When Derek Falvey and Thad Levine were hired to run the Twins, much was made about their emphasis on "analytics". These two men, we were told, were the men who were going to bring the Twins into the twenty-first century. We would see new strategies that Twins teams had not previously employed. I think, two games into the season, we are already starting to see that.
The main strategy the Twins have employed so far is to score several runs per game while limiting the other team to just one. This strategy is foreign to Twins fans, and may take some getting used to. So far, however, it seems to be effective. Yes, it's a small sample size, but many experts believe that this strategy will continue to work if the Twins will just stick with it.
It's a strategy that has at least three components. One of them is to score six runs in the seventh inning of every game. A second one is to have you starting pitcher give up exactly one run: no more, no less. A third is to have your relief pitchers give up zero runs. Again, these concepts may seem radical to Twins fans, They are certainly different from what we've seen in recent years. And, of course, two games are not enough to know whether these things will continue to bear fruit over the long-term. Still, I think the Twins should continue using them as long as they're working.
Looking at the game a bit more seriously, Hector Santiago managed to pitch five innings and just give up one run despite throwing just seven first-pitch strikes in twenty attempts. He apparently did better on second, third, and fourth pitches, as he threw 52 strikes out of 88 pitches. That means that, other than the first pitch, he threw strikes about two-thirds of the time, which isn't bad at all. Obviously, starting with ball one is not the recommended procedure, but if you can throw enough other strikes, and are helped out by facing a team that doesn't walk much, you can get away with it. Watching on TV, I wondered if perhaps his back was bothering him--I saw him appear to try to be stretching it out a few times between pitches. If so, that would account for him having trouble getting the ball down. If it was bothering him, it is hoped that he was simply having trouble getting loose on a chilly day, rather than something that will be a chronic problem.
When Santiago came out after five innings, Tyler Duffey came in. Duffey is supposedly the "long man", but he pitched only one inning. Now, Molitor has expressed a preference--shared by many managers--of getting as many players into a game as early in the season as possible. That may be all he was doing here, and if so I have no problem with it. On the other hand, Molitor has seemed to believe that relief pitchers can work no more than one inning per game, which is one of the reasons the Twins always think they need eight relief pitchers. I'm not upset about this, but it is something to keep an eye on as the season rolls along.
Byron Buxton got an infield single, which I assume sent Dick Bremer into all kinds of ecstasies. Bremer was talking earlier in the game about how Buxton needs to hit more "line drives and ground balls". I'm all for having Buxton hit line drives--it's a good idea for almost every batter to hit line drives. But ground balls? No. It amazes me that someone will talk about how pitchers need to keep the ball down and force the opposing batters to hit ground balls, and then turn around and recommend that your own batters hit ground balls. Yes, Buxton is a fast man, but he's not going to beat out very many two-hoppers to the shortstop. If he hits ground balls consistently, the number of infield singles he gets will be dwarfed by the number of ground outs he makes.
Buxton is 1-for-10 on the young season, to which I say, so what? There won't be five batters in the majors who don't go 1-for-10 at some point in the season. If he does it in June, no one will even notice. I don't think I'd have started the season with Buxton batting third, but having decided to do it, the Twins need to leave him there for a substantial period of time and give it a chance to work. In other words, if they thought they had good reasons to bat him third at the start of the season, nothing that happens in the first couple of weeks should convince them that they were wrong. Leave him alone and see what happens.
I find it interesting the Robbie Grossman has started the season 0-for-6, and yet I don't hear any of the complaints about his slow start that I hear about Buxton. Yes, Grossman has drawn a few walks, and yes, there are different expectations. Still, I think if Buxton had started 0-for-6 with three walks, the reaction would be quite different than it is for Grossman.
The Twins are 2-0 and in first place, and it feels good to be able to say that. They go for the series sweep this afternoon, and it feels good to be able to say that, too. It'll be Jason Hammel going for Kansas City and Kyle Gibson pitching for Our Heroes. If the Twins use the same strategy they've used in the first two games, I predict another victory. Go Twins!