Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Snow Joke: The New Minnesota Twins and the End of an Absurdly Long Winter

After splitting a double-header with the Miami Marlins and their new manager “Red Dog” Redmond yesterday, your Minnesota Twins sit at 9-8 as the 2013 season nears the end of its first month. And the temperature finally hit 50 degrees in the Twin Cities today, only a month and three days after the start of spring and two days after the 4th or 5th measurable snow storm of April. Crews at Target Field had to hustle in order to clear Tuesday night’s snow from the field and stands to prepare the stadium for yesterday’s two-game docket. For those scoring at home, we have two professional sports teams in this state winning more than half their games AT THE SAME TIME!!! right now, the first time we can claim that since the fall of 1979.* Like the 2012 Vikings, this year’s Twins were almost unanimously picked to finish at or near the bottom of the AL Central this year, but they find themselves in an unexpectedly high spot in the division right now. They would be one game out of a playoff spot if the season ended today.**
*Not a correct statistic.
 **...That one checks out.

So could this early-season success that we’ve found against highly touted squads like Detroit and Los Angeles and division rivals like the White Sox serve as an accurate harbinger of things to come over the next 145 games? Of course not! It’s been a smoke-and-mirrors performance thus far, as the Twins’ run differential suggests they should actually have a record of 8-9 or 7-10. But it sure is nice to see the hometown nine above .500 at this point in the season and not already mathematically eliminated, as I believe they were by April 25th each of the past two years.
Some of the usual suspects have kept the Twins afloat, with part-time messiah Joseph Mauer batting .366 and inexplicably leading the team in home runs. With two. Along with two other guys. We’re gonna give it to him anyway. And last year’s rotation ace Scott Diamond started the season on the 15-day disabled list but put together a nice start in a win against Chicago earlier this week. But if you were like me, a lot of the faces on this year’s Opening Day roster were unfamiliar. If you were an optimist, you might label these faces as “fresh.”


Aaron Hicks (Center Field)—Though he had zero experience north of Double-A going into this season, Hicks was handed the starting job in center field and the lead-off spot in the lineup after incumbents Denard Span and Ben Revere were traded in the offseason. Less than 20 games into his major league career, Hicks is already breaking all kinds of long-standing MLB records. Like the “most strikeouts in the first 10 games of your career” record. And, um, something to do with walks in April for a Twins rookie. But mostly, that first one.

An average MLB batter posts an OPS+ rating of 100. Great players can put up an OPS+ north of 150. Aaron Hicks currently has an OPS+ of negative-11. He started the year at the top of the batting order but has been bumped down to the bottom third of the order lately with Brian Dozier supplanting him at that number one spot. Hicks has been a Baseball America top 100 prospect four years in a row, which stands to reason that he’s still got some improving to do as he gets older, unless he’s the next Rich Becker.
Rich Becker autographed baseball card, estimated value: $Garbage.

Oswaldo Arcia (Left Field)—Even younger than the very green Hicks is the 21-year-old Arcia, who was called up 10 days ago to fill the roster during Wilkin Ramirez’s paternity leave and has stayed up due to Darin Mastroianni’s ankle injury. He batted over .300 at two different levels of the minors last year and hit 17 homers with 98 RBIs combined to vault into the ranks of the top five prospects in the organization. Arcia hit a base knock in his fist at-bat but has gone 2-for-17 since. However, one of those hits was a 3-run homer--the first of his major league career--that essentially won the first game of yesterday’s double-header for the Twins.

Kyle Gibson (Starting Pitcher)—Gibson is now 25 and over 18 months removed from his Tommy John surgery; he’s currently chilling in upstate New York and averaging almost a strikeout per inning over his first four starts. The coaching staff has him on an innings limit this year, but Kyle is still seen as a possible top-line starter who should be a regular in the rotation next year. He’s not actually on the 25-man Minnesota roster yet, but if the two underachieving guys in the next grouping keep suckin’ it up, I could see one of them picking up a mysterious heel injury or something, thus opening up some quality Kyle Time in the rotation.


Vance Worley (Starting Pitcher)—The “Vanimal” was half of the Twins’ bounty from the trade that sent the effervescent Ben Revere to Philadelphia in the offseason. He was great in 2011, posting a 3.01 ERA as the fifth man in an obscenely stellar Phillies rotation, and he was OK last year as some bone chips bothered him later in the season, necessitating minor surgery this past offeason.
But Worley has been far from “Vantastic” so far this season. The Twins’ Opening Day starter, Worley’s had a “Vancid” beginning to his 2013 year, with three “sub-Vandard” starts and one very nice one (7 IP, 1 ER, 7 K against the White Sox over the weekend), but he’s found the soft spot in the hearts of those in our Edina home for his penchant for wearing goggles, or “sports gogs,” during his starts. Sports can often be a rough-and-tumble business, and it’s worthwhile for any youngsters reading this article to remember: Always wear eye protection, especially if it makes you look cool.

Mike Pelfrey (Starting Pitcher)—I could have sworn Pelfrey came to the Twins in the Johan Santana trade, but that was actually a Mulvey or an Humber or something like that. So it was weird to see the press noting that Minnesota signed (and was not re-signing) him to a deal in December. He started three games last year in his sixth full year with the Mets but could only start three games before having to go under the knife for Tommy John surgery. Much as you would expect someone who’s barely 12 months removed from major elbow reconstruction, Pelfrey has struggled to regain the form that has made him a formidable pitcher in even-numbered years in the past. But hey, at least we only signed him to a one-year deal, so we won’t be forced to watch him maintain his pattern and post dramatically improved numbers next season.

Kevin Correia (Starting Pitcher)—Correia had been a middling pitcher on usually terrible San Diego Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates team for most of his five years as a major league starter. He looked like he just might be the next Jason Marquis or Ramon Ortiz, but Correia has silenced all doubters in his first four starts this year, going at least seven innings and giving up three or less earned runs in every game he has pitched. Most media members still go with somewhere between two to four different pronunciations of Kevin’s last name over every five minutes they spend talking about his great start to the season, ranging from Korea (like the country) to Korea (like how a Spanish speaker would pronounce the name of the country).


Eduardo Escobar (Masher)—Escobar was one-half of the Twins’ return in their trade of Francisco Liriano to the White Sox last July (along with The World’s Most Anonymous Man, listed below), and he’ll likely finish 2nd in the AL Most Valuable Player race behind Orioles 1B Chris Davis, if early-season results are an indication of what will happen over the next 92% of the season. Oh, you’ve never heard of Escobar? Well, that’s understandable...I mean, the guy is only batting a ludicrous .480 and slugging an insane .720!!! What more does Eddie have to do to earn your love???

(Maybe keep this pace for more than 25 at-bats? Oh, okay.)
Escobar or Florimon? You decide! (It's Escobar.)

Pedro Florimon (Infielder or Outfielder) (or Pitcher)—Pedro Florimon is another person who is currently on the Twins, and sources say he wears a jersey with a number, much like most of the other players on the active roster. The Twins picked him up after Baltimore placed him on waivers in December 2011, and he played in 40 games down the stretch last year. His offensive numbers are pretty Luis Rivas-ian, but he’s a plus defensive shortstop and doesn’t hurt anyone down there in the 9-hole of the lineup.

Wilkin Ramirez (Mascot)—I’m 90% sure Wilkin is the guy who usually suits up in the T.C. Bear costume that delights children and senior citizens alike in his traipses around the Target Field concourse. Though he’s from the Dominican Republic, Wilkin has deep ties to Minnesota. His middle name is Emilio, much like the actual first name of the former coach of the Mighty Ducks, the District 5 hockey team from the Brooklyn Park area. Ramirez is a classic “Quadruple-A” player; he’s 27 and has had a couple cups of coffee on three different pro teams now but has mostly spent the last five years at various Triple-A clubs. He had a pretty good year down in Rochester last year, hitting 19 home runs. Congrats to the new daddy, too.

Ryan Pressly and Josh Roenicke (Baseball Players)—Two of the pictures below are of actual major league baseball players Pressly and Roenicke. The third is of Twins pitching prospect B.J. Hermsen.

Do you have any idea who’s who? Because I don’t, and I picked out these pictures and placed them above just 20 seconds ago. Well, two of those three guys have combined to give up just three earned runs over 16 innings so far this year. Pressly’s sporting a 1.23 ERA tonight, while Roenicke’s is an also-impressive 2.08. Roenicke was one of the few non-disastrous pieces of Colorado’s pitching staff last year, while Pressly just picked up relieving last season after being a pretty terrible starter in the minors for most of his career prior.

Pedro Hernandez (Guy)— Pedro Astacio. Pedro Cerrano. Keith Hernandez. Livan Hernandez. These are just some of the names that come to mind when you hear “Pedro Hernandez” and subsequently think “Oh yeah! Pedro Hernandez. I’ve heard of that baseball player before.” Well, you haven’t. I couldn’t pick Hernandez out of a police line-up that also featured Chewbacca, The Hound from Game of Thrones, the British Bulldog, and Deputy Dawg.

But apparently he made enough of an impression on the Twins’ coaching staff to make him the logical call-up choice to fill the 5th starting pitcher role after Cole De Vries suffered some forearm pains and Sam Deduno hurt his back hoisting the World Baseball Classic Winners’ Trophy and Alex Burnett fled north of the border and Nick Blackburn sucked for six years.

The weather should take an extremely positive turn this weekend, and Minneapolis is looking at temperatures in the 70s extending well into next week. That likely (or hopefully) means the squad won’t have any more “four games postponed in ten days” stretches in 2013. But the schedule gets rough for the Twins over the next week, as they take on the AL West-leading Rangers and the defending league champion Tigers over the next week. The Detroit series marks the first stretch of a 10-game road trip that also includes trips to Cleveland and Boston. If the Twins can somehow make it back home in mid-May with a respectable record, then folks may have to start paying attention to this team a little closer.

For now, though, go enjoy these next couple weeks, as they’ll probably be our only respite before the season of swelter and 'squito swatting starts up around Memorial Day. The Twins will be here all summer--which, I’m told, should still take place over a three-month stretch in the upcoming months that will be marked by hotter outdoor temperatures, the removal of baggier, protective outer layers of clothing, and increased ice cream cravings. They’ll be playing a game nearly every day--they have 145 games to play now over the next 158 days--so we’ll check in on their progress, both individually and as a squad, periodically throughout the season.

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