My Thoughts On The Struggles To Open The Season

On one hand, I could easily just link to this (which I will probably continue to do throughout the season) and say that my analysis is complete. However, I feel like I do need to add more.

Injuries always happen, and it’s certainly part of the reason why the Twins have such a poor record entering May. Delmon Young, Kevin Slowey, Joe Mauer, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka are all on the disabled list right now, while Carl Pavano, Young, Morneau, and Mauer have all been hit by the flu. Jim Thome has been sore seemingly all season. Add it all up, and the Twins have been without a full lineup ever since the first week of the season.

However, it’s not always the injuries that define how good or bad a team will be. The Boston Red Sox lost many players to injuries last season,* and yet they still finished with an 89-73 record. That was only good enough for 3rd in the AL East, but it was still the 10th best record in the majors last year.

* Unfortunately, the Baseball Injury Tool website is no more. I would have used it to show how many players/days the Red Sox lost to injuries, but now you’ll just have to take my word for it.

The Red Sox were able to succeed because of the players that filled in while the starters were out. Former Twin Darnell McDonald filled in and hit .270/.336/.429 in 117 games while playing all over the outfield. Jed Lowrie hit .287/.381/.526 as he filled in for Dustin Pedroia and the inconsistent Marco Scutaro, and those are just a couple examples.

Meanwhile, the Twins are being hurt not only by slow starts from the starters, but also from their replacements. Let’s take a look at the offense first, with comparisons between the regulars and replacements.

Joe Mauer: .235/.289/.265

Drew Butera: .114/.152/.159

Steve Holm: .118/.167/.176

Tsuyoshi Nishioka: .208/.269/.250

Luke Hughes: .250/.267/.341

Michael Cuddyer: .226/.287/.355

Delmon Young: .228/.286/.281

Rene Tosoni: .214/.267/.214

Jason Repko: .211/.318/.211

All three position players that are on the disabled list struggled to start the season, but even the healthy guys haven’t been much better. Collectively, the team is hitting .233/.291/.322, which is 25th in the majors in batting average, tied for 30th in OBP, and 29th in SLG. Offensively, the Twins have no one to step in to give the regulars a break.

For the pitching staff, it’s been more of the same. The Twins decided to go the cheap route behind Matt Capps and Joe Nathan in the bullpen, and it’s been a mess. After Capps and now Glen Perkins, there isn’t any pitcher that can be fully trusted right now. Nathan isn’t himself. Jose Mijares has lost his control. Kevin Slowey was another bright spot until he went on the disabled list, but it appears as though he’s going to return to starting, as 3/5 of the starting rotation has also been shaky.

Carl Pavano will certainly get every chance in the world to redeem himself, but the same may not be true for Nick Blackburn and Francisco Liriano. With Slowey being stretched out, one of these guys may be removed before long.

Unlike the offense, the pitching staff does have some possible answers waiting in the minor leagues. Kyle Gibson will certainly be up, while the bullpen will see Kyle Waldrop and Carlos Gutierrez, although they probably won’t be up until June at the earliest.

Honestly, last year’s team had a similar issue with depth on the offense, but the revival of Jim Thome with a strong rotation and bullpen masked that problem. After Morneau suffered his concussion, the bench (typically) consisted of Drew Butera, Matt Tolbert, Jason Repko, and either Nick Punto or Alexi Casilla. We know that none of these players were good hitters, and this problem would have been magnified if more than just Morneau had hit the disabled list for a significant amount of time.

The team’s depth is very poor, and the front office has really only two options: Let the regulars return to form, or shake up the roster. The first option makes more sense, but the issue is that with everyone but Kubel, Span, Duensing, Baker, Capps, and Perkins struggling right now, waiting for these players to heat up enough to return the team to respectability may take weeks.

As a fan, it’s easy to say that overhauling the roster would fix the problem, but that could be an overreaction of sorts for the Twins. Yes, I understand that the team is terrible, but who would be cast away? Sure, Alexi Casilla and the struggling players in the bullpen are easy culprits, but few teams would be willing to swing a trade for them. Designating a bunch of players for assignment just to call up a bunch of minor leagues may not improve the team. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are virtually untradeable. The Twins like Michael Cuddyer too much to give him away.

It appears to me that until the regulars pick it up, we may be stuck with watching these Twins until June or July when Gibson, Gutierrez, and Waldrop are called up. Also, as they approach the trade deadline, the team will have a better idea of whether to buy, sell, or remain stagnant.

Or, I may just have to mention this for possibly the fourth, but likely not last time: 2011 was probably not meant to be the Twins’ year.

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3 Responses to “My Thoughts On The Struggles To Open The Season”

  1. Ed Bast Says:

    After a month it seems my criticism of the front office was warranted, eh? I’m afraid that as long as Bill Smith is at the helm, I can’t share in your 2012 optimism either. Our saving grace is that the Central looks especially crappy this year.

    This organization needs a shake-up in a bad way. Top down.

    • Andrew Says:

      Yes, your criticism does seem warranted. Coming into the season, it seemed like the biggest problems were going to be the bullpen and maybe the bench. Well, injuries and ineffectiveness have exposed the lack of depth in every facet of the team right now.

      In 2012 though, with so much money coming off the payroll, I feel that the Twins could bring in some actual talent, provided they don’t feel obligated to keeping someone like Cuddyer. Of course, they cut loose Guerrier and Crain without any problem, so who knows what would happen?

      • Ed Bast Says:

        Based on past history I would be shocked if they did not bring back Cuddy. Nathan could get a deal too. And the last time Bill Smith had some extra cash to spend, he used a lot of it to extend guys that didn’t need to be extended. So I don’t have any confidence Mr. Smith is going to spend that money wisely, if it does become available.

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