

The season has gotten off to a rough start for the Twins. They've lost five of their first six games, smothering a lot of early optimism. The pitching has not been good. The offense started out hot, but in the last couple days it has looked about as inept as it did last year. The Twins' hitters have fallen back into the extremely frustrating trend of making mediocre pitchers look like Cy Young contenders. Against Roy Halladay, three runs is acceptable. Against Jason Johnson, zero runs is not. Indians' starter Jake Westbrook retired 14 straight batters at one point in yesterday's 3-2 Twins loss.

Rondell White has been extremely disappointing thus far. In 22 at-bats this season, he has collected just 2 hits (one of which was a weak dribbler down the third base line for an infield single), and he's struck out 8 times. I was raving about White throughout the preseason, defending him against those who said the Twins were foolish not to sign a more legitimate power hitter like Frank Thomas or Mike Piazza. I remain confident that White will have a good year once he settles into his role, but his performance in these first six games has been disconcerting to say the least.

Stick and Ball Guy's got the numbers for the Twins over their first five games, and they're not pretty. The first time through the Twins' rotation didn't produce one quality start. In his second start yesterday, Johan Santana looked better but still allowed 3 earned runs and took the loss. He might have gotten out of it with only one run allowed had Juan Rincon not entered the game in the sixth and done his best J.C. Romero impression, allowing both inherited runners to score.

The Twins have looked totally overmatched by both of their first two opponents, and I'm nervous. I'm scared that the Twins are going to struggle to play .500 ball this year and will not be legitimate playoff contenders. Perhaps I've been spoiled by the last five years of winning baseball, but I'm not ready to go back to the way things were.

With that said, even with the extremely low quality of play thus far, there are some reasons for optimism. Francisco Liriano has looked terrific. He has appeared in two games, pitching 5 and 2/3 innings and allowing just four hits while striking out 7 and issuing no walks. This begs the question: How long until Liriano breaks the starting rotation? He has been the best pitcher on the team so far, and he is molded to be a starter. If things are even half as bad as they've looked so far, the Twins can't afford to not have Liriano starting, and I would not be at all surprised to see him and Scott Baker switch spots if Baker has a couple more shaky starts. Offensively, things should get better. We know guys like White, Jason Kubel, and Luis Castillo are capable of a lot more than they've shown so far. One has to think those guys are going to turn it around and start hitting better.

Whatever the case, it is imperative that the Twins string some wins together in their upcoming homestand. It won't be easy, as they open their home schedule tomorrow against the Oakland Athletics, one of the better teams in the majors. As we explained a while back, the Twins need to keep their heads above water against this tough early schedule or they may dig themselves into a hole they cannot climb out of.

4 comments:

Mike said...

I agree Kubel can add more to the offense. My cynical concern is if he can't get it going before Sierra is healthy, the Twins will send him to Bartlett's house in Rochester. The Twins can't be that stupid...can they?

Nick N. said...

Aaron Gleeman has an interesting article today discussing Terry Ryan's poor historical record of developing young hitters, jerking them around endlessly between the minors and majors and coaching them away from their strengths. Considering this misguided organizational philosophy, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Kubel in Rochester in a few weeks if he continues slumping.

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