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.
What do the Yankees, Red Sox and Twins have in common? They're all 0-3.
The difference between the Eastern teams and the local team is in the likelihood of losing 100 games or so.
Even before things started to come unwired toward the end of spring training, the debate over the weakest team in the AL Central always included a heavy dose of Twins talk. That was before Justin Morneau was relegated to DH and two of the expected five starting pitchers opened the season not in the rotation.
A team without much margin for error, even to reach .500, was being forced into make-do mode before the first pitch in Baltimore.
Add to that the compromises that had been struck by design and the recipe is there for an awkward season that could turn the Twins into successors to the pre-Rubio Timberwolves in how they are perceived in Minnesota.
Some of the compromises were on glaring display during the opening series of losses to the Orioles.
*When Morneau is the full-time DH -- a best-use decision for his health -- it means that Ryan Doumit has to use a glove. When he was signed as a free agent, the Twins made it clear that it was for his bat, not his defense. On Friday, he misplayed a deep fly ball into a triple -- taking a bad route and having the ball go off his glove -- that helped Baltimore stretch its 2-0 lead into 4-0. Ben Revere was the starting right fielder in the next two games, a compromise because his subpar arm is more suited for left, the position that Josh Willingham is playing, Gardy said, because Willingham is more comfortable there. (If you missed it, Willingham mishandled two balls for errors on Saturday.)
*The starting rotation is compromised by its reliance on hope: Hope that Francisco Liriano's spring training is more indicative of how he'll do than his 2011 season, that Scott Baker would be healthy and Carl Pavano would return to something close to his 2010 form. Saturday's start for Liriano was promising -- until the second inning. Baker, who should be the strongest starter, is out with arm problems and Jason Marquis isn't ready yet because of the attention he's properly paid to his daughter's health. Add to that Liam Hendricks' food-poising bout and Pavano's lack of velocity on Opening Day and the Twins are 5-for-5 in rotation issues just three games into the season. Are we going to have to hear about 2012 as Perfect Storm, the sequel?
*Over the winter, Terry Ryan opted to duplicate the painful path of 2011 in regard to looking for relievers. The Twins opted against the numerous veterans who were on the market -- save for re-signing Matt Capps -- in favor of another venture to the discard rack for guys no longer wanted by their previous employers. A bunch of them didn't make it out of spring training; a couple of them didn't look so good in Baltimore. Just after the TV guys were talking Saturday about Jared Burton's track record of not giving up home runs, two guys took him deep. Matt Maloney turned 1-0 into 3-0 on Sunday, in part because of a glaring mental mistake that resulted in a double steal. (See: Doing the little things right.) You were warned that a good March means little in April. Anyone remember Keith Comstock? Joe Klink? Tom Klawitter? Don't make me recite three decades of names.
Beyond those compromises, the Twins spent the opening series making three Orioles starting pitchers with mediocre (at best) career records look like C.J. Wilson, Jared Weaver and Dan Haren, the three Angels pitchers whom the Twins are scheduled to face at Target Field this week. Will the Twins will make those three look like Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller and Bert Blyleven? And for all of the appreciation of Anthony Swarzak's work on Sunday, if he wore Orioles colors, we'd be talking about him in the same terms that we've used for that team's starters.
Also, Gardy had issues with Danny Valencia's defense, Burton and Joe Mauer's inability to grasp the scouting report on Nick Markakis (No changeups, darn it) and Maloney's failure to watch runners. Combine that with a top-of-the-order that got four singles in three games and the other statistical shortcomings that should shake themselves out, and you have 0-3 with the next 10 games against postseason-built opponents.
Allow me to cherry-pick some numbers for a second: The Twins managed to finish 36 games under .500 in 2011 despite a midseason stretch of winning 30 out of 50 games. Take away that middle third and the Twins, counting this year's opening series, have a .287 winning percentage (33-82) going back to the start of last season.
For those of you who need to bring a math question to class this week, try this: A team that plays .287 baseball over a 162-game season suffers how many losses?
I'm not saying it will be that bad. The 1991 Twins lost nine of their 11 games (with Jack Morris going 0-3, 6.38) before getting straightened out and winning the World Series. The 1987 Twins, the other Series champions, gave up more runs than they scored and had a .358 winning percentage on the road.
Teams can find ways to overcome their shortcomings, so you'd be jumping to conclusions by kissing off the season with 159 games to play. (Offstage voice: OK, I'll give it another week.)
I am saying that the first weekend of games gave us very little about which to be optimistic. Will the first week of home games be any different?
You're not foolish to wonder.
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