Monday, April 4, 2011

Twins Win, Sky Not Falling

Minnesota Twins baseball is back. Despite getting blown out 13-3 and then 6-1 in their first two games of the season, it's still a joy to watch baseball again. The Twins did manage to take the series finale, which means they are heading to New York at 1-2. (Insert the generic "they will be leaving Yankee Stadium 1-6" joke here.) Some thoughts from the first series of the season:

- Those of you who are getting all worked up about early season results, remember that there are 162 games. If you were to get the first two questions wrong on a 150 question exam, I don't think you'd immediately assume you were going to fail the test. Every game matters, as we saw in 2008 and 2009 when the Twins went to a 1-game playoff. But ultimately the first series of the year is not going to make a huge difference on a team's season, as long as they don't suffer a crippling injury. The sky is not falling, yet.

- The Twins played the Blue Jays 9 times last year, and finished 3-6 against them. If they were to play them 9 times again in 2011 (they play less this year, 6 times), they'd be on pace to finish 3-6 against them again. The Twins won 94 games last season despite struggling to beat Toronto, so an early season series loss isn't the end of the world.

- When the Twins decided to trade JJ Hardy and let Orlando Hudson leave via free agency, I said the team's infield defense was likely going to suffer because they replaced two elite defensive players with two unknowns in Alexi Casilla and Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Sure enough, the very first batter of the season Carl Pavano faced hit a ground ball in the hole that was certainly a fairly difficult play for Casilla. He made a solid play on the ball but Jays speedster Rajai Davis beat the throw. I saw JJ Hardy make that play over and over last year, though, and considering how low Pavano's K/9 has fallen to, he needs great defense behind him. It's a small sample size, of course, but it seems clear Casilla can't make the same kind of plays consistently that JJ Hardy did.

- Tsuyoshi Nishioka didn't have the best debut. After admitting he was nervous during pre-game warmups, he struggled at the plate and in the field. After Pavano had picked off Rajai Davis, Nishioka botched the run down and allowed Davis to scamper back to first. Then with two outs and a runner on second, Nishioka missed a ground ball up the middle off the tip of his glove. The play looked difficult, but for a major league second baseman it's a pretty routine play and it's a play I think he will make many times over the course of his contract. Despite his early struggles, he's not as bad as he's looked. He's also not as good as some people think he will be, and stardom is very very unlikely, but if he can just be a solid player he'll be an asset for this team.

- Francisco Liriano will be fine.

- It's great to see Denard Span start out hitting well after his early struggles last season seemed to linger for months. If he can be as good in the lead-off hole as he was in 2008 and 2009, the Twins could certainly win 90+ games again. We're all hoping that's the case.