It has been 20 years, maybe more, since a numbering system for ranking starters became popular in baseball conversation. And there are annually 20 teams that hear the same thing:
“The _ _ _ _ _ don’t have a true No. 1 starter.’’
The problem when observers say this is that, generally, they are applying a ridiculously high standard for what constitutes a No. 1 starter.
Max Scherzer and Chris Sale and Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw aren’t No. 1 starters … they are superstar starters.
Suggesting that you don’t have a No. 1 starter if you don’t have someone that terrific is the equivalent of saying a team in the ‘80s didn’t have a true leadoff hitter because it didn’t have Rickey Henderson or Tim Raines.
The Twins have shocked no one more than me in these past four weeks. On Aug. 3, the Twins lost 4-1 to Texas at Target Field. This put the Rangers ahead of the Twins by a fraction in the American League – for 10th place.
The Twins were 51-55, compared to 52-56 for the Rangers. The Twins were 5 ½ games behind the Yankees for the first wild card and 4 ½ games behind Kansas City for the second. And the Rays, Mariners, Angels and Orioles were also ahead of Texas and the Twins in the wild-card race.
I awoke the next morning inspired to write a blog ridiculing the idea that the Twins were ever worth being taken seriously as a postseason contender.
The Twins have gone 18-8 since that insightful offering. They are now one game behind the Yankees for the first wild card and one game in front of the Angels for the second wild card.
These are simply facts. No opinion will be offered as to what will become of the Twins in September. What can be said is that this is now a better ballclub than the one that still had an outside shot at the second wild card into the final weekend in 2015.
On Wednesday night, the Twins were impressive in every way with an 11-1 victory over the White Sox. Jose Berrios went seven shutout innings with 11 strikeouts, and he could have lasted longer and added to the strikeout total if necessary.
At this time of year, you would rather hook a precocious 23-year-old starter early (88 pitches) than have him sit around for 20 minutes and push himself past 100 pitches.
Berrios was throwing fastball strikes. And when he was ahead in the count, the White Sox hitters had to deal with his breaking ball – either the pitch that heads right at them and moves to the inside corner, or the pitch that looks like it could be center cut and then winds up away and ankle-high.
“No chance to hit his breaking ball, if he throws it where he wants to throw it,’’ a fellow Twins pitcher said.
I was standing in the home clubhouse 25 minutes after the game, as reporters on deadline surrounded Berrios. I was watching and thinking (I can do both at the same time, as long as I’m not chewing gum) and decided on this:
Assuming good health, Berrios will be a true No. 1 starter, and probably in 2018. I’m not talking Scherzer or Sale, but consistent goodness, which is a realistic definition of a No. 1 starter.
Berrios spent the first month of the season at Class AAA Rochester and pitched 39 2/3 innings there. He made his first start for the 2017 Twins on May 7.
Wednesday’s was his 20th and pushed his innings total to 118 1/3. He has 115 strikeouts and has allowed only 99 hits. His ERA is 3.80.
The complaint aimed at Berrios has been a lack of consistency. I’d argue with that. This is his first full shot in a big-league rotation and he has rated from good enough to excellent in 70 percent of his starts.
Raise that to 80 percent and you have a No. 1 starter.
By the way, the 2017 Twins have one of those with Ervin Santana. He is 14-7 with a 3.27 ERA. He has allowed only 143 hits in 176 innings.
He’s going to fly past 200 innings. That’s because, even when he isn’t sharp, Erv is still odds-on to offer a competitive effort, as demonstrated in Tuesday’s victory over the White Sox.
Yup. The Twins have a true No. 1 starter at present with Santana, and they have one in the offing in Berrios.