The Twins are off to what could generously be described as a horrible start in 2011. They've won precisely three games, and frankly are fortunate to have won that many. They aren't pitching, they aren't hitting, and they aren't fielding. And now just this past week they've sent two players at positions where they were already perilously thin to the disabled list. To say the least, this isn't how they drew it up. While I could expound at length to the troubles the team has faced on an individual basis, lets instead sum it up by bullet point to save my poor fingers.
- They rank 2nd to last in all of baseball in: runs scored (24), runs per game (2.66), batting average (.214), on base percentage (.266), and slugging percentage (.288).
- Their combined .554 OPS was nearly as close to being like the average NL pitcher in 2010 (.351) as it was to the avergage catcher (.699).
- They have as many homeruns as a team (3) as Alex Avila.
- Their 4.38 team ERA is actually incredibly lucky - they have a 5.42 FIP. Again, 2nd worst in all of baseball.
- Startlingly, it's been their starting pitching (6.36 FIP) more than their relief pitching (3.65) which has been the culprit. The much fretted over bullpen actually has a 3.00 ERA. Go figure.
- The 7 errors they've committed thus far would put them on pace for 126 in 2011. A mark that would've been tied for, you guessed it, 2nd worst in baseball in 2010.
All of this of course comes neatly tied up with the usual early season caveat - It's early. Really, really early. The 9 games played thus far represent 1/18 of the whole of the regular season. It's the NFL equivalent of losing your first game of the year (actually it's more like being behind in the 4th quarter, but lets not get too technical, egh?). It's not how you want to start off, but it's not going to ruin your playoff chances either.
Perhaps what's more surprising is why they're struggling. Francisco Liriano, who was one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2010 is a mess. His mechanics are all over the place and he's struggling to throw strikes. They desperately need for him to get right, because on a team filled by three and four starters, he's the one player with the stuff to match up against an opposing teams ace and win in the post season.
In the bullpen the team is using a combination of poo-poo platter pitchers to bridge the gap to Matt Capps and Joe Nathan, with Nathan doing all the closing work thus far and going 3-3 in the process. Still, Nathan is a shadow of his former self. His fastball works in the 90-92 range without it' former life and his slider which used to be his dominant out pitch, isn't anything like what it once was. He'll still be able to close out most games simply because closing games isn't as hard a thing to do as some would have us believe. But he's not the dominant pitcher he used to be.
Perhaps most stunningly of all the offense which was 5th best in all of baseball in 2010, has been anemic in 2011. They have one player, Denard Span, with an OPS over .694. His mark stands at .742. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have shown zero power, and just slightly more ability to hit for average. Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka hit .208 while striking out in 1/3 of his at-bats before suffering a broken leg.
The 2011 Twins are still a really good team, and I'd be willing to bet a lot of money they'll be around for the chase at the end of the year. It seems as though they always are. I'm a firm believer that the most important trait any manager can have is their ability to manage a clubhouse, maintain harmony, and balance. In that sense, 2010 Manager of the Year Ron Gardenhire is about to be tested. Can he get this team pointed in the right direction before they become too lost in the failures to find their way back?