Friday, May 1, 2015

Breaking Down the April That Was

Minnesota Twins' Joe Mauer, right, hits a triple to drive in a pair of runs as Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Zunino looks on in the 11th inning of a baseball game Sunday, April 26, 2015, in Seattle.
The Minnesota Twins are now into May, and they have completed the first month of their 2015 Major League Baseball season. After starting off on an ugly note against the Detroit Tigers, the team has settled in a played competitive baseball on a nightly basis (as should have been the assumption). Just two games below .500, there's no doubt this team has left some wins on the table. There's plenty of encouraging notes as we head into the summer months however.

At 10-12, the Twins head into May in sole possession of the third spot in the AL Central division standings. Ahead of both the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians, the Twins trail the division leading Kansas City Royals by five games. Currently in the midst of a series with Chicago, they have an opportunity to distance themselves further from the bottom of the Central. Pitching and defense have been the plaguing issues in the early going, but there's plenty of reason to believe both areas continue to improve.

Looking at some key players on this Twins team, early returns are actually in a better place than they were a year ago. After setting a major league record in regards to BB/9 in 2014, Phil Hughes has actually started better in 2015.
In fact, the biggest detriment to Hughes in the early going has been the lack of offense he has been afforded by his team. He's 0-4 in his first five games, despite rarely being the reason for those losses (in case it needed to be hammered home more that wins are a terrible stat for starting pitchers).
On the offensive side, there is no more polarizing player for the Twins than Joe Mauer. Despite being knocked consistently for a contract that he signed as a catcher in the Metrodome, Mauer has continued to produce for the Twins. Dealing with the lingering effects from a concussion and an oblique injury in 2014, it was apparent he wasn't himself. Although it's only been one month into the 2015 season, it looks like the former batting champ is returning to form just fine.
Looking at some of the issues that have plagued the Twins in the early going, it's pretty difficult to look past the bullpen pitching and outfield defense. The latest debacle for the bullpen came in Hughes' last start in which a 7-3 Minnesota lead was squandered after the 5th inning, allowing the Tigers to grab the win by a tally of 10-7. Terry Ryan took fliers on low ceiling veterans such as Brian Duensing, Blaine Boyer, and Tim Stauffer to round out his bullpen and so far the results haven't been good.

Duensing has been a mainstay with the Twins, mainly relied upon as being a lefty arm out of the pen. Although currently on the DL (he's scheduled to return Saturday May 2), he owns a 7.36 ERA. The only pen arm worse than Duensing has been Stauffer. Throwing to an 8.38 ERA allowing 10 ER on 16 H in just 9.2 innings, it's been a train wreck from the get go. With players coming back to the fold following injury, it would appear Stauffer's time with the club could be coming to a close. Boyer started the season on an ugly note, but has since turned it around currently owning a 3.65 ERA. His .298 AVG against isn't promising, but for now he's hanging on at least.

While getting to the 9th inning has been a chore for the Twins, their man in the closer role has been lights out. After dealing with injuries to end 2014 and in spring training, Glen Perkins has looked sharp in the early going. His shiny 1.00 ERA and six saves make him once again look like one of the best closers in the American League. Behind the pitching, the Twins have faltered in the outfield.

Employing bats in the form of Oswaldo Arcia and Torii Hunter on the corners, their defense has taken a hit. With neither hitting consistently yet (Arcia .250/.310/.365) Hunter .205/.244/.315) the lack of ability in the field has been more prevalent. Combining that with a lackluster Jordan Schafer roaming center, the Twins have watched more circus play in the grass than they have seen any bit of spectacular ability or runs saved.

Considering where the Twins have issues however, the club is actually in a great place. Roster moves should be coming soon, and most of them should provide an immediate uptick in productivity. With the Tigers and Royals both scorching hot, there's no doubt that they will cool off at some point during the summer. Minnesota is in a good position, and remains in striking distance.

If Paul Molitor can continue to work with and develop this club, they have the ability to turn some heads as the season draws on. Minnesota needs to hang around .500, and know that they have the ability to move on up as key moves are made throughout the organization.