The Twins are Nightmare Fuel
In 1988, the Orioles lost their first 21 games and finished 54-107. Dead last in the American League.
The 2016 Twins have played nine games. And lost nine games. Nearly halfway to Baltimore’s epic ineptitude.
Butch Davis played thirteen games for those O’s. And is the first base coach for these Twins.
I’m not a doctor, but there’s only one common denominator here.
In all seriousness, we can dispense with the cliches of “It’s early” and “There’s a long way to go,” because despite the immense talent on Minnesota’s roster, they are a terrible baseball team at the moment.
Anticipation for this season was high following an 83-79 performance a year ago that found the Twins not only finish second to the eventual World Series champion Royals, but in contention for a playoff spot deep into September.
Those who understand the game knew that Minnesota over-performed in 2015, but looked forward to another step toward a bright future this season.
Some of baseball’s best prospects — Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton — getting full 162-game schedules under their belts, the acquisition of Korean slugger Byung Ho Park and hopes for a better campaign from the rotation despite a weak bullpen.
Early returns have been the stuff of nightmare fuel.
No team in the league has struck out more. In fact, five players — Sano (15), Buxton (13), Park (13), Eduardo Escobar (10) and Eddie Rosario (10) — have all struck out at least ten times. In nine games.
The Twins are last in the AL for slugging and OPS, second-to-last in on-base percentage and only the Indians have fewer hits and Angels have fewer homers.
Joe Mauer, whom many Minnesota fans had given up on (myself included), is actually batting .387. Before allowing yourself to feel as though that’s something to be excited about, consider that the rest of the team is batting .179 (47-for-262). And that is with Escobar’s .324 average.
The hopes for the rotation have been realized early with the third-best ERA among starting pitchers at 3.10. However, the bullpen has been every bit the soft underbelly they were perceived to be, with Kevin Jepsen, Glen Perkins and Casey Fien getting it done to the tune of a collective 12.67 ERA.
The Twins are not only striking out at an alarming rate, no one player save Mauer seem capable of stringing together back-to-back competent at-bats, let the line-up as a whole.
Not a good sign.
Mistakes have been made on the base paths (see Rosario’s blunder from Thursday against the White Sox), and despite five stolen bases, they’ve been hosed trying to steal four times. The quick math would indicate just north of fifty percent.
Yes, it’s early. Yes, there’s a long way to go. Yes, Minnesota has a plethora of talented players. Yes, the future would appear to remain bright.
However, with plate discipline desperately lacking up and down the batting order, much work lay ahead of hitting coach Tom Brunansky (a .245 career hitter who averaged 107 strikeouts per season) to get the Twins’ offense anywhere near a place that could be remotely confused with competence.
The rotation has performed well and top prospect Jose Berrios will arrive before long, but to think that Minnesota’s starters will pitch like this into September is more than likely wishful thinking.
Enter the bullpen. Again. Not good.
Andy Van Slyke once said that every season has its peaks and valleys, but the key was to avoid the Grand Canyon. The Twins will eventually bring this losing streak to a close and they’ll win their fair share of games, but it’s not about contention right now.
Forget 2016. Minnesota is not making the playoffs. The reality is that 2017 and ’18 were always the years where contention were to be expected, not hoped for.
That said, with strikeouts by the boatload from Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe and Eddie Rosario and Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano and Byung Ho Park, will all the offensive firepower be rendered moot because they simply can’t make enough contact to be relevant for an entire season? And what’s worse, if that is, in fact, the case, we are not allowed to forget that those players will form the core of the line-up for the foreseeable future.
Before you gulp, think about this: Minnesota is nine games into its 2016 season, but it sure feels like 1988.