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.
Here's the starting point: Anyone who cares about the Twins want things to be better, unless you're the person who watches NASCAR only for the crashes or hockey only for the fights. No matter the level of suspicion that we brought to the first week of the season, fans wanted to start building a case that enough things would be better to compensate for the areas that are still lacking.
Watching Chris Colabello bring home seven runs in Thursday's and Friday's games is that kind of salve.
But I'm hard pressed through this first weekday of games to give you anything beyond that Exhibit A, and I have little for you to counter the argument that Friday's loss in Cleveland was a return to the same old same old. The "best" thing that happened was the game being delayed long enough by weather that I could give it a thorough viewing.
Here we go:
*Twins take a 2-0 lead and blow a chance to expand it when Joe Vavra, the third-base coach, made the horrific decision to send home Kurt Suzuki on Brian Dozier's two-out single to left in the second inning. Cleveland's left fielder had the ball as Suzuki reached third base. The bad judgment ended the inning instead of giving Joe Mauer a chance to bat with the bases loaded.
*No hitting in clutch situations. The Twins loaded the bases with one out in the fifth, when they were still ahead 2-0, and failed to score. Down 7-2, they had runners on second and third with one out in the eighth and again didn't score. Dozier's hit mentioned above was the only one Friday with runners in scoring position.
*In the sixth, Suzuki struck out on an awful swing (on a 3-and-2 pitch) that resulted in a double play when Oswaldo Arcia was easily thrown out at second. Suzuki has done more than his share of heavy lifting on offense through these first four games, which makes it even more painful to bring up that single shortcoming. But it was flat-out glaring.
*Here's a statistic: Colabello, Suzuki and Trevor Plouffe have 18 hits through four games. The rest of the team has 19. Those three have a combined .419 average; everyone else is a combined .181. Without naming names, "everyone else" includes the guys who are supposed to carry the offense. (This also is my first chance in 2014 to use the phrase "small sample size," but I'm citing this to show only that the Twins are getting a chunk of offense from some unexpected sources.)
*It's only one start, but the Mike Pelfrey of 2014 didn't inspire much confidence with his sudden meltdown in the sixth. He retired 12 straight, battled through the fifth and then melted down in the sixth -- exiting after giving up two home runs and three walks, not to mention giving up the lead. The bullpen didn't bail him out.
*Bert Blyleven rightfully called out the defense for misplaying a rundown in the fifth inning that allowed the batter to reach second base on a grounder to Pelfrey. No harm came from the misplay, but it did nothing for any notion that the Twins are improved at basic things you need to do well to compensate for the things you don't.
*Another reminder of 2013: The Twins struck out 11 times.
Most of the numbers with certainly right themselves. Joe Mauer won't hit .125 with a .263 on-base percentage and the bullpen won't yield an earned run per inning (13 ER in 13 1/3 innings, so far). But neither is Colabello going to get extra bases in two of every three hits or Plouffe and Suzuki have an OPS (on base-plus-slugging percentage) north of 1.000.
The issue will become whether that evening-out process will result in something better than what we've been seeing for the last few years. I really want to build you a case for optimism. But if you've read this far, you'd be too smart to buy it.
Maybe we can try again in a couple of weeks.
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