It certainly isn't time to give up on the Twins after seven games, but to date it's hard to understand how a team could play so well in spring training, finishing 13-16 and in the top half of the American League standings, and then kind of forget all of the fundamentals they worked on.
Defense wasn't a problem in spring training, but it certainly has been during the regular season. The hitters aren't producing like they were while getting ready for the season in Fort Myers, Fla. And as for the pitching, the Twins have allowed at least 10 hits and four runs in six of their seven games.
The Twins knew they would have a tough early schedule and have to face a number of teams in the AL Central, which might be the best division in baseball. They have only three games in the month of April outside the Central, and those come against Seattle, a World Series contender. So the Twins have had a tough start, losing all three games at Detroit, going 1-2 with the White Sox and losing 12-3 to the Royals on Monday. The 2014 division winners pounded 13 hits off starter Trevor May and the bullpen, while the Twins were held to only seven hits.
But in going 1-6 to date, it is the worst start even in the previous four years when they were 3-4 in the first seven games in 2011, 2-5 in 2012, 4-3 in 2013 and 3-4 last year. In each of those seasons, the Twins lost between 92 and 99 games.
It certainly wasn't a Paul Molitor-type of baseball game Monday. In the sixth inning, Torii Hunter made a bad throw from right field to let in a run. In the eighth, Alex Gordon and Alex Rios of the Royals were hit by pitches by Brian Duensing and J.R. Graham, and shortstop Danny Santana booted a ground ball that allowed a run to score. The Royals' 5-3 lead mushroomed to 11-3.
"That inning wasn't pretty by any means, obviously we're trying to contain and stay in the game," said Molitor, who managed his first home game. "A lot of things that I thought we were doing well coming out of Florida, we haven't obviously translated into how we've performed here this first week. You know collectively defensively we're making mistakes, throwing the ball around a little bit, not hitting the cutoff man, all those kinds of things. But you're right, the hit batsmen, I was just going to use Duensing there for one batter and bring Graham in, and a couple pitches later they had a run on the board and it turned into a big inning."
Was this team playing better in spring training?
"We had all positives down there," Molitor said. "I've been around enough to know you don't want to be overly fooled by what transpires down there, but there were a lot of encouraging signs as far as pitching, defense, the way guys were swinging the bats. You start off a little bit rough and people have a natural tendency to start pressing a little bit. So as a staff, it's my job and our coaches' job to try and get these guys to perform up to their capabilities, and so far we really haven't seen a lot of that."
What does Molitor think has to be done to fix some of the fielding and defensive errors?
"I would say when you misfire from the outfield, [they are] physical mistakes but they should be correctable at this level. Obviously these guys are talented and have played awhile," he said. "We're just not making plays. We're not pitching particularly well, not fielding particularly well, we're not swinging the bat particularly well, we're probably not managing particularly well. So all those things we have to try and be better."
Does he think it's just a case of players starting to press a little bit after a rough start?
"I think that is probably the case," Molitor said. "You can go up and down the line and talk to individuals about how they feel about that, but you rely on your experienced players to kind of rise above that because adversity is a big part of this game. Teams get tested, sometimes early, sometimes in the middle, sooner or later everybody gets tested to some degree when you play that many games, and for us it has been early."
Jones relishes title
Tyus Jones, who threw out the opening pitches at the Twins game along with the Wolves' Kevin Garnett, really had his relationship with Duke teammates Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow start in 2012 when the former Apple Valley star played with them for Team USA in the FIBA U-17 World Tournament in Lithuania. That USA squad would go 8-0 and win the gold medal.
Then, after being involved with Okafor in other basketball competitions, Jones says they made their decision to play together in college in November 2014, when Okafor's Whitney Young high school team out of Chicago faced Jones and his teammates in a game played at Apple Valley. That decision paid dividends as the two led Duke to a national championship in their freshman season.
Jones said that right now, while rumors swirl about his decision to either return to Duke or enter the NBA draft, he is simply happy to have won the national title. "Just enjoying the moment right now, celebrating a national championship and that's all I'm doing right now," he said.
Does he think he has enough talent to play in the NBA next season?
"That's what we're trying to decide," he said. "I mean, you have to have confidence, every time you step on the court. That's what it's about. I'm very confident in myself and my abilities, but we'll have to decide if that's the best route for me."
While Jones makes his decision, several mock drafts think he is ready. NBADraft.net has him as the No. 17 pick, going to Milwaukee. Draftexpress.com has him going No. 21 overall to Toronto.
Jones has been dating Gophers volleyball player Alyssa Goehner since high school. Goehner, who went to Lakeville North, was the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year in volleyball in 2012 and 2013.
•The Twins had an Opening Day crowd of 40,123, the 153rd sellout in Target Field history and also the largest Opening Day crowd since April 8, 2011.
•The Royals are hitting .327 as a team and are undefeated at 7-0. Kendrys Morales, the former Twin who was traded to Seattle in the middle of last season, is hitting .414 with two home runs and five RBI out of the No. 5 spot. … The Twins are hitting .197, but the good news is that first baseman Joe Mauer seems to be healthy and hitting better, leading the team with a .292 average.
•Michael Cuddyer is playing left field for the New York Mets and is batting cleanup. … Al Newman, the former Twins third base coach and infielder, is managing the Alexandria Blue Anchors in the Northwoods League.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. email@example.com