Spring weather has finally arrived in the Twin Cities and the Minnesota Twins have heated up with the rising temperatures. It was still cold on Thursday and Friday when the team lost to the Texas Rangers by the score of 2-1 and 4-3, respectively, in front of crowds of roughly 25,000.
On Saturday and Sunday, however, temperatures hovered around 70 degrees and the Twins won handily, 7-2 and 5-0, in front of almost 10,000 more fans than the previous two days.
“The weather really hasn’t allowed us to get outside much,” said first baseman Justin Morneau, “especially at home you can get more extra work and with snow you really can’t hit outside. It was nice to get outside and do some extra stuff.”
The Twins will now take the show on the road, leaving for their longest trip of the season, and hopefully by May 10 it will no longer be snowing at Target Field. (No promises though!)
Regardless of whether we will see inclement weather from here on out, Minnesota split a four-game series against the Rangers, a dark-horse contender in the American League, and currently have a winning record.
The Twins lineup struggles against young pitching
Minnesota got a hint of this when they faced New York Mets phenom Matt Harvey, who only gave up two hits and a run in eight innings pitched, and once again struggled against young and talented pitchers in the Rangers series.
Nick Tepesch (four career major league starts) only gave up one hit in 6.2 innings in Game 1 and Justin Grimm (five career major league starts) followed up with a scoreless seven-inning outing in Game 2.
“The kid had a live fastball and a live arm,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire of Tepesch. “The ball was jumping on our hitters and he was cutting it and had a nice little breaking ball.”
“He got ahead of us,” added Josh Willingham, “that was the key.”
Grimm, who may have the greatest last name in baseball, reaped the soul out of the offense with a solid fastball and curveball that he located all over the strike zone.
“First look at him,” said Gardenhire, “never easy.”
Aaron Hicks, Brian Dozier switch has worked out for both players
Second baseman Brian Dozier has solidified his role as the leadoff hitter, and is actually hitting better since being moved up, while center fielder Aaron Hicks has improved his play since moving down in the order.
“I hit leadoff most of the time in the minors,” said Dozier, whose average has passed the Mendoza line since the move. “I feel I’m really comfortable at the top of the order, especially with the guys behind me.”
He has been selective at the plate and, as a result, is making good contact.
While Dozier was hitting approximately .180 before the move and has since seen his average rise to around .240, Hicks not only was struggling to get to .200…he was batting .040 as a leadoff hitter. Since the move, he has broken .100 and should cross the Mendoza Line sooner than later.
“He’s swinging a lot better; he’s having some better at-bats,” said Gardenhire. “He’s learning; he’s adjusting. We know he’s athletic and his bats are better and he’s getting some hits.”
Hicks says it’s all about pitch selection for him: “Laying off pitches I usually swing at and really just find a good pitch to hit and hit it solid.”
Twins should keep a power hitter (or two) on the bench
There have been games where Minnesota has sent out a lineup that looks something like this: Brian Dozier, Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham, Justin Morneau, Ryan Doumit, Chris Parmelee, Trevor Plouffe, Aaron Hicks, Eduardo Escobar.
Why is that significant? Well unlike Taco Bell, it’s made almost exclusively with beef.
Yeah, sure, Hicks can’t be considered a power hitter yet and Dozier and Escobar are both smaller guys. Even with that lineup, however, Oswaldo Arcia (two home runs) is on the bench.
The reason to keep a good bat (or two) on the bench is threefold:
First, it’s nice to have a solid pinch hitter late in the game.
There’s really no sense in having Pedro Florimon or Jamey Carroll hit when the team is down in the eighth or ninth inning. The Twins are much better off sending Plouffe, Doumit or even a guy like Morneau out there to get a timely hit.
Secondly, it should keep these guys healthy.
Injuries have plagued the Twins over the past two years. While this has more to do with the pitching staff, Mauer, Morneau and Plouffe all suffered significant injuries that kept them out of the game for long stretches of time in the past couple seasons. Why risk overplaying these guys when there’s so much power to go around?
Finally, some of these power hitters struggle in the field. Plouffe is still figuring out third base and could use time off here and there while Escobar and Carroll man the hot corner. Oswaldo Arcia and Willingham are better at the plate than they are in the field. Doumit obviously isn’t going to catch everyday.
This is also a way for the Twins to try to curb a hitter’s slump. Notice that Doumit and Plouffe have seen less time on the field and the former was used late in the game on Thursday.
After all, what’s a better way to break out of a lull than to hear your name called in a pivotal time of the game and deliver a clutch hit?
The bottom of the lineup is producing
At one point, Escobar was hitting .500. Five hundred! To say that he’s been playing well is not looking at the glass half full, it’s realizing that he gets a hit almost half the time he gets to the plate.
Now, to be fair, he isn’t playing every day because Florimon, a better fielder, also plays shortstop. Still, Escobar was hitting .500!
As I alluded to earlier, Hicks has seen improvement. Florimon is having good at-bats and taking walks. Carroll, 39, hasn’t had to play as much because of how well his teammates are doing, but is holding his own with four hits and four runs in 18 plate appearances.
“We’ve moved them around,” says Gardenhire. “Esco’s been doing fantastic and Hicksy’s getting on the base now and that has to."
“That’s how it’s going to work when the lineup rotates over from the bottom: Those guys are on base for our big boys so they can knock them in.”
Sounds like a plan to me.
Get excited! The Twins are finally over .500 and everyone’s healthy.
Some tempered enthusiasm is the way to go: Enjoy the winning, enjoy the weather and enjoy the possibility of a brighter future than everyone predicted.
One of the joys of this game is no matter how many statistics experts throw at you or where the baseball cognoscenti picked the Twins to finish, this game is full of surprises.
Who knows? Maybe this team is better than we all thought.
All quotes were obtained firsthand.