The Twins left Florida on March 30 with a roster that caused the over-and-under betting line for wins to be at 89.5 in sports books. This was seventh-highest among MLB's 30 teams.
The previous six decades of Twins baseball instructs us not to get too worked up when a team with significant talent starts off in a shoddy manner. It also tells us that in 2011 the only question being asked by Twins fans visiting Fort Myers for spring training was, "Can we beat the Yankees in October?" and they finished 63-99 to ignite a run of futility.
The Twins returned home on Friday to play Pittsburgh, projected as No. 30 in the preseason at 58 wins. The Twins arrived having lost nine of the past 10 and the Pirates having won eight of the past 12.
The 6-11 record constituted 10.5% of a full 162-game schedule, so there would be no reason to panic over what we've seen from the April version of the Twins, if we hadn't seen so many excellent reasons to panic.
This should not be perceived as order of culpability but rather sources of major fretting.
Kenta Maeda: There was no more important factor in the Twins' repeating as division winners in the 2020 mini-season than Maeda. He finished second in the AL Cy Young voting to Cleveland's Shane Bieber, a unanimous winner, and it was deserved.
The Twins won eight of Maeda's 11 starts, with his 2.70 ERA. The theory that followed him from the Dodgers, that he was a "nibbler," seemed to be a canard.
His variety of pitches was exceptional again in spring training. When he went to deep counts, reporters bought the notion that Kenta simply was trying to sharpen up his off-speed pitches.
Personally, it was Opening Day in Milwaukee, when Maeda was going after Travis Shaw (not at all) as though he was the reincarnation of George Herman Ruth, that I was heard to exclaim:
"Heavens to Kyle Gibson, could it be true? Could Kenta have that nibbling side to him?"
Only four starts at this moment, but rather than a qualified No. 1 starter in 2020, Maeda has been bad.
Miguel Sano: The impressive physical condition that was visible from the big man in spring training of 2020 was lost to the COVID shutdown. He was larger when summer camp started last July. He could be larger still at this moment, although it's difficult to say that for certain in Zoom world.
Whatever the reason, the changes that Miguel had to make to quicken up his swing and get to more pitches than in the futility of the mini-season clearly have not occurred.
Sano struck out an astounding 90 times in 186 at-bats in 2020. He went on the injured list Friday with 20 strikeouts in 45 at-bats. His combined batting average since last July is .186.
What's amazing is that this month's short sample showed better pitch recognition — 13 walks in 58 plate appearances, compared to 18 in 205 plate appearances in 2020 — but hacking less wildly has not assisted in Miguel being on time with pitches.
He's on the injured list for 10 days with a hamstring issue, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Twins add to his absence with a rehab assignment in St. Paul.
Miguel turns 28 on May 11 and it's becoming increasingly mysterious as to how he can be fixed. My theory is that he needs to become a right field-conscious hitter, and absorb everything he can from Josh Donaldson on the art of other-way power.
Bullpen: The Twins decided on a re-do here, with 32-year-old Alexander Colome ($6.25 million guaranteed) as an alleged closer. Hansel Robles was the other primary acquisition, and he's been OK, allowing a return to a one-liner used when Greg Hansell was part of a shaky bullpen in 1996: "Hansel and Regrettable."
Fielding: Andrelton Simmons, a boastful non-vaccinator, is an odd duck to be sure, but a wonderful shortstop. When he's not playing, even Byron Buxton's magnificence in center (when he's available) can't save this team's fielding from being subpar. A new problem also has surfaced: The A's ran at will with eight stolen bases in the three-game sweep this week.
Future: The two players performing as absolute necessities — Buxton and starter Jose Berrios — have not yet been paid, and both would be 27 entering free-agent seasons in 2022.
OK, that's it. And remember, don't panic, even though manager Rocco Baldelli made it to Game 17 before getting there when allowing Regrettable to throw 49 pitches in two innings in Oakland.