Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Twins Face Odd Challenges In Pittsburgh

For the first time in the 2015 Major League Baseball season, and also coincidentally the first time in Paul Molitor's managerial career, the Minnesota Twins will face off against a National League opponent. With that comes the challenges of managing around not having the designated hitter at your disposal. However silly I believe that to be (and I do think it's silly), Molitor may have the deck stacked against him.

Now full disclosure, we aren't talking about Dan Jennings, Jeffrey Loria, and the Miami Marlins type deck here (I mean, the deck is always stacked against you when you aren't playing with a full one am I right?), but the Twins have some interesting things to work through. Notably, this "series" with Pittsburgh is only of the two game variety. However, the Pirates are just 18-20 on the season, and rank 23 in the majors in runs scored. To put it simply, these are two games the Twins need to win.

The biggest hurdles for Paul Molitor to overcome though, they reside on his own team. Take a look:
  • Chris Herrmann
  • Doug Bernier
  • Eduardo Nunez
  • Shane Robinson
  • Eddie Rosario/Eduardo Escobar
That collection of players is about as plain as it gets and four of them have a batting average at or below .252. The highest averages in the group come from Robinson (.315) and an inflated (due to just 22 at bats) .409 average from Nunez. When managing through pinch hitting opportunities and pitching changes however, those are the players that Molitor must rely upon.

Considering that Kennys Vargas was recently demoted to Triple-A Rochester (after hitting .366/.395/.561 in the month of May), the Twins have no power options on their bench. A look through the Rochester lineup highlights Josmil Pinto as well, who is batting .284/.371/.431 on the season with four home runs and 17 RBI. It all adds up to a 25 man roster construction that would seem confusing in the American League, bit appears even more puzzling for a couple of games in the National League.

Of course, if the Twins get early offense and dominant pitching, all of the situational offensive questions become moot. Going into a series, I would argue that is probably not something that should be assumed however. With Ricky Nolasco going in game one, and Mike Pelfrey going in game two, it would stand to reason that the Twins should have options ready. Nolasco has looked better of late, but hasn't pitched deep into games, and Pelfrey looks to be regressing towards his FIP (fielding independent pitching) mean.

Knowing that pitchers such as Brian Duensing and a possibly exposed J.R. Graham loom in the bullpen, having bats ready to remove the pitcher would be an asset. The Twins aren't going to make any changes at this point, and Molitor's managing acumen will be tested. I've always argued that a manager's role is less important than head coaches in other sports, but in situations such as these, it could just be the situational savvy that snags the Twins a victory.