April could be an especially important month for Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, whose team is off to an 0-4 start after losing 99 games last year.
Marlin Levison, Star Tribune
Souhan: Brutal April might set ominous tone for Twins
- Article by: JIM SOUHAN
- Star Tribune
- April 10, 2012 - 10:47 PM
Baseball writers spend a lot of time reminding fans just how long the season is, just how dangerous it is to draw conclusions from a series, or a week, or even a month.
The 2012 Twins are different from most teams in the game today, and most teams in franchise history. Here are the reasons to believe that a poor April performance this season could be more pivotal than most:
1. The new Pohlad factor
Carl Pohlad never fired a manager or general manager. Jim Pohlad fired General Manager Bill Smith after Smith's first losing season.
From what I've gathered from sources throughout the organization, that was the right call. Under Smith, the organization had developed problems at all levels, and there is no comparison between Terry Ryan and Smith as bosses and talent evaluators.
It was still a surprising move for a franchise known for patience and loyalty.
Many people in the organization also believe that Joe Pohlad, who works in ballpark operations, is becoming an important voice in the organization, and he, like Jim, is not thought to think in terms of patience or loyalty. The Pohlads want a return on their investment, and expect Target Field to be filled.
While I don't believe Terry Ryan would fire manager Ron Gardenhire, it would be foolish to think that the new Pohlads will be patient with the field staff if the losing continues. And what if this team implodes and Ryan refuses a Pohlad command to fire Gardenhire? Would Ryan suddenly remember the "interim" adjective in front of his title?
Ryan and Gardenhire give the Twins the appearance of stability, but no one knows what the Pohlads will do if the team embarrasses them again.
2. The payroll factor
After the Twins lost 99 games in 2011, the Pohlads cut the payroll from $115 million to $100 million. The Pohlads always have stated that their spending would be based on revenue. If the Twins flop this April and are effectively eliminated from contention, attendance figures to dramatically drop. That could mean a smaller payroll for 2013 and an angry fan base that believes Target Field should fund well-paid teams.
3. The Pittsburgh and Baltimore factor
The Pirates and Orioles are former model franchises with two of the best ballparks in America. The Pirates haven't had a winning season since 1992. The Orioles haven't had a winning season since 1997. For the Twins, a bad April will raise the specter of franchise collapse.
4. The dispersion factor
The Twins' April schedule is brutal. It would not be surprising to see the Twins finish the month with a record of 8-15, or 5-18.
If the Twins can't stay in contention, they might be forced to trade away any veteran who doesn't figure to be part of their rebuilding plans in mid-summer, meaning a bad April could turn this season into extended spring training.
5. The superteam factor
The winning Twins of 2001-2010 took a advantage of a weak division. This season, there are six superteams in the American League. The Detroit Tigers have taken control of the American League Central.
Since the Twins returned to relevance in 2001, they have never faced this level of competition, and even their best teams of the last decade struggled against the elite teams of the American League. A lousy April would provide confirmation that the 2012 Twins are outclassed by the best teams in the league.
6. The personality factor
While the concept of individual leadership in baseball can be overrated, the best Twins teams in recent history relied on players who took pride in playing the game with energy and intelligence.
Over the last 166 games, the Twins have not merely performed poorly, they have often played stupidly and lethargically. Following a spring training devoted to fundamentals, this team has already made a handful of silly mistakes.
Twins players will remind you that it's a long season. That's not comforting to the many people in the organization who, four games into the 2012 campaign, already fear the worst.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2013 Star Tribune