Okay, okay, so I might have come across as sounding a tad negative in my previous post (it’s called being realistic about your team’s chances, people). I do think the Twins have a good team. Not a great team, and maybe not even good enough to win the division, but a competitive one nonetheless. And while there are certainly some things to be worried about, there are also a lot of good things that will happen:
- Kevin Slowey is the new Brad Radke: The soft-tossing righty is having a great spring so far, posting a 1.93 ERA and 0.75 WHIP in 9.1 innings pitched. Better yet, he’s been striking out batters at a rate of about once per inning. His command has been absolutely spot on, with a perfect 10.00 K/BB ratio. There are some who think that Slowey might turn in a Cy-Young-worthy performance this year, and at this point I would have to agree.
The only real cause for concern with Slowey is that, like fellow fly-ball pitcher Scott Baker, he tends to give up the gopher ball. However, he hasn’t given up any so far this spring and has limited opposing hitters to a tidy .303 slugging percentage. I am a little concerned that the outfield defense might have a negative effect on his ERA, but at the rate he’s been striking out hitters it doesn’t look like that will be much of a problem.
- Francisco Liriano will emerge as the staff ace: Frankie is still a little wild, but has been striking out hitters at decent clip of 7.71 K/9. Even though he’s given up six walks in 16.1 innings, he’s held opposing batters to a paltry .172/.254/.259 and hasn’t given up very many extra base hits. When he’s been on top of his game, he’s been absolutely dominant. However, even at his worst (as he was in his first appearance against the Yankees and in his last start against the Pirates) Frankie gave up a mere three earned runs on six hits in six innings. He’s been working on a changeup since his Tommy-John-surgically-repaired arm can’t withstand throwing so many sliders, and it’s been absolutely filthy.
- Jason Kubel and Delmon Young are poised to have breakout seasons: Last year, Jason Kubel started to show flashes of the hitter the Twins thought they were getting when they drafted him in 2000. It looks as though he’s finally managed to put his knee problems behind him and has settled in as the everyday DH. Kubel’s been putting up some good numbers so far this year, batting .367/.424/.500 in 30 ABs (though he’s only hit one home run). Kubel is going to have to improve on last seasons’ 118 OPS+ to be worth keeping in the DH spot, but I think that with an increase in playing time the numbers will come.
Delmon Young will probably never be the power right-handed bat the Twins are looking for, but he looks as though he’s going to rebound from his disappointing 2008 season. He’s been having a pretty good spring so far, posting a .351/.385/.595 line with 2 homers and 6 RBI in 37 plate appearances (although he did ground into four double plays against the Pirates on Wednesday, which would have been a record if it were a regular season game). Delmon, like Carlos Gomez, has a tendency to swing at the first pitch a lot, so I would really like to see him show more patience at the plate.
- Jesse Crain will be dominant: Jesse Crain hasn’t allowed a run in his six appearances this spring, or even in his brief stint with Team Canada in the WBC (he struck out all four batters he faced). His stuff has been electric, and he’s recorded four strikeouts while giving up one hit. The velocity on his fastball has been back up to 94-95 mph and has had good movement on it, too. This is fantastic news for a bullpen that has been lacking a dominant set-up man since Pat Neshek went down with an elbow injury in June of last year.
- Glen Perkins might not be that bad, either: Perkins is arguably the weakest link in the rotation. But he’s been pretty good so far, allowing a mere 5 earned runs in twenty innings. However, I doubt this success will carry over into the regular season. Perk has been very hittable in his spring training starts, having given up 20 hits so far, while only striking out seven. Which means he’s had a lot of runners on base, something that isn’t good for a guy who (like Baker and Slowey) tends to give up the long ball.
Lest you think I’m being negative again, I will say that Perk could make a decent back-of-the-rotation starter (and I’m pretty much the only person who thinks he even belongs on a major-league roster, so that’s saying a lot). However, I also think that if he puts up decent numbers this year, the front office would be smart to consider trading him. He doesn’t throw all that hard and lacks pinpoint command, but could be valuable trade bait for teams that are desperate for left-handed starting pitching. The Twins have another lefty in Brian Duensing, who has better stuff and should be ready to start next season. The Twins generally like to hang onto their pitching talent, though, so I would be surprised if they actually move Perk. Most likely a demotion to the bullpen is in his future.
I know I lit into the front office for being such skinflints in my previous post, and I stand by that assessment. However, there are some indications that the Pohlad family will be willing to increase payroll once the new ballpark opens next year. They have given Bill Smith the greenlight to lock up some of their key players into long-term contracts (most notably Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan), and have expressed a desire to sign their All-Star catcher to a long-term deal even though it will cost them somewhere in the $140 million range to do so. I am still a little skeptical on the spending front, though, since Jim Pohlad has handled most of the day-to-day baseball activities since 2003 and hasn’t increased payroll much in that time. And I am also a bit skeptical that Bill Smith knows how to put a championship-caliber team together.
- Okay, now they’re dead
Perhaps they are officially still in the Western Conference playoff race, but after last night’s awful effort against the Devils, the
Wild Mild look like they’re done. Just when I think they couldn’t possibly play any worse, they go out and prove me horribly, horribly wrong. This time Marek Zidlicky was the goat of the game, with two crucial mistakes that led to New Jersey goals. One was a no-look clearing pass intended for Martin Skoula that ended up right on the tape of Patrik Elias’s stick.
Ugh, I don’t need to tell you where that one ended up. The other was a failed attempt to strip Zach Parise of the puck at the blue line, setting up an odd-man rush with Brian Gionta, who buried his 18th goal of the season. Meanwhile, Martin Broduer showed why he is the best goaltender in the league (and maybe of his generation), stopping all 35 shots and earning his 101st career shutout.
The money quote came from coach Jacques Lemaire. When asked how his team could put forth such a lackadaisical effort when so much is on the line, he responded: “I like that question. Hold onto it and take it in [to the locker room]. Ask them, and if you get an answer, tell me.” Of course, the simple answer is that this team just isn’t very good. And the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.
Worse yet, the Star Tribune had an interview with former Wild Captain, and current Devils center Brian Rolston, who admitted that he probably would’ve stayed in Minnesota had the front office approached him about a contract extension prior to the 2007-2008 season. The Wild could really use his 96 goals and 202 points in three seasons right now. But thanks for pointing out that one of the Wild’s top scorers and most beloved players would’ve re-signed with the team if the front office hadn’t screwed it up. I feel so much better now.
- Corey Koskie has decided to retire
According to this article on the Twins’ website, former Twins third baseman Corey Koskie has announced his retirement from baseball. It’s not really a surprise, and while I was pulling for him to make a comeback, I also knew his chances of doing so were pretty remote. Koskie was concerned about suffering another concussion, especially after diving for a ball during an exhibition game on Thursday. In the end, he decided it was best to retire than spend the rest of the season wondering if every strange sensation he felt was a recurrence of his symptoms. Considering all he’s been through in the past 2 1/2 years, the fact that he could even participate in any baseball-related activities is a miracle in and of itself. I wish him the best in whatever it is he decides to do from now on.