Happy Fathers Day! I'm always reminded on this day of the two men drinking at the bar. One is commiserating at length on the pitfalls of fatherhood and proclaims finally that ten minutes of pleasure can lead to a lifetime of obligation and aggravation. The other man takes this in while staring into his drink, and after a long pause turns his head and says, "How do you make it last for ten minutes?"
The Twins wrap up Joe Mauer weekend at Target Field with a chance to sweep the beleaguered Kansas City Royals and extend their 25.5 game lead over the AL Central cellar dwellers. Watching the number retirement ceremony yesterday and seeing Joe with his little boy and the rest of his family confirmed for me that the Chairman made the right decision when he prioritized his health and family over another year of major league baseball and one last chance at a championship. I'm sure that given how the team is performing he sometimes wishes he'd given it another year, and frankly I do, too. I do think the reluctance the front office showed to even talk about a contract extension last year helped tip the scale toward retirement and like an inside fastball off the handle of the bat, that still stings a little. But in the end, we're left with a career's worth of memories (the no-look, behind-the-back crouching backhanded pick without missing a beat on a wild pitch that ricocheted straight off the sandstone backstop - I could watch that on an infinite loop). The great thing about baseball memories is that we feel them personally, we make them our own and the best ones we tuck away like treasures. We take them out from time to time to polish and admire, but we also share them freely and happily with our families and friends and other fans around the world, and that makes them even more special because they connect us in a way that transcends differences.
Jake Odorizzi proved himself human yesterday, gave up four runs and saw his ERA balloon to 2.24. Today's starter, Martin Perez, is also human but having a better year than I, for one, anticipated. He's 7-2 with a 3.97 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 70.1 innings pitched. He's served as a good pivot between our aces Berrios and Odorizzi and the less effective end of the rotation in Gibson and Pineda. The Royals today give the ball to 26-year-old Jakob Junis. The KC right-hander is probably better than his 4-6 record and 5.35 ERA, but that will happen with Kansas City's defense and offense backing you up. The Twins start today's game with a 62.6% win probability, so I believe I'll dust my broom. Play ball!
I don't mean to harp on the bullpen. We knew going into the season it was going to be the weakest link on this team. And statistically the bullpen isn't horrible, it's just that compared to an excellent offense and outstanding starting pitching and dazzling defense, an average bullpen looks somehow below average. But chin up, mates, the front office has about seven weeks to work with, more and more teams will become sellers as the trade deadline nears, we have a sizable lead in the division, lots of games against weak divisional foes to come, and the team is relatively healthy. So, laissez les bons temps rouler.
Today the Twins send Jake Odorizzi to the mound. Simply put, he's been awesome with sugar frosting on top. His 1.96 ERA leads the American League and gives him a 228 ERA+ on the season. He's struck out 70 batters while allowing just 21 walks (3.33 K/BB), and he's given up just four home runs in more than 61 innings pitched. With a 0.964 WHIP, he's extremely stingy giving up the bases. He's one of the primary reasons that after 63 games this season, the Twins have yet to lose more than two games in a row. I think it's fair to say The Jake has more than returned on his trade investment of infielder Jermaine Palacios (.266/.322/.386/.708 MiLB career). The Tigers counter the sweet odor of success with southpaw Ryan Carpenter (1-2, 6.23 ERA). He's 28 years old, has thrown a total of 48.1 big league innings, and this year he's given up almost two and half homers for every nine innings he's pitched. So no, he's not as good as Odorizzi, but as of right now, only a very small handful of big league pitchers are. A Twins victory today means another series win and a winning ten-game road trip. Play ball!
Don't look now, but Jake Odorizzi (7-2, 2.16 ERA) is the best pitcher in the Twins starting rotation by just about any set of numbers you peruse, and one of the best in the game as of today. The ESPN Cy Young Predictor currently ranks him fourth, behind Justin Verlander, Roberto Asuno and Domingo German, and just ahead of our own Jose Berrios. That's two Twins starters with a legitimate shot at the Cy Young award. We haven't enjoyed rotation riches like this since Santana and Liriano combined to light up the league back in 2006. Odorozzi starts his 12th game of the year for the Twins today. The Rays will start lefty Ryan Yarbrough (4-1, 5.53 ERA), who struggled early in the season but rebounded after a recent minor league stint. Yarbrough's given up just two combined runs in his last two starts since being recalled from AAA Durham. Play ball!
So, it looks like the front office has recognized some relief pitching deficiencies and is making tentative moves to shore up the bullpen. The Twins offense keeps rolling like a juggernaut, the starting pitching is top notch or, in the cases of Gibby and Pineda, showing improvement with each start over the past month. This is the kind of Twins team you dream about through a frigid, dark Minnesota winter, or during the worst of a midsummer losing streak. And there just might be enough depth in the organization to weather the inevitable injuries that can leave your bench thin as an anorexic beanpole. The Twins send Jake Odorizzi (really good numbers) to the mound seeking a sweep of the South Siders and his 7th win of the season - before Memorial Day, no less. The White Sox counter with Dylan Covey, whose 5.31 ERA is seeking its first win on the year. Play ball!
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!