Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
The Twins have been awful beyond expectations through the first 15 games of this season. The higher-profile shortcomings - Mauer's health, Nathan's ineptitude and self-demotion, Liriano's run-per-inning performance and Nishioka's struggles and injury - have masked the other things that have gone quite wrong. Poor fundamentals, bad situational hitting, wildness on the mound and a life-during-wartime power blackout are some of the bigger ones. And the pitching looks even worse when the offense scores three runs or fewer in 2 of every 3 games and fails to ever score more than five.
Michael Cuddyer had been to bat 57 times without an RBI. That not only reflects poorly on him, but of the players batting in front of him who have steadfastly refused to get on base. You would think Cuddyer would find a way to get someone across home plate, somehow, in that many times at the plate. An error scoring a runner from third, maybe. A pop-up lost in the sun. A bases-loaded walk. I mean, it's harder NOT to get an RBI or five while playing regularly for more than two weeks, right? And swinging blindfolded should yield an OPS+ higher than his current 46.
Justin Morneau is back, which is great, but the hitting-the-ball-on-the-nose excitement has worn thin. No home runs and a .552 OPS In 14 starts is worrisome, not to mention his OPS+ of 56. Nobody expected Morneau to come back without missing a beat from the MVP-candidate numbers he put up during the first half of last season, but most people expected better than Mientkiewicz-in-a-slump statistics. There's lots of time to make things better, but I'd like it if Morneau clobbered a couple over the wall this week in Baltimore.
Delmon Young is looking like the pre-2010 model (.222/.278/.549) complete with too many of the undisciplined at-bats that used to feed his critics' disdain. That needs to change.
I could go on breaking down offensive numbers, but I think Dick'n'Bert said it best, if somewhat hamhandedly, when they mentioned that the .355 slugging percentage Jim Thome brought into Sunday's game looked good in comparison to most others on the team. Another comparison: His 2010 slugging percentage was .627.
Sorry to bring him up, but the Twins' team slugging percentage is .321; Nick Punto's career slugging percentage is .322. (Admit it, some of you were craving a Punto reference.)
Back to Thome: Forgive my curmudgeon streak, but I'll like the just-debuted Thome-as-Paul Bunyan commercial better after a couple more bombs. I want him to be 40-looking-like-35 at the plate, and so far that hasn't been the case.
It is beyond debate that Denard Span and Jason Kubel are the only regulars who aren't underperforming. Combine that with defensive lapses and a pitching staff that's ninth, 10th or 11th in every box score category, and it makes total sense that the Twins are 5-10, frustrated and giving a primer in what it's like to root for the Royals.
Sunday's victory was a nice interlude, but it shouldn't take four excellent outfield plays - an area that troubled many of us when the season started - for the Twins to beat someone. And Kubel will get killed if he has hit the wall twice a game to make catches.
Now keep in mind the second part of this post's headline: The part about hope.
So far, Minnesota isn't the only outpost of putrid play in the AL Central. If you agree that Kansas City and Cleveland will not sustain their first-two-weeks performance - and will tumble to the division's depths - we can look at the "secondary standings" within the Central. By that measure, the Twins trail Detroit by 1 1/2 games and the White Sox by 2, with 147 games to play. Both of those teams have warts, too.
If Mauer gets righted and Morneau finds his power groove, the offense will improve. Take that back. The offense will improve, no matter what. Book it, if only because it can't remain this bad. If Nathan doesn't get right, I'm willing to trust Matt Capps with the end game, and will expect Bill Smith to again cobble together a bullpen. Taking time to watch and learn may be the best thing to settle down Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who learned from Nick Swisher the price of not playing all the time in the highest gear.
The 5-10 start is more noticeable because it's our first impression of 2011.
It should remind you of a pretty wretched 5-10 stretch the Twins put together in the second half of last June, a stretch that came against National League teams against which the Twins usually thrive. The difference is that the Twins started and finished that skid in first place, and then went on to bust open the division. (It also reminds me of last season's Philadelphia Phillies, the offensive powerhouse that scored 14 runs in 11 games during one stretch. That stuff happens.)
If I'm wrong about things turning around, we'll have a summer of grumbling. We can debate whose heads should roll; who should be cut loose, traded or put on trial, and what has to be done to make things right.
If I'm right, then we can commence with the discussions about getting good enough to go beyond the first week in October. You know, the ace pitcher argument and roster upgrades and finding a way to avoid the Yankees.
I'm looking forward to when the grousing turns in that direction.
(Many thanks to those of you who have checked in with me by email while I've been recovering from foot surgery. I'm still rehabbing, and looking forward to being on two feet sometime soon.)
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