Well, that didn’t take long.
Seven games into the 2015 season, and Twins baseball seems a lot like last year.
And the year before. And the two years before that.
“We do have to clean things up,” third baseman Trevor Plouffe said. “We haven’t played well defensively or offensively. No way around it.”
The Twins have not been the team that manager Paul Molitor felt so good about when they left Fort Myers, Fla., less than two weeks ago to begin the regular season. And the Twins’ flaws were there for all to see Monday when the defending American League champion Kansas City Royals routed them 12-3 before a sold-out home opener crowd at Target Field. And there’s two more games left in the series, including Wednesday night.
“Some of the things we were doing well down there [in Florida] we haven’t done particularly well this first week,” Molitor said. “So I’m a little disappointed about that.”
So how will No. 4 respond to his team’s sputtering start? He was asked before and after Monday’s game when his calm, cool and calculating demeanor would change. When would he start taking bites out of hides and start jumping down throats?
“I have a lot of emotion about what transpires during the course of a game,” he said. “Whether as a player or coach or manager, I like steadiness. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have to have a particular conversation with individuals or collectively with the team. I realize how long a baseball season is. And I don’t know of any particular emotional outburst you can try to measure when it’s going to be appropriate and when it’s not. I have a tendency to do better personally and stay more optimistic when I look at the big picture.”
Before the first pitch of the regular season was thrown, the Twins were brushed back by righthander Ervin Santana testing positive for Stanozolol. That triggered an 80-game suspension, and Molitor and the Twins had to talk about moving forward without him.
Just over a week into the new season, and everything the Twins felt they addressed during spring training looks to be undone.
They trusted their offense, but few have swung well. The Twins’ 16 runs scored are tied with Philadelphia for the fewest in baseball entering Tuesday’s games.
The outfield defense can be compared to last year, when they were ranked as one of the worst in the game. From left to right, Oswaldo Arcia, Jordan Schafer and Torii Hunter all have made mistakes that have cost them outs or runs. Hunter, who threw wildly to the infield in the sixth inning, even called it “Bad News Bears baseball” after Monday’s game.
The pitching staff is last in the majors with a 6.52 ERA. They have only two quality starts in seven games. And the bullpen has been an oil spill.
This has happened after Molitor’s first spring training camp, one in which attention to detail was emphasized. Seven games is a small sample in a 162-game season, but right now it’s hard to see where the team has improved.
“It hurts,” Hunter said. “We spent a lot of time on defense in spring training and to come here the last couple of days, the defense has been not us.
“I definitely think it’s going to get better — it is uphill from here.”
Ah yes, the old can’t-fall-down-when-you’re-already-on-the-floor theory. Plouffe, Hunter and Molitor all offered different versions of how to stay positive during what they hope is a storm that will blow over soon. But patience is something a beat-down fan base has little of after enduring at least 92 losses in each of the past four seasons.
Help from the farm?
The Twins could look to the farm system, considered one of the deepest in the league. Aaron Hicks is batting .294 with one homer and five RBI for Class AAA Rochester. Eddie Rosario, an outfield option like Hicks, is batting only .188. Alex Meyer, a hard-throwing starting pitching prospect, walked six in his only start so far.
All eyes remain on outfielder Byron Buxton and third baseman Miguel Sano, the jewels of the farm system. Buxton is batting .280 with one homer, three RBI, one walk and nine strikeouts in five games. Sano is batting .176 with one homer, one RBI, five walks and eight strikeouts. Players do get called up from Class AA, but Buxton (who was limited to 31 games last season because of injury) and Sano (who missed all of last year because of elbow surgery), would have to get hot and stay hot for a long time to get into the call-up conversation.
Other than some relievers at Class AAA Rochester getting consideration, this current group of Twins will have to figure out a way out of their early-season slide. The Twins have to show that this year will be different, and that won’t be easy in an improved AL Central Division.
The Twins have 22 of their first 25 games this season against division opponents. Their current brand of baseball will keep them at rock bottom as Detroit and Kansas City look as formidable as they did last season when both teams reached the playoffs. Cleveland is ready to enter the playoff picture, and the White Sox have upgraded their roster.
And then there is Minnesota.
“I think we’re going to see some good performances from a lot of people throughout the course of the season,” Molitor said. “I’m going to stay behind these guys.”