So what are we doing here, trying to find shreds of meaning in a 2-0 Twins start during which Minnesota has surprisingly outscored Kansas City by a combined 16-2?
Hedging. Guessing. Needlessly extrapolating. Anything to try to get even a little bit of a handle on what is transpiring at Target Field.
Let’s try this, at least: five thoughts about the Twins so far, broken into different categories that hopefully reflect that there are nothing close to absolutes right now.
1) Things that have been overblown: I can think of two immediately, and not surprisingly they show up in roughly 87 percent of negative online comments about the Twins so far. They are: the batting order and the tough two games at the plate for Byron Buxton.
Yeah, the lineup had a little bit of a “drawn from a hat” look to it on Opening Day — particularly the part that read 2-3-4 from Robbie Grossman to Buxton to Joe Mauer. But let’s face it: there aren’t a lot of guys on the Twins roster who are screaming to be put in a certain spot in the order. The Twins are stacking the top of their order with Brian Dozier and Grossman, two guys who get on base a lot. And even if the lineup isn’t fully optimized — and I’m not even saying it isn’t — the impact of the best batting order possible has been shown to be pretty negligible. In other words: it’s fun to talk about, but it doesn’t really matter.
As for Buxton: settle down. Just as we can’t make any definitive declarations about the Twins (162-0 here they come!), we can’t say, “here we go again” with Buxton after two games.
2) Smart things the Twins are doing that are working so far: Again, two things come immediately to mind. First, they are drawing a ton of walks. How’s this for a tidy stat: in the season opener, the Twins drew seven walks and scored seven runs. On Wednesday, they drew nine walks and scored nine runs. Not each walk scored, of course, but close enough — a whopping nine guys combined who walked in the first two games crossed the plate.
The other thing goes back more to the offseason strategy of improving team defense. It appears the Twins are committed to an outfield of Buxton, Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario, which is a relief after watching Sano and Grossman in the corner outfield spots for a decent chunk of last year. Behind the plate, Jason Castro has been as-advertised so far: an adept defensive catcher and upgrade over Kurt Suzuki.
3) One thing that would change my mind about the Twins this season if it proves to be sustainable: effective starting pitching. Ervin Santana put in seven very good innings in the opener. Hector Santiago only went five innings on Wednesday, but they were good innings. He left with a 3-1 lead. If the Twins keep stringing together more good starts than bad ones and become a rotation closer to league average than bottom of the barrel, it will change the complexion of the entire season. There are so many question marks in the starting five, but there is certainly the potential to be decent.
4) One thing that has been a pleasant surprise: the bullpen. This works in tandem with the starting pitching, of course. Because Santana went seven innings in the opener and the Twins had an off day Tuesday, there were tons of fresh arms to throw at the Royals on Wednesday. So pulling Santiago after five innings wasn’t a detriment; it was good strategy — one rewarded when five different relievers combined to hold the Royals hitless over the final four innings, allowing just one walk to go with five strikeouts. There are some live arms down there — Ryan Pressly was downright dirty Wednesday — and if they aren’t overworked and don’t have to overextend beyond their roles, it again would be a game-changer for the season.
5) Things that are not sustainable and have played a big role in two wins: OK, so here’s the downer. The Twins are not going to walk eight times per game the rest of the season. They are not going to finish the season hitting .429 with runners in scoring position (as they are right now after starting the year 6-for-14 in those situations, including huge hits Wednesday from Miguel Sano and Eduardo Escobar that broke the game open late). They are not going to give up one run per game all year. They are not going to be error-free while turning in plenty of gems, as they have been the first two games in the field.
The Twins haven’t played two perfect games so far, but they’ve been pretty close in terms of almost everything going their way.
But they can continue to be patient at the plate. They can continue to take good at-bats in clutch situations. They can get better-than-expected pitching. And they can be a good defensive team.
If they do all (or most) of those things, check back here in a month or two and see what a real sample size is telling us.