Thursday, April 9, 2015

Misplaced Concern Doesn't Highlight True Issues

Minnesota Twins center fielder Jordan Schafer misplays the triple hit by Detroit Tigers' Yoenis Cespedes during the sixth inning of an opening day baseball game in Detroit, Monday, April 6, 2015. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Yesterday, the Minnesota Twins completed their second game of the 2015 Major League Baseball season. While they are now 0-2, after 1/81 of the season, it appears as if a large contingent of the fan base is already waving the white flag. Considering the stretch that is the Major League Baseball season, two games is representative of a very small sample size. In football, it may equate to one drive, or basketball, a possession. With that notion, joining the knuckle-dragging contingent suggesting doom seems premature. That being said, there are some definite concerns in the early going, it just appears they are misplaced.

Much has been made about the offensive drought the Twins are currently going through. In 18 innings this season, they have yet to score a run, and even worse, have not reached third base. Dating back to 2014, it's been 24 innings (all against these Detroit Tigers) in which the Twins have failed to cross the plate. Again, while problematic, offensive issues aren't where concern should lie for this club. After all, a season ago virtually the same lineup was 7th in the majors when it came to scoring runs. However, yesterday's game highlighted some significant problem areas for the Twins.

First and foremost, Ricky Nolasco. I still remain of the belief that Nolasco will make good on at least of portion of what was the largest Twins free agent contract handed out at the time. The unfortunate reality is that it should have been Phil Hughes, and not Nolasco, that was the priority in the first place last year. Nolasco was a relatively average pitcher for the Marlins and that was in the National League. Expecting him to be a top of the rotation guy in the American League also seemed to be a longshot, and it's biting the Twins hard now. Today, Nolasco was sent back to Minnesota for an MRI. After pitching through injury last season and doing more damage than good, it's no doubt a positive thing that he's getting it figured out early in the process. While even a healthy Nolasco is an unproven commodity, a hurt one is not a good thing at all. The Twins are in a position to handle a rotation in flux with names like Alex Meyer and Trevor May, but there's no doubt a sense of concern with an injury out of the gate.

Moving on from the starting pitching and to the bullpen, the Twins weakness was already exposed. As Brandon Warne noted on this week's episode of Twins Tuesday, the bullpen is neither good nor interesting. Boasting a handful of journeyman types with low velocities and even lower ceilings, bullpen pitching is going to be an issue for the Twins until they start to call up some of the kids. Through 18 innings of baseball, the Twins have gone to the bullpen for four different pitchers, and only one has yet to give up a run. That pitcher is J.R. Graham, who prior to this season, hadn't pitched above the Double-A level. Of the 16 innings the Twins have pitched (the Tigers haven't needed to bat in the 9th yet), seven of the innings have been worked by bullpen pitchers. At nearly a 50% rate, an already overmatched bullpen is set to be overworked as well.

Rounding out the issues the Twins have faced in the early going is one that was highlighted coming into the season, outfield defense. Although during the first game, issues weren't as prevalent as game two, the uncertainty has reared it's head. Yesterday's game featured multiple misplayed balls by centerfielder Jordan Schafer (one of which he simply fell over trying to field), an error (though it wasn't recorded as such) by Torii Hunter, and a circus experiment on a catch made by Oswaldo Arcia. The corner outfielders are no doubt there because of their bats (and to be fair, Hunter did make a nice catch against the wall). In center however, Schafer was somehow viewed as a better option than Aaron Hicks of Eddie Rosario. What it all amounts to is that Paul Molitor will be faced with some early decisions.

Three games in, Eduardo Escobar is making his first start in left field. Arcia has struggled at the plate, looking overmatched in the early going. Schafer is being run out there again today and Hunter is no doubt here to stay. As Schafer and Shane Robinson continue to provide little value, the Twins will need to hope a quick start by Hicks or Rosario forces their hand. Getting less than ideal starting pitching is an issue, and compounding it by fielding a less than talented outfield only makes matters worse.

While Minnesota is only two games into the season, there are some concerning trends that need to reverse themselves. Reaching third base and scoring runs are not reasons to panic in the slightest, but the above may prove to be costly unless the new manager does something about the bandaid that is no doubt peeling off.

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