The sunshine was glorious Monday, the atmosphere exhilarating inside every-seat-taken Target Field. As Opening Day announces, spring has arrived.
But the Twins are stuck in a blizzard of bad baseball.
The Kansas City Royals, at 7-0 baseball’s last remaining unbeaten team, looked every bit the AL champions they are, while the last-place Twins looked like, well, a team lucky to be 1-6. Kansas City outlasted starter Trevor May, then feasted on a tattered Twins bullpen to roll to a 12-3 victory at a sold-out Target Field.
The home-standing Twins were as bad as last week’s road-kill version, with a quiet offense, an oh-no defense and relief pitching that was more dangerous to the Royals’ life and limbs than their bats. More than 40,000 paid to see it, but Monday’s game — the worst loss among the Twins’ 55 home openers — probably didn’t send anyone hustling to the box office for more.
“We’re not pitching particularly well, we’re not fielding particularly well, we’re not swinging the bat particularly well, and we’re probably not managing particularly well,” manager Paul Molitor said, not the greatest sales pitch for the remaining 80 home games. “All these things we’ve got to try to do better.”
He’s got a point: The Twins have allowed 45 runs this season and scored 16, and both numbers are the worst in the major leagues.
It’s the fourth consecutive season that the Twins have disappointed their Opening Day crowd, but at least the pregame festivities were enticing. Kevin Garnett waved to the crowd and lobbed a first pitch, Duke championship hero Tyus Jones soaked in the day’s biggest ovation, and Torii Hunter tipped his helmet to a crowd that stood and cheered his first at-bat after seven years away.
But after the flags and eagles and F-16 fighters were gone, the game inevitably began, and that’s when the Twins’ promotions couldn’t save them. Kansas City scored single runs in the second and third innings, erupted for three more in the sixth to spoil Trevor May’s day, then piled on six more against four Twins relievers in an ugly eighth inning. Heck, they even scored a run off seldom-seen closer Glen Perkins.
Trevor Plouffe homered off Royals starter Danny Duffy, and Brian Dozier doubled twice and scored both times. But Duffy retired 14 of 15 hitters at one point, and easily kept Kansas City unbeaten into the season’s second week.
“They’re playing like we’re supposed to,” Plouffe said. “Like we know we can.”
Surely that faith is being tested now. The Twins’ lack of defense is particularly galling for a team that devoted extra hours to fielding practice in spring training. The mistakes have piled up all week, and the comfort of home didn’t change things Monday. Dozier flipped a ball underhanded to Danny Santana, preventing a double play. Hunter threw a ball wildly toward the infield, allowing runners to move up. Oswaldo Arcia dropped a fly ball on the run, Danny Santana bobbled a grounder that cost a run and Kurt Suzuki committed a passed ball that cost another.
“We play defense with pride. But it’s been bad — these first seven games have been bad,” Plouffe said. “We know we’re going to get better, but we definitely have to clean things up.”
So does the bullpen, if the eighth inning was any indication. Tim Stauffer retired five of the first six hitters he faced, but then a single and a four-pitch walk to open the eighth just ignited more trouble. Brian Duensing hit Alex Gordon with a pitch, and J.R. Graham hit Alex Rios to force in a run.
“I don’t think I was nervous. Just couldn’t find the plate today,” Graham, whose pitches reached 96 miles per hour, said after his first major league home game. “That’s pitching.”
It is for the Twins these days. By the time the inning was over, the Royals had scored six runs on only two hits. The bullpen has allowed 17 runs already, more than the Twins offense has scored, and it’s a particularly depressing contrast to the Royals: Their pen has pitched only three fewer innings but has yet to allow a run.
So what’s the solution to the Twins’ multitude of problems? “You rely on your experienced players to rise above it,” Molitor said, “because adversity is part of this game.”
Hunter, the Twins’ oldest player, agrees. Only one problem.
“It’s tough to relate [any wisdom],” he said, “because I [stink], too.”