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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What's most amazing about the Twins' 6-15 record is how many things have gone right for them this year.
Less than a month into the season, it looks like Josh Willingham was an excellent signing, that Jamey Carroll and Ryan Doumit are as advertised - Carroll an excellent fielder and Doumit a versatile guy with some pop. And all three are professionals.
Denard Span, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have been iron men, with Mauer playing every inning of every game and Morneau even volunteering to play first base when the Twins were happy to leave him at DH.
But in baseball, when your starting pitching fails, your team fails, no matter how your position players are faring.
Enter Sunday's game, the Twins' starters' ERA was 7.01, easily the highest in the American League. Jason Marquis hung in for six innings on Sunday, and the Twins won, 7-4.
The Twins' current problem is also their everlasting problem: Amassing starting pitching quality and depth.
Remember, they traded for Johan Santana, Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan, Eric Milton, Joe Mays and Carl Pavano. There are two home-grown pitchers in their current rotation - Liam Hendricks, who is trying to prove himself, and Nick Blackburn, who is trying to reestablish himself.
When the Twins stunk in the '90s, it was because they lacked starting pitching. When they competed in the 2000s, it was because their starting pitching improved dramatically.
The 2012 Twins are much improved over the 2011 Twins in many ways. But unless their starting pitchers improve, they'll be doomed to the same fate.
I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 each weekday with Reusse & Mackey. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
I don't need to tell you that winning two of nine games to start a season following a 99-loss campaign is not such a good thing, so let's skip to the newsy portion of this post:
1. I keep hearing that Brian Dozier will be in the big leagues sooner rather than later. I would guess he'll arrive in May. Calling up Dozier would improve them at shortstop, where Jamey Carroll has made most of the plays but isn't much of an offensive force, and at utility infielder, because Carroll would be ideal in that role. Although Alexi Casilla is struggling, the Twins want to let him work through his usual slow start and hope he'll emerge when the weather warms.
2. As I write about in my Monday column, the Twins have liked Clete Thomas for a long time, and hope his arrival will play well in their new ideal lineup. Justin Morneau will try playing first base on this road trip, and when he does, it will enable Joe Mauer to DH, Ryan Doumit to catch, and Thomas to play rightfield.
I noted to Twins manager Ron Gardenhire that Mauer and Morneau have each played in every game so far this season.
``I know I'm going to have to give Joe some days off,'' Gardenhire said. ``But I don't want to do it at home. I know people come from all over to watch him play. And to yell.''
That, of course, was a wry reference to the boos Mauer heard at times during this homestand.
3. The Twins were horrified by Trevor Plouffe's play in spot duty at shortstop on Saturday. He'll have to do a lot of extra work to earn his way back to that position in anything other than an emergency situation.
4. Nick Blackburn told me he spent most of Sunday trying a variety of stretches to get his right shoulder loose. Tests indicated there is nothing structurally wrong with his shoulder. He kept saying soreness is to be expected for someone who has undergone surgery, but I would not describe his tone of voice as optimistic. I think he's a little worried.
5. Here's the Twins' problem: They're short on starting pitching, and they have far more faith in Liam Hendricks and Anthony Swarzak than they do in Francisco Liriano, who continues to drive them batty with his inconsistent delivery and inability to think his way through a game.
I remember writing, when Liriano and Delmon Young were at their best as Twins, that the team should trade them for value when they could. They didn't. Now Liriano is a detriment, and the Twins dumped Young at his lowest possible value.
I've heard that the Twins could have traded Liriano for the likes of Ricky Romero or Ivan Nova in years past. They should have pulled the trigger.
6. I'll be on 1500espn at 2:05 on Monday and every day this week. We'll have a rare dual-presence studio show on Sunday, following the Ron Gardenhire show at 9:30.
Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
The Twins managed five runs in 27 innings against a last-place team and three starting pitchers the average fan has never heard of.
What was even more alarming to me was the mistakes that were made this weekend. Danny Valencia was a mess at third. Josh Willingham made a couple of nice plays (one strong throw and one brave collision with the wall) in left but also made two errors in two innings.
Sunday, reliever Matt Maloney didn't hold runners well, and Luke Hughes didn't hold the runner on second, and the Orioles executed a double steal that had the Twins' staff steaming.
Saturday, Jared Burton gave up two home runs on changeups even though the scouting report said not to throw changeups to the hitters in question, meaning catcher Joe Mauer and Burton weren't paying attention.
Quickly, to the positives from the weekend:
1. Jamey Carroll is a wonderful fielder. He may lack exceptional range, but he makes every play within his grasp.
2. Justin Morneau swung the bat with authority, hitting two doubles and two more deep drives. He looks like a slightly skinnier version of his old self, and it's obvious moving him to DH has relieved a lot of stress on him.
3. Sean Burroughs is the gamer the Twins have been saying he is. He made two fine plays at third on Sunday, one a basket catch over his head in foul territory that required a slide on the harsh surface of the warning track, and a fine diving stab to his left.
I grew up watching Brooks Robinson and Mark Belanger in Baltimore, and reading Brooks' books, and he always said that great plays started with anticipation. That's Valencia's problem: He's thinking about his last at-bat, and by the time he reacts to the ball it's too late.
4. Anthony Swarzak could pitch in the big leagues for a long time because of his attitude. He never complains about his role, and on Sunday, pitching for the ill Liam Hendriks, he gave the Twins five strong innings.
5. Glen Perkins pitched well in his lone inning of the weekend.
The Twins are 63-106 in their last 169 meaningful games, and now will play their next 16 games against the Angels, Rangers, Yankees, Rays and Red Sox.
Baseball seasons are like major championships: You can't win them early, but you can lose them early. The Twins are in danger of falling out of contention before the end of the month.
I'm writing about the Twins' home opener, and comparing the Twins to the Orioles' franchise, in tomorrow's paper. Here's my column off Saturday's game: http://tinyurl.com/7lo26dh
Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
I thought the Twins played well on Friday.
I thought they were pathetic on Saturday, when they lost, 8-2, to the Orioles at Camden Yards.
Danny Valencia took terrible at-bats and missed the key play of the game in the field. Josh Willingham made two errors in two innings on singles to left. Francisco Liriano lost his delivery and lasted just four innings. The Twins made Tommy Hunter look like Roy Halladay.
There are two bright spots this weekend: Justin Morneau is cutting loose his swing, and Jamey Carroll is a very good shortstop.
Other than that, the Twins, following a fairly promising spring, look horrible. And while the players are saying what ballplayers always say about it being a long season, don't think for a second the braintrust is happy with the quality of play on Saturday.
This was bad baseball from a team that was the second-worst team in baseball last year.
If the Twins can't handle the Orioles, what are they going to do against the Angels, Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Rangers and Rays? Or the Jays?
Just filed my column for the Sunday paper. I'll be in Baltimore on Sunday for the series finale, then heading to Minnesota for the home opener.
Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
I'll be co-hosting the Ron Gardenhire Show from 9:30-10 on Sunday morning on 1500espn, then co-hosting Sunday Sports Talk from 10-11:30 with Tom Pelissero.
My view on the 2012 Twins: They'll be much better than the 2011 Twins, and still not very good.
The math is simple: The Twins lost 99 games last year. They could improve by 15 games and never be in contention all season.
The early-season schedule, once they leave Baltimore, is daunting, and they're facing that challenge without two of the guys they expected to be in their rotation: Scott Baker and Jason Marquis.
I think the lineup will be greatly improved. I think this team will score far more runs. I expect Joe Mauer to contend for another batting title, and Justin Morneau looks far more optimistic today than he did when I saw him early in spring training.
Twins officials project Chris Parmalee to produce similar numbers to Jason Kubel. Josh Willingham is remarkably slow, but could produce a little more power than Michael Cuddyer. The bench and position-player depth in the organization should be greatly improved. Trevor Plouffe, Ben Revere and Luke Hughes were asked to be starters last year; this year they're bench players. Sean Burroughs should be a nice addition. The shortstop position will be greatly improved, whether Carroll holds the job or Brian Dozier takes it.
But the pitching is a house of cards. They are dependent on Francisco Liriano and Matt Capps coming back from horrific seasons, and dependent on Scott Baker getting healthy and for the second time in his professional life pitching more than 170 innings.
In short, here's my view on this season: The Twins will regain respectability but not contend, not unless the Detroit Tigers implode.
The best-case scenario might be for this team to play well enough to remain intriguing, but not fool itself into thinking that it shouldn't trade the likes of Liriano and Capps at the trading deadline to augment a promising group of young players.
I like this group of position players and the organization depth much more than I did a year ago, but the 2012 team lacks defensive range and dynamic pitching.
As someone who loves covering a contender, I hope I'm wrong.
I began covering the NFL in 1989. The audio of Gregg Williams instructing his players to knock out 49ers is grotesque but not surprising. I've had similar, although less graphic, conversations with many defensive coaches over the years. Williams just took the concept to an extreme.
I know every time former Vikings defensive coordinator Floyd Peters faced Joe Montana, he wanted Montana knocked down or out. He just didn't use the kind of language Williams did.
I'll be covering the opening series in Baltimore, then flying back on Monday morning for the Twins' first series. Sunday, I'll co-host the Ron Gardenhire Show at 9:30 on 1500espn, followed by Sunday Sports Talk from 10-11:35. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
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