What a difference a year makes.
The Minnesota Twins were swept in their first series of 2012, which took place against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards, and wouldn’t get their first win until their fourth game of the year against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
They have now won two series in a row against the Detroit Tigers and Orioles, two teams that won their respective divisions last year. To put it in perspective, the Twins did not win back-to-back series until May last year.
There is no reason to overreact here. While the lineup has looked impressive, there is some improvement to be made when it comes to starting pitching. Nobody is ready to put the Twins in the playoff picture yet, but all signs point to Minnesota having a better season this year than they did in the past two.
At the very least, this team will be competitive throughout the year and give people reason to tune into games or come out to Target Field in hopes of seeing a future juggernaut in the making.
The Lineup Is Good, Really Good
I love this lineup. It is constructed very uniquely, with Joe Mauer, a contact hitter that offers very little speed, hitting in the 2-hole and a slew of hard-hitting sluggers batting behind him. There are some concerns on how long it will take Aaron Hicks to make the adjustment from Double-A to major league pitching, and Justin Morneau needs to be more effective against lefties, but otherwise, these guys are getting the job done.
The heart of the lineup consists of established sluggers—Mauer, Josh Willingham, Morneau and Ryan Doumit—while the latter half is a glimpse into the future.
Trevor Plouffe has proven that he can draw walks, hit for power and stand in when pitchers fire a fusillade of baseballs at his body (he was hit by pitches in every game against Baltimore). If Chris Parmelee takes a page from his SoCal brethren and shows more place discipline, he’s more than capable of hitting a ball or two out of the park.
Even the little guys—Eduardo Escobar, Jamey Carroll, Pedro Florimon and Brian Dozier—can all hit in the 8- and 9-spots. Carroll and Florimon are pretty limited, but Escobar and Dozier have shown a little power. At the time the Twins traded for Escobar, they believed he packed a little punch in his swing, but the same was said of Alexi Casilla. Dozier put up good numbers at the plate during his minor league career (.298/.370/.407) but only batted .234/.271/.332 last season.
If those two guys get going and everyone stays healthy, it’s going to be one hell of a year!
What Happens If Hicks Continues to Slump?
To be fair, Hicks was in Double-A last year and never played in Rochester. The team obviously believes that the former first-round pick is a capable center fielder and leadoff man; otherwise, they would not have traded away both Denard Span and Ben Revere at the beginning of the year.
It seems to me that Hicks, in fact, will become a great leadoff hitter one day. The Twins preach a 1,000-1,500 at-bat threshold, meaning that until a player gets that many major league plate appearances, they are not going to produce offense on a regular basis.
The problem is that it does Hicks no good to slump through those at-bats. It is not as though he’s going to go 0-for-1,000, a light is going to come on and suddenly, he’s hitting .500 with power. He’s going to go through growing pains, but he probably shouldn’t try to get all 1,000-1,500 at-bats in at once.
So the question is: Who replaces him when he’s either slumping or needs a day off?
Dozier has shown improvement, but is he really a leadoff hitter? Same goes for Escobar. Mauer is great in the 2-hole, but his lack of speed makes it unlikely that he would be a great leadoff man.
The Twins might be smart to dabble with Dozier and Escobar at No. 2, if only to ease them into the leadoff spot should Hicks’ slump continue.
Liam Hendriks Has to Pitch with a Lead or He’s Gone
Hendriks looked solid in his outing against the Orioles…until his team went up 4-1 in the fourth inning. His approach was right up until then: pound the strike zone and make the batter beat you. This should be easier to do with a lead, where the pitcher is granted more leeway with a leadoff double or even a solo shot, but Hendriks shied off a bit.
He began pitching around players and suddenly found himself in poor counts with crooked numbers on the scoreboard.
Ultimately, it was Tyler Robertson who gave up the grand slam to Chris Davis in the eighth inning, but the game should not have been able to be tied that easily.
The Bullpen Can Win Games if the Starters Do Their Job
OK, Robertson got sent down after lobbing an 86 mph fastball to Davis, who is hitting a home run approximately every five minutes, but the rest of the bullpen has done its job.
Glen Perkins has not allowed a run and picked up a win and a save in his first two games. Jared Burton has set him up well. With Anthony Swarzak back, Minnesota can use either him or Brian Duensing, another converted starter, in relief.
Josh Roenicke looked absolutely brutal in his first two appearances against the Detroit Tigers, only throwing 14 of his 29 pitches for strikes, but the former Colorado Rockies pitcher was lights out on Saturday, throwing three innings without a hit.
The Twins have plenty of power. The real test for this team is to establish who they want pitching for them in the beginning of the season. As long as the starters can go six innings and keep the team in the game, the sluggers will score runs and the relievers will close out the game.