When we were leaving Target Field after the Twins' Opening Day victory over Cleveland, I used the line I typically use when something good happens in the first few days of the season: "Hey, we better start putting money in the playoff ticket fund, huh?"
In the past -- and maybe even that afternoon -- saying that has typically been more of a skeptical reality check than a reason to keep a separate entry in the household financial records.
This year, even with 127 games remaining in the season, I can say it without rolling my eyes.
Keep in mind there are no guarantees. Baseball's roadside is filled with hot starts followed by the realities of a long season, and there are still any number of issues that could confront the Twins as the months wear on, The bullpen's possible implosion. The health of a veteran roster, not to mention Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. The potential for improvement by currently struggling Cleveland.
But working in real time, there's been some pretty thrilling stuff going on, and I've been framing some of it in relation to the Twins of years gone by. Indulge me some of those comparisons.
Paul Molitor vs. Rocco Baldelli: I did a pregame interview before the Twins-Orioles series with a Baltimore broadcasting crew and described the difference between them as the difference between playing for a team managed by your father compared to a team managed by your hipster older brother. Being the "father who used to coach," I am certain beyond a doubt that most players would prefer the latter. Baldelli gets the contemporary game, and all of the things surrounding it, in a way that I suspect was a bigger challenge for Molitor. My hesitation in making more of a deal out of this is that we had four seasons of Molitor managing the Twins vs. three months of Baldelli. I need to see some leaner times, and how Baldelli and his staff respond to them, before I'm totally sold. But the change, combined with the fact that the Twins no longer appear to be playing catch-up with analytics and other current baseball necessities, looks like a move for the better.
Buxton vs. Buxton: Truth No. 1. Byron Buxton would add value to the Twins as a .200 hitter because of his elite skills in center field., Truth No. 2: Buxton needs to stay healthy because there is a significant defensive drop-off without him. Truth 3: Buxton isn't likely to become an OPS monster or a power hitter..My hope would be for him to stay healthy enough to play 140 games, get a better sense of the strike zone (read: draw more walks) and have more extra-base hits than singles. Before this season, 41% of Buxton's hits were for extra bases. This year, it's 67%. I'll take the midpoint between those numbers (54%), knowing that many of his singles (and walks) will become "speedster doubles" because of his base-stealing ability.,
Schoop vs. Dozier: Anybody miss Brian Dozier anymore? In case you're a fan who likes to purge former Twins from your memory, Dozier's slash line with the Washington Nationals is .196/.308/.348. Jonathan Schoop's is .284/.331/.526. You can make any comparison that you'd like right now and Schoop comes out ahead, including an OPS+ of 126 to Dozier's 73. In other words, that makes Schoop (to this point), the Eduardo Escobar of the 2019 Twins while Dozier is the, ummmm, Logan Morrison of the Nationals in terms of last season's OPS+.numbers. (You remember Logan Morrison, right?)
Mauer vs Cron: No, I'm not going to make the argument that C.J. Cron is a full replacement for Joe Mauer. I have a little bit of an ache for Mauer in wondering -- if he'd stuck around for another season -- about how he would perform in the offensive surrounded by the other new players. I kind of wish he'd stuck around for one more season. My question to you all: If you replaced Cron with Mauer on the 2019 Twins, where would you put him in the batting order. First? Second? Seventh?
Perez vs. Santana: Again, I'm not going to make a real comparison between an all-time Twins star and a pitcher who will make his sixth start for the Twins this weekend against Detroit. But we tend to forget how Johan Santana struggled during his early seasons with the Twins, when he was forced to stay on the roster as a Rule 5 draft selection and then in the netherworld between starting pitcher and long reliever. Martin Perez is a journeyman with a .500 record in his two seasons as a full-time starter. But the makeover of his pitching style speaks to his willingness to change, and the ability of the new pitching coach, Wes Johnson, to figure out his issues. A 5-0, 2.44 start, augmented by the peripheral data from Perez' starts, is a pretty solid beginning. Even with some regression, you can't dispute that the acquisition was a good one and the work that's gone into his game is paying off for the Twins.
That's it for now. You can make other comparisons and you can also wonder what's ahead. I worry about the bullpen and whether six weeks is really a sign of an excellent six months, to cite two examples. But it's better than watching some of the clown shows that have been passed off in recent seasons as major league baseball.
This is how
we to play baseball.