With a day off today, the Twins are officially done with April. As Twins recall with great disgust, last year's April also ended with a series in Detroit that is best symbolized with the numbers 33 and 1. In Jesse Crain's last April outing last year, it was in a 18-1 blowout and Crain also gave up a run. He ended that April with a 7.50 ERA. This time around, he ends April with a 6.30 ERA.
Crain ended last year with a 3.52 after a vastly superior second-half, in which he went 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA. Thats compared to a first half 5.03 ERA, despite having a 2.03 ERA in June. The question, of course, is should we be worried about Crain struggling again when he looked like he got it together again at the end of last year. Much of the answer comes in Crain's April numbers from both this year and last year.
This year, despite the high ERA, Crain has allowed 10 hits in 10 innings compared to 20 in 12 April innings last year. Crain also allowed three home runs last year in April, though he did strike out 11 in those 12 innings. This year he has only struck out five, but he has given two home runs. Two doesn't sound like a lot, but in 10 innings, its quite significant. Granted, the home run he allowed to Juan Uribe in the April 8 game against Chicago was innocous because the Twins won, but yesterday's hurt a lot more.
With a chance to sweep the Tigers and close this April with the opposite result to a series in Detroit, Crain allowed a Brandon Inge walk-off home run in the ninth inning. I can't really compalin about winning a series in Detroit, considering that they are some of baseball's best competition. However, a 14-11 record April is not as good as it may seem.
Last year, the Twins had April series against Toronto, Cleveland, Oakland, New York, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Chicago, Kansas City, and Detroit. That team ended April with a 9-15 record. Though they won series against Oakland and New York, the only other series they won was against Kansas City. This year, the Twins have had series against Baltimore, Chicago, New York, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Seattle, Kansas City, and Detroit. The schedule certainly has been friendlier, but the result hasn't been a far and away great record.
May starts off easy enough for the Twins, with a series in Tampa Bay, but they will play Chicago six times along with series against Boston, Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto, and the surprising NL West-leading Milwaukee Brewers. The only other easy series will come against the Texas Rangers and the suddenly-speaks-English-against-Slammin' Sammy Sosa.
Somebody like Crain is going to be important in May. This coming month, the Twins will not only be challenged more, but they will certainly have lots of decisions on their hands. Sidney Ponson might be ok in another start against a mediocre team, but the sooner he goes, the better. Offenses like that of Boston, Cleveland, and Toronto will mercilessly tie off against him. Expect the home runs only to mount and the countdown to a Scott Baker or Kevin Slowey sighting to end.
Because Ponson will be in the rotation and likely not pitching many innings, the Twins need some of their bullpen members like Crain to step up. Crain hasn't been very good and I choose to talk about him because of what happened last year in April and because of the big homer he gave up, but Dennys Reyes has been far worse. Right now, Juan Rincon, Joe Nathan, Matt Guerrier, and Pat Neshek all have sub-3.00 ERAs, but they all have also pitched more innings than Crain or Reyes. Both these guys have to step up in big games in the next month to take pressure of the rest of the bullpen.
Of course, there is too much to complain about when the pitching staff has posted a 3.96 ERA in April. Last year at the end of April, the ERA was an unsightly 6.28. Its a big improvement thats due to Ramon Ortiz and Carlos Silva making big contributions next to Johan Santana instead of Scott Baker being the only Twins starter with a sub-4.00 ERA at the end of the month. The schedule as helps, but as we turn the calender to May, things will be getting harder for the Twins.
As for yesterday's game, the Twins offense performed better than expected against starter Mike Maroth, but still did not do quite enough. While Torii Hunter had another extra-base hit with a home run off of Maroth to tie the game in the sixth, the Twins only other run-scoring game on a two-run double off the bat of Jason Kubel. The Twins 3-4-5 hitters Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, and Justin Morneau went 0-for-10 with two walks, providing no offense from the hitters the Twins expect the most out of.
As for Hunter, he ends April with a torrid .326 average and .651 slugging percentage, due to his thirteen doubles and five home runs, but he walked only two times all month, leaving him with a .352 OBP. Last April was a entirely different story, as Hunter ended the month with a pathetic .189/.240/.378 line. Lets hope Hunter keeps it up and some other Twins hitters heat up a little more when better competition comes to town.