Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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Still reeling with a hockey hangover, I'm at the Twins' game today at Target Field.
The season will be close to one-quarter finished by the end of the day, so it's getting to the time of year where statistical standards are more than just flukish.
The Twins rank fifth in the American League in runs scored. That's pretty good for a rebuilding team with a patchwork lineup. The concern is that the Twins may have already gotten the best offensive performances they're going to get from Chris Colabello, Jason Kubel, Kurt Suzuki and Trevor Plouffe.
The bullpen ERA of 3.59 ranks sixth in the American League, consistent with the belief that this is a strong bullpen when given a reasonable workload.
Here's what's worrisome: After spending all that money on two free-agent pitchers, and getting a few dominant outings out of Kyle Gibson, the best young pitcher in the current rotation, the Twins still entered Thursday's game with a league-worst 5.45 starting pitching ERA.
So in the Twins' pursuit of competence, they need to find a way to sustain their offensive performance (not likely) while improving the performance of their starting pitching. The latter is a necessity if the Twins are going to avoid losing 90 games again this year.
Did we learn anything during the Twins' Opening Day loss in Chicago?
Let's kick it around anyway.
Maybe my first and foremost takeaway from Opening Day is that it didn't feel like Opening Day. Two bad teams opening in one of baseball's worst ballparks on what promised to be (but wasn't) a cold day - that's a really bad idea.
Major League Baseball has flourished in a lot of ways under Bud Selig, but starting the season in Australia has robbed the openers in the continental US of their specialness.
Let's start this with a Top 15 list of places the Twins should open each season:
1. Miami. The Marlins' ballpark is funky, the weather is almost bound to be good (even if there is a little of the customary southern Florida light rain), and it's a two-hour drive from Fort Myers. A Twins fan could watch the final spring training games, then attend the season opener. Perfect.
2. Tampa Bay. See: Marlins. The Rays play in a terrible ballpark, but it is indoors, so Opening Day will at least occur on time.
3. Houston. Warm weather, easy flight, and a team the Twins might even have a chance to beat on Opening Day.
4. Texas: See: Houston. Except for the part about winning.
6. Cincinnati: Risk of colder weather, but Opening Day in Cincinnati should be the real opening day every season.
7. Yankee Stadium. Risk of colder weather, but what's better than Opening Day at Yankee Stadium?
8. Boston. Unless it's Opening Day at Fenway.
9. San Diego. Long flght to the coast, but perfect weather and a pretty good ballpark.
10. Los Angeles: See San Diego.
11. Anaheim: See Los Angeles.
12. Queens: A watered-down version on Opening Day in Yankee Stadium.
13. Baltimore. It's become a great baseball town again, with a great ballpark.
14. D.C.: Not a great ballpark, but an interesting team.
15. Pittsburgh. Perhaps the only ballpark in America that is remindful of Target Field, and better than Target Field. (Although part of the reason it's better is that it's bordered by two rivers.)
Back to the Twins' opener, and the hints that may have appeared within:
1. Joe Mauer did not look natural at first base. I think he can win a Gold Glove there, but he whiffed on one tough grounder and bobbled an easy one.
2. Josh Willingham's bat looked slow all spring, and he looked overmatched in his first at-bat against the exceptional Chris Sale, but he drove three balls to the outfield, and hit a couple of them pretty well. That's actually an encouraging sign.
3. Aaron Hicks, the subject of my Tuesday column, got two hits, but still has to prove he can hit big-league pitching from the left side.
4. Ricky Nolasco was disappointing. He should be a solid pitcher for the long run, but he didn't show great stuff or presence on Monday.
5. The Twins have to be really glad they didn't dump Anthony Swarzak last spring.
6. Brian Dozier has developed into a nice player, a quality defender who can drive the ball. He is not a leadoff hitter. He doesn't get on base enough.
7. The Twins have better prospects than the White Sox, but the Sox look like they're better prepared to make a jump in the victory column this season. Abreu could be a force, and the Sox have a real ace in Sale. The Sox might have the best combination of speed and power they've had in a long time, after years of looking like a slow-pitch softball team.
I hope Mike Zimmer isn't going to let Johnny Manziel's flamboyance dissuade him from drafting the kid. I don't think the Vikings will have a shot at Manziel, anyway, but writing off Manziel because of his personality may be like the Falcons trading Brett Favre because he partied too much.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at 12:15 with Judd & Mackey.
The Twins didn't play a horrible ballgame on Monday in the season opener, but they did lose, and the losing has become all too familiar.
Ricky Nolasco allowed 10 hits and five earned runs in six innings, and the Twins struck out 10 times.
Kurt Suzuki produced all three Twins' RBI after I ripped his placement in the No. 2 slot in the batting order. I'll stick with my stance - light-hitting players with low on-base percentages should not bat second in a big-league lineup.
Aaron Hicks went 2-for-3, and Chris Colabello went 2-for-4, but the Twins were no match for White Sox ace Chris Sale.
Phil Miller and myself will have full coverage later and in tomorrow's Star Tribune.
So my previous post addressed the importance of Aaron Hicks getting on base in the leadoff role. I still think that will be the key to the Twins' lineup for the bulk of the season, but Ron Gardenhire's first lineup is this:
I already hate this lineup.
For this team to be good, Hicks will have to be an offensive contributor. Suzuki is not a No. 2 hitter on any major-league club, not even the Twins. The rest of the lineup is essentially Gardenhire making the best of a bad situation, but there is no reason to bat one of your worst offensive players second in the order. You'd be better off batting Mauer leadoff, Dozier second, Willingham third, etc. This is a terrible sign.
He has a career .309 on-base percentage. He's an automatic out with no power. This is not a good decision.
I'll be on @1500ESPN at 12:15 to rip this lineup.
Chicago -- For some reason, I got to the ballpark about five hours before game time. Even though MLB has done all it can to ruin Opening Day by playing regular season games on the other side of the world to pretend the season has officially started, I can't stay away from the ballpark.
Paul Molitor is already testing the basepaths, and Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey are walking toward the bullpen at U.S. Cellular Field.
Wrote in today's paper about all the ways in which this Twins team needs to improve, but this can't be overstated or repeated enough: Aaron Hicks is a key to this team playing respectable baseball in so many ways.
If Hicks plays to his capabilities, the Twins will have a leadoff hitter who can get on base, run and drive the ball, and a centerfielder who can hold down the position capably all season.
If Hicks fails again, the top of the lineup will be in shambles, in a lineup that will already have automatic outs at the bottom of the order when Pedro Florimon and Kurt Suzuki start.
If Hicks succeeds, the Twins will finally have one of the top prospects they're counting on for the long-term up and running. If he fails, the future will be a lot harder to see, and a lot harder to care about.
In 2012, Hicks had a .384 on-base percentage at Class AA. Last year, he had a .259 on-base percentage in the majors and a .317 on-base percentage in the minors. He's still a five-tool talent who should be a big-league regular, if not a standout, for years. If he turns into a bust, this season will be hard to watch and the Twins' outfield of the future will be in flux.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at 12:15 with Mackey & Judd, and on WJON in St. Cloud tomorrow at 7:15. Those times are good for every weekday.
My Twitter handle is @Souhanstrib.
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