A complete team. I think that's what we're starting to see in this season's edition of the Twins. An offense that fires with the regularity and effectiveness of an artillery brigade. Starting pitching that turns opposing hitters' bats into Jell-O® sticks. And now the bullpen is getting into the act, with six current relievers sporting ERAs of 2.00 or less, though several of the remaining bullpen ERAs are well above the 2.00 mark. Still, as a team the Twins have a 3.82 ERA, fifth in the American League and good for a 117 ERA+. I just know it's been worth staying up late to watch these last few nights, even Pineda showed improved command of his pitches. I do hope that the FO takes note of the room for improvement in the bullpen, though, as we give up too many meaningless runs in routs of the Mariners in this series. Two more solid arms out there would go a long way toward making a deep playoff run a distinct possibility. Of course, I'm counting on Pineda settling in at the back of the rotation with a .500 record or so and an ERA around 5.00, and Gibson to continue being aggressive in the strike zone and getting his ERA down below 4.00, so I'm a crazy man. Gibson will get his most current chance to do the first and work on the second, and lead the team to a four-game sweep of the Mariners at T-Mobile Park Not Safeco Field®, as the Twins' starting pitcher today. Countering the right-hander for the Mariners is rookie southpaw from Morioka, Japan, Yusei Kikuchi (2-1, 3.64 ERA, 1.07 WHIP), the third left-handed starter that Seattle has trotted out in the series. A quarter of the way through the season and the Twins are one of the two best teams in the major leagues. Who'd a thunk it? Play ball!
I'll admit that I'm a geek and one reason I want the Twins to win today is so they'll be 26-13, with as many wins over .500 as total losses on the year. I'm not sure what you can say about this team anymore. The funny thing is, as good as the team is right now, it's pretty easy to see opportunities for improvement. We need more starting pitching depth. We could get that through acquisition or staff improvement. I think Gibson has the chance to be a very solid middle rotation pitcher and has plenty of room to grow as a player. I'm less enthused about Pineda, who did manage to turn in a quality start yesterday in a losing effort, but it it still kind of early. Too early to talk about Jose Berrios (6-1, 2.53 ERA, .919 WHIP), and/or Jake Odorizzi (5-2, 2.32 ERA, .938 WHIP) in the same breath as Cy Young, maybe, for the season is long and full of errors. Still, right now the Twins have a pretty solid starting rotation pitching as well as any in baseball. Berrios and Odorizzi are worth 1.5 and 1.4 WAR respectively. They tend to overshadow a fine run by Perez checking in at 1.1 WAR. Showing the most room for improvement, Gibson charts a 0.6 WAR and Pineda a meager 0.1. So, Gibson needs to step up to the next level, and Pineda at least needs to stabilize and take on some ballast at the back of the rotation. The bullpen continues to impress, especially when it's not being overused, although you can see some obvious depth issues there as well. Still, we have 7 relievers with an ERA+ above 100, and 5 of them above 200, and that's a nice thing to see. Fangraphs gives the Twins a 64% chance of winning today and taking the 4-game series with Perez on the mound going up against Daniel Norris (1-1, 3.81 ERA) for the Tigers. I'd say that sounds about right. Play ball!
It felt good to finally win a game in Yankee Stadium. It would feel even better winning a series there, I bet. To get that, it would help if Michael Pineda could pitch a shutout against his former team. Or at least turn in a quality start. He's been pretty below average so far with a 2-2 record and a 6.21 ERA. The Twins hitters go up against Domingo Germán, 5-1 with a 2.56 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and a strikeout per inning. So it's not a good day for betting the farm. On the other hand, we might bang a few more out of that bandbox again today, you never know. Play ball!
So baseball teams are hitting a lot of home runs so far this year, about five percent more than in the most prolific season ever for dingers, and that in the coldest part of the season when balls aren't supposed to carry so well. Apparently the balls have lower drag, which would mean the stitches are not as raised. That would also impact pitchers' ability to get better movement on their throws. Few teams in the game right now are mashing the baseball as well as our own hometown nine. After just a month of games, the Twins have the third highest batting average in baseball (.269), behind only Houston and St. Louis. Their on-base percentage is much lower, 13th in the majors and only nine points above average. But the boys have been bringing out the boomsticks with the team sporting a .514 slugging percentage, the best in the game, and that's good enough to put them atop all teams in OPS at .849 as well. While Eddie Rosario has been en fuego at the plate, it's actually Jorge Polanco who leads the team in OPS at 1.033. Shoot, Eddie's .970 OPS isn't even good enough for second place, which is held by Nelson Cruz at 1.022, one step ahead of Edisito. In fact, the only regular position player on the team right now with an OPS+ below 100 is Marwin Gonzales, who sticks out like Michael Pineda's butt with a 30 OPS+ (Adrianza's sucking the nipple nearest the ass with an OPS+ of just 14). But Rosario does lead the American League in home runs with 11 (third in MLB), and is second in the league in ribeyes with 24, which averages out to one run poked in per game.
On the mound, Jose Berrios is the team's clear ace with a record of 4-1, a 2.97 ERA, 41 strikeouts and only 8 walks. Not only is he pitching the best, he's pitching the most, logging one out above 39 innings pitched, 13 more that the second best innings eater on the team, Martin Perez. Today the Twins send Kyle Gibson to the hill for his fifth turn through the rotation. He's been inconsistent at best, compiling a 6.10 ERA over 20.2 innings. For a guy who seems real reluctant to pitch to contact, he's done his fair share of it, and he's given his share of free passes, too, which accounts for his 1.500 WHIP. Hopefully the offense can provide him plenty of support today and allow him to be more aggressive in the strike zone, which should let him pitch deeper into the game. Not a bad bet considering nearly half of the Twins home runs this year have come at the hands of Baltimore pitchers. The Orioles today are starting Dylan Bundy (who according to BR is a rare switch hitting pitcher). Bundy has no wins and three losses in five starts with a 6.56 ERA. He's also given up one home run for every ten outs he's managed to notch. The sky is fair at Target Field today, a high temperature in the upper 50's is expected, the concrete is most definitely dry and the boomsticks are fully loaded. Play ball!
First Pitch - 12:05 CDT
This has been one of those rare and eventful spring weekends when Passover, Easter, my birthday and unofficial weed day all align on the calendar. On top of that, we enjoyed our first day of the year above 70 degrees here in the Twins Cities, reaching a sunny 78 above zero yesterday. What's more, after a Friday rain-out the Twins won both ends of a Saturday double header against Baltimore, the first in a 6-5 squeaker that saw Jose Berrios pick up his third W of the season despite not having his best stuff, and the second a 16-7 laugher in which the Twins tied a team record for most home runs in a game*. All in all, the twin bill was as sweet, savory and satisfying as a big platter of Boog's barbecue. The end of the night witnessed the Twins perched atop the AL Central and the Orioles inhabiting a blogger's abode in the basement of the AL East.
Today's tilt features two northpaws on the mound as the Twins look to complete a sweep of the rather hapless Orioles, sending Kyle Gibson to the dirt pile for his fourth start and in search of his first decision of the season. After an impressive campaign last year (10-13, 3.62 ERA, 3.8 WAR) that saw him consistently attack the strike zone and challenge hitters, Gibson seems to have reverted to his nibbling ways. To be fair, I thought he got a bit squeezed by a tight strike zone in his last start, but he also failed to adjust to the indented corners the umpire established right off the bat. Nobody doubts that Gibson has major league stuff at this point, but to my view he needs to take a lesson from a hurling Gibson of yore, wrinkle his brow, fix a steely glare in his eye, throw the living fire out of the ball and work hitters hard inside with far more frequency. Baltimore sends Dylan Bundy to the hill today. In four previous starts he's compiled a record of no wins and two losses and a robust 7.79 ERA, but he has notched 22 strikeouts. So break out the brooms and let's git 'er done, boys. Play ball!
* A preponderance of early-season dingers has many observers of the game speculating that Rawlings is once again manufacturing baseballs with a tad more juice in them this year.
Due to the schedule irregularities this time of year, we have another Sunday game with Jose Berrios starting for the Twins. In three starts he's compiled a 1-1 record, a 2.18 ERA and 21 strikeouts. He has a 0.726 WHIP and 2.94 FIP. His ERA+ is 203, and he has a WAR of 0.8. He's pretty much everything we hoped he would become. It's nice to see a young man with great talent and skill in the early years of his career. But I have to admit that my attention today will be divided as I watch an older man try to reclaim some of the accolades from the glory days of his career by winning another major tournament and another green jacket. Play ball!
¡Feliz Día de Berrios!
Before my bypass surgery, the doctors cautioned me that during recovery I would have good days and bad days. They were right. I spent the two weeks before the surgery getting my mind right, and I managed to maintain a positive attitude for the first week or so of recovery. Medications kept the worst of the pain at bay, but I just could not get comfortable enough to sleep at night. After about ten days of sleep deprivation, I started to unravel like a baseball that's had the cover knocked off of it. But forewarned is forearmed, and when the cardiac blues hit I recognized the signs and reached out for help, or rather, my family sternly directed me to get help. Prescriptions for a muscle relaxer and a sleeping aid were forthcoming. After a couple of days on those I was able to sleep for four or five hours at a stretch, and now I'm sleeping pretty much through the night. I no longer feel quanked, the relentless acute pain has diminished to just a nagging soreness, and I feel like I've turned a corner. And the thing that has helped me the most mentally has been the return of baseball and the performance of this Twins team. Watching the games, hanging out in the game logs, and reading as much as I can find online has kept my mind turned outward toward something hopeful instead of inward and focused on my troubles. I still have a long road ahead of me, and I feel once again like I can handle it. If only the weather would get with the program, everything would be coming up roses. But enough about me.
The Twins head into today's rubber game with the Phillies sporting a 5-2 record. If you count Friday night's series opener in which Odorizzi was KO'd in the first inning as an outlier, the team has performed remarkably well. Strong starting pitching has set up solid bullpen work. The defense has been quite good with Polanco showing both range and snazzy leather at short. Yesterday Buxton and Astudillo joined forces for a highly memorable 8-2 flyout/throw out double play that nailed Bryce Harper at the plate as he attempted to score on a sac fly by leaping over La Tortuga. That play alone had me feeling actual joy again. In five games, new fan favorite Willians Astudillo sports a .500 batting average and a 1.458 OPS. In Friday's game, Polanco became the first player of the season to hit for the cycle and now has an OPS of 1.151. After slow starts, Kepler and Rosario are flexing their man muscles and showing some power at the plate. Solid base running has helped put more runners in scoring position and more runs on the scoreboard. Sure, there are still some guys that need to step it up at the plate, but six regulars are batting .300 or better, and ten players have on base percentages at or above the .300 mark. Byron Buxton in particular appears to have figured out how to hit major league pitching and is showing a level of confidence we have not heretofore seen. On paper and based on the early small sample sizes, there's a lot to be optimistic about this year. This is a fun team to watch, and I'm looking forward to an entertaining season.
Opening Day starter Jose Berrios takes the mound again today for the Twins. He's 1-0 with a 1.84 ERA and 14 strikeouts after two starts. The Phils counter with Zach Eflin who was outstanding in his season debut earlier this week, racking up nine strikeouts in five innings of scoreless work. After plenty o' scoring in the first two games of this series. Twins hitters will need to recognize and lay off Eflin's slider if they want to maximize their plate appearances today. If both pitchers bring their best stuff to the mound, we can probably expect another old fashioned pitchers' duel. That's enough words for now, except to say...
Today's contest features the first rubber game of the season as the Twins and Cleveland both try to seal an opening series victory. If this series proves to be an indicator of the AL Central race, we could witness a razor thin margin in the battle for the division crown with these two teams slugging it out for the top spot. Or not. It's rather a fool's errand to prognosticate based on such a tiny data set, after all, but a man can hope. Outstanding starting pitching and solid bullpen work from both teams made the first two games close and interesting. Over 13.2 innings, Twins starters Berrios and Odorizzi combined to strike out 21 batters while giving up just one run (a solo jack off of Jake) with the bullpen surrendering one more plate crosser in yesterday's tilt. Today we may see something completely different as Cleveland sends ten-year team veteran Carlos Carrasco to the mound while the Twins tap the newly acquired Michael Pineda. Last year Carrasco notched 192 innings with 231 strikeouts, while Pineda has not thrown a pitch in a regulation contest since July of 2017 due to injuries that resulted in Tommy John surgery and the repair of a torn meniscus in the knee. On paper you have to give today's starting pitching match-up to Cleveland, but they don't play the games on paper. I'm liking what I see from the Twins so far in the Baldelli era, although I'm not so sure that Kepler as a lead-off batter is going to work out. I say batter because Max is hitless in 8 plate appearances so far with two strikeouts, although the SSS caveat still has to be respected so early in the new season. I have to think that eventually Buxton or maybe Polanco will get a shot at the top of the batting order, but time will tell. Play ball!
All I want for Christmas this year is some solidarity, man.
As with a great number of bands that I enjoy, my oldest brother turned me on to the Hellecasters many, many moons ago.