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A Start To Forget

May 1, 2011

The Twins and Royals just finished a three game series in Kansas City which resulted in a sweep of the Twins.  It is the first time the Royals have swept the Twins since 1999.  Most fans know that baseball is a game of ups and downs, the key is to not let the down periods carry on too long.  The Twins are now treading in very dangerous water.  They finished April with their worst start to the season since 2000.  A year in which they finished 69-93, the worst record in the American League.

The Twins have been plagued by injuries and players getting off to slow starts this year.  2011 has definitely been a start that the Twins and their fans would like to forget.  It is extremely early in the season and there is still plenty of time for a turn-around, but it needs to happen soon.  The Twins have lost 6 straight games being swept by the Rays and Royals.  They are showing no signs of breaking out any time soon.  Lets take a quick look at some of the positives and negatives so far in 2011.

  • The Twins started the season with Joe Nathan as their closer.  Nathan took himself out of the closers role on April 17th after he had blown his second straight save against the Tampa Bay Rays.  To date, Nathan has been a wreck.  He has a 0-1 record with only 3 saves and a 10.00 ERA.  Nathan has walked 7 while only striking 7 out.
  • The Twins placed catcher Joe Mauer on the DL with bilateral leg weakness on April 16th.  The three-time AL batting champion is hitting .235 with four RBIs in nine games this year.  He is expected to be out for another 1-2 weeks while he builds up his leg strength.
  • Drew Butera has taken over the catching duties for Mauer, after today’s game against the Royals he is hitting .106.  Butera’s batting average is lower than the combined batting average of all National League pitchers (.130 before today’s game).
  • The Twins placed left fielder Delmon Young on the DL on April 28th with a strained oblique. Before going on the DL, Young was hitting .228 with no home runs and only 6 runs batted in.
  • Michael Cuddyer has also struggled to start the season.  Cuddyer who has seen time at 1B, RF and 2B this season, is hitting only .226 with 3 home runs and  4 runs batted in.  Cuddyer went most of April without recording an extra base hit or a RBI.
  • Justin Morneau’s slow start has also hurt.  Morneau who is now playing again after missing about half of last season due to a concussion, hit his first home run today.  Before today’s game, Morneau was hitting .224 with 8 runs batted in.
  • The Twins have had only one game this year where they scored more than 5 runs.  That was a 10-3 win over the first place Cleveland Indians on April 23rd.
  • The Twins lost Tsuyoshi Nishioka on April 7th to a broken bone in his leg.  Nishioka suffered the injury as the New York Yankee’s Nick Swisher performed a (clean) break-up slide into second base.  Nishioka at the time had gotten off to a slow start as well.  He was hitting .208 with only 2 RBI and only 1 SB.
  • The Alexi Casilla experiment is almost at an end.  Today Casilla committed his 3rd error of the season.  He did hit two triples today but before today’s game, he was hitting .167 with 2 SB and 2 RBI.  The Twins traded JJ Hardy away this off-season and handed the starting short stop job to Casilla.  I expect sometime this week that the Twins will look to make a move, possibly calling up AAA short stop Trevor Plouffe.
  • Possibly the biggest disappointment this season has been starting pitcher Fransisco Liriano.  Liriano was shelled in his last start against Tampa Bay on April 27th.  After a stellar season in 2010, Liriano has posted a 9.13 ERA in 23.2 IP.  He has allowed 4 home runs so far while only allowing 9 all of last season.  Liriano has allowed 18 walks while striking out 18 so far this season.

There are still more negatives to put on here, but it is time to move to a few of the positives.

  • Jason Kubel is on pace to have one of the best seasons of his career.  Going into today’s game, Kubel was hitting .351 with 2 home runs and 10 runs batted in.  Kubel had a .903 OBP in April, far ahead of what anyone else in the Twins line up have posted so far this year.  Kubel has seen increased time in the outfield, one has to wonder if he needs to be out there more often rather than DH’ing like he did much of last season and the beginning of 2011.
  • Denard Span has also been off to a tear this season.  After hitting .264 last year, Span had a .298 batting average going into today’s game.  He has been putting much better swings on pitches this year and has had much better lead off at bats.  He is providing the at bats out of the lead off spot this year that the Twins were lacking from him in 2010.
  • Brian Duensing was told during Spring Training that he would be in the starting rotation.  He has taking the opportunity and run with it, continuing the great season he had in 2010.  Duensing has posted a 2.93 ERA in 34 innings pitched.  He has struck out 23 while walking only 9.  Duensings good start to the season has been lost in the shuffle with the rest of the Twins pitching staff getting off to bad starts this year.
  • Matt Capps took over the closers roll and has been pretty good.  Obtained from the Nationals mid-season last year in a trade for Wilson Ramos.  Capps has posted a 3.55 ERA in 12.2 IP striking out 6 while walking none.  Capps has saved 4 games since taking over for Nathan in April.

As you can see the list of negatives is far greater than the positives.  The Twins need a spark and they need it quick.  I am not going to panic yet but if this continues for another week or two, it may be time to start.  We haven’t seen this team at full strength for much of the season.  I will reserve judgement until we can put a line up out there which doesn’t resemble a blend of our AAA line up and our major league team with many of the players hitting out of their spot in the line up.  The pitching needs to be better, the defense needs to stop making dumb mistakes and the hitters need to start getting on base.  Basically, everything needs to turn around.  I am not saying they need to go 10-2 in the next two weeks but they need to start winning a few series’ after winning only one in April.

Just remember, the last time the Twins had this bad of an April they ended up winning 96 games and the AL Central in 2006.  Granted that took one of the most spectacular September performances we will ever see in our life time.  But it proves that this team can do it.  Don’t jump off the band wagon yet Twins fans, the whole season will not be like this.

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