Sunday, April 29, 2007

TWIT: The Wild Thing

Weekly Roundup

A 3-4 record and a run differential of 29 scored against 26 allowed seems innocuous enough, a seemingly middling and boring week that will be forgettable by the end of the year. The broad strokes do not describe the full picture, though, as the team went from ice cold to red hot over just a few days, then gave it all back with a depressing loss behind Johan Santana. If there was a way to quantify a team's momentum, the Twins likely would have run the gamut over the last seven days. The ignominious start to the week featured the completion of a four game losing streak in which the bats would not awaken, no matter how many bad first pitches at which the team decided to pursue. Scoring ten total runs over the first four games of the week gave a pretty good summary of how miserable the entire offense was. Winning the last of the four games 1-0 in 11 innings, though, seemed to reassure the team in some odd fashion, leading to two very good wins to open the weekend series in Detroit. Sure, losing to Kansas City four out of five times over the course of a week is depressing and sad, but making up for it against the teams who will actually remain in competition to the end of the year helps to temper that sullen feeling. Think of it this way: when reading the morning box scores, seeing Detroit lose to an anonymous opponent means far more than seeing Kansas City drop one because the Tigers figure to remain close. Thus, beating the Tigers two out of three ensures a loss to a key opponent, whereas losing to the Royals is scarcely different from losing to a non-divisional opponent. That does not mean that 6-13 record against the perennial cellar dwellers is desirable, nor does it make the last week's offensive futility excusable. Nonetheless, one need not become overly upset at a few games in April while the team lingers around first place.

Biggest Success

Looking at the recent offensive splits, it is extremely easy to pick a pair of winners for this category in Joe Mauer and Torii Hunter. Aside from a few singles by Jason Kubel, every other position player hit .241 or worse over the last week, making it no wonder that the team struggled to score runs. The faces of the franchise held it together, though, combining for 19 hits and 30 total bases. As is usually the case, Hunter and Mauer to different routes to success at the plate. Hunter managed a line of .360/.370/.680 without drawing a base on balls, keeping the aggressive approach at the plate that has worked for him thus far. Perhaps an impatient style is not optimal, but if you can have a center fielder who plays plus defense and manages an OPS over 800 every year, you take it no matter how that split breaks down. The positional scarcity is that crucial in the calculation. Even though there are even fewer quality catchers around the league, Mauer stands out even further above the rest of his peers. Last week's .391/.517/.565 harkens back to the early months of last season when sportswriters started paying attention to the homegrown golden boy because they would look silly if he hit .400 and they had not written a wave of puff pieces about his sideburns and general affability. Even better than the insane OBP over the last week was the encouraging sign that Mauer finally got his first round-tripper of the year in Saturday's romp over the Tigers. If he can manage to keep his walks and batting average up through patience and pitch recognition alone, then more power to him, but if Mauer's ability to mash develops over the next few seasons, it will only give pitchers another reason to keep the ball off of the plate. Since that is yet another way to prevent making outs, the Twins will be better for it.

Biggest Disappointment

Jesse Crain had a down week, but his failings would have been much less noticeable if the offense had picked him up at some point along the way. Instead, I would prefer to use this space to defame the entire offense. Since I doubt I can hold anyone's attention long enough to go through every misstep that has occurred, I will focus on the middle infield tandem of Jason Bartlett and Alexi Casilla, who were responsible for more "outs" in the last week than the GLAAD awards. Casila hit .190/.227/.238 over the last week, making everyone long for the days when Juan Castro would hit .215 and stretch a handful of his plate appearances to three or four pitches. Instead, Casilla has swung at everything in site, presumably thinking that his speed will make up for the fact that he's hitting the ball about as hard as that omnipresent obese kid on the tee-ball team. Normally, I would blame the front office for exposing Casilla before his skill set has fully developed. In this case, I think Casilla deserves the blame, though, since he has the underlying skills to be a patient and disciplined hitter, but left them somewhere between Rochester and Minneapolis. If he can remember how to draw a walk, it will be much easier for fans to see why he drew so many comparisons to Luis Castillo by statheads and scouts alike. Bartlett's .208/.269/.250 line looks alright compared to Casilla, but that is like calling Mussolini a bastion of democratic ideals relative to his geopolitical allies. In an article earlier this week, Ray Felix did a good job breaking down the parts of Bartlett's game that have gone awry so far this season, and we had better hope that he fixes that (especially his approach at the plate) in the near future, because the only other alternative is the guy I just compared to Hitler.

On the Horizon

Last week, I commented that the coming week would help sort out the division just a little. Since so many teams had inconsistent starts due to weather- especially Cleveland- it seemed appropriate to reserve judgment until a later date. Alas, since the Twins week was every bit as inconsistent as the ones before it, the division is even more log-jammed than it was before. Entering May, we're only a couple of weeks away from being able to make more generalized statements about the team. I'm worried about that time coming a little too soon considering the difficult schedule coming up in the near future. Traveling to Tampa used to be a slam dunk for the Twins, but with struggles against the newly dangerous D-Rays at the Dome, the upcoming three game set could be a downer. At least we miss Scott Kazmir, who is the kind of lefty who should strike fear in the heart of any Twins fan. Following that series by starting a 9 game home-stand against the white hot Red Sox makes the next week a dicey proposition. Curt Schilling and Johan Santana miss matching up by a day, narrowly costing us a chance to see a repeat of the Twins' most exciting game of last season. Splitting the six games over the week would please me. Anything more would be almost shocking.

The Big Picture

On the positive side, the Twins have outscored their opponents by more runs (12) than any other team in the division. More realistically, the team's performance has outpaced its component parts pretty significantly. It is one thing for a team with a strong bullpen to outperform its Pythagorean projection, it is quite another thing for a team to systematically score more runs and prevent more runs than the hitters and pitchers produce. There are only so many two out hits and stranded runners for a team over the course of the season. Once again, I will reiterate that it is extremely early in the season, that the team is still in the middle of the competition, and that what happens in August and September is imminently more crucial than what is happening at the moment. At the same time, the Twins deifnitely have a seedy underbelly, and the more than can do to patch it over at this point, the better.


Nick M. said...

I posted today on Crain's struggles. It is somewhat reminiscent of last year, but I'm not sure if thats a good thing. Who knows if he all the sudden turns into a great reliever again after June starts. But just as Crain hasn't been good, Reyes has been far worst. He really needs to turn it around quick.

Ray Felix, III said...

Enjoyed the post, as always.

I'm starting to feel like a Bartlett apologist, but I'm just not that worried about him at the plate. Since his awful start, he's hitting .314/.386/.392 with 4 2B and a 5:2 BB:SO ratio.

His performance that you quoted indeed isn't very good, so I can't argue with his inclusion in the disappointments of the week, but I'm optimistic that those 26 PA were just a momentary dip. (plus I have the advantage now of knowing he'd have a pretty good game at the plate on Sun.)