As we wrapped up the first month of the Major League season the Twins had to win their last two games to finish April at .500. With an 11-11 record, they are the definition of average, mediocre, consistently inconsistent or whatever adjective you want to insert for a team that has more ups and downs than Lindsey Lohan. I think it is safe to say that we have learned a few things from the month:
1. Francisco Liriano is not, and may never be, the same pitcher he was in 2006. When he came back from his Tommy John Surgery last year, the Twins made it clear that they were going to baby him. Part of this philosophy included changing his mechanics to put less torque on his throwing arm. In turn, his once devastating slider has become much less effective. His K/9 IP rate has gone from an exceptional 10.7 in 2006 to a pedestrian 6.4 this season. That is only slightly better than Cincy’s Aaron Harang…yeah. Hitters can now sit on his fastball, since his changeup never was that great to begin with. He might have fewer arm problems than before, but at what price did the organization pay because they turned a future Cy Young winner into a middle of the rotation guy?
2. I have been saying this for a year and a half, but I guess why stop now. NICK PUNTO SHOULD NOT BE AN EVERYDAY PLAYER!! I hope the capital letters and multiple exclamation points express how I feel about this. He has started in 19 of the 22 games so far, which is about 18 too many. He is hitting a cool .228 with one extra base hit. It would be one thing if he was our last option for a shortstop, but Brendan Harris is hitting .350 with double the slugging % as Little Nicky. Yeah, we lose some defensive range, but I think it’s worth having the extra bat in the lineup. The fact that he thinks diving into first is faster than running through it really sums things up for Punto. I don’t think Ussein Bolt dove through the finish line in the Olympics. It’s science.
3. The outfield platoon system that we have is clearly not working. We have four outfielders for three spots: Denard Span, Carlos Gomez, Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer. Span is the only one who is in the lineup everyday, since he has turned himself into one of the best leadoff hitters in the AL. After that, the other three are scuffling. It is no surprise since none of them know whether or not they’ll be in the lineup from day-to-day. I can’t ever remember a successful team that was platooning their entire outfield. Michael Cuddyer is doing his best to prove that he had a total fluke season in 2006. He is flailing wildly at everything thrown to him, and other than a couple nice catches in right field, he really hasn’t contributed anything thus far. He needs to be traded, for a setup guy. That way everybody has a defined role, which would lead to more confidence, more at-bats, and more production.
4. Alexi Casilla is already a legendary tobacco chewer. Good God. If you’ve watched any Twins games, you’ve noticed the egg of chew he has in his lower lip on a daily basis. I think chew is disgusting, but I’m not saying I’ve never done it. If I ever attempted to put that much in my mouth you’d have to peel me off the pool of vomit I made before passing out in it. How can that guy hit a 90 mph fastball with that in his lip?
5. Our bullpen is shaky at best. If anything keeps us out of playoff contention it will be the bullpen. Before the recent call-up of Jose Mijares, we had the setup guy by committee going. Not good times: this committee has a combined ERA of 4.91. That means over half the time they are giving up a run in the inning they pitch in. For a team that doesn’t score a lot of runs, that is devastating. Even Joe Nathan blew a save on Tuesday night. Now that Mijares is back in the bigs, hopefully he can bring some consistency to the eighth inning role. The problem is that Guerrier, Ayala, Crain and Breslow all feature pretty much the same repertoire of pitches, with not much difference in velocities. Opposing teams feel pretty comfortable seeing any one of them.
I haven’t lost hope on the season, especially since we are only a game out of the loss column from KC, Detroit and Chicago. Luckily we play in the AL Central Division. And on the bell curve of Major League talent, all the teams are located centrally.