Saturday, May 01, 2004

Why is This So Hard to Believe?

“The Minnesota Twins are living a contradiction. At least, that is, when it comes to the baseball adage, games are won with pitching and defense.”
–Tracy Ringolsby, Rocky Mountain News (4/30)

On the surface there seems to be nothing wrong with this statement (although I can’t imagine there are many regular readers of the Rocky Mountain News that give a hoot about the Twins- I couldn’t care less about the Rockies). Ringolsby goes on to cite some facts to back up his argument: the Twins’ relatively high team ERA (now exactly 5.00), their less-than-stellar defense thus far (21 team errors through Friday), and the team’s lackluster strength of schedule (games against Cleveland, Detroit, KC, and Toronto).

You know what I say to all of this? Phooey.

The problem with Ringolsby is that he didn’t look much past the statistics. Point one: the Twins 21st ranked team ERA. Sure, 5.00 isn’t great by any means, but a closer examination reveals that it isn’t nearly as bad as it looks. The bullpen’s ERA is a respectable 4.64, and that includes terrible performances from guys like Pulido, Thomas, and Greisinger. This is also a bullpen that could receive two huge shots in the arm come June/July: Grant Balfour and Jesse Crain.

The starting staff is mostly to blame for Ringolsby’s accusation. Once again, a closer look reveals that the situation can only improve from here on out. We all know that Brad Radke (5.64), Kyle Lohse (6.51) and Johan Santana (5.40) will all undoubtedly pitch substantially better than they have thus far. Carlos Silva has been a pleasant surprise with his 4-0 record and 4.02 ERA. The point is, this staff has grossly underachieved so far and it will shape up, hopefully sooner rather than later. Ringolsby conveniently fails to mention this.

Just as the pitching staff is undeniably bound for improvement, so is the Twins’ shaky defense. Friday’s two errors bring the season’s total to a whopping 21 in 22 games played, an unheard-of ratio for a Twins team. The main culprit has been the infield: their 13 errors rank tied for last in the major leagues. This is a rather startling statistic, but let’s consider past performance. These same starting five (Koskie, Guzman, Rivas, and Mientkiewicz) have anchored infields that finished 2nd and 3rd in the majors in infield errors the past two seasons respectively. Now, they’re going to have to really tighten the hatch in order to match that feat this year, but there is absolutely no reason to believe that this infield will go from being one of the game’s best to one of the worst in just one year. It’s just not going to happen.

I love the new turf, but I think it is at least partially to blame for this odd influx of errors. Once the players grow accustomed, the defense will shore itself up.

Ringolsby’s last point is one that I can’t debate as well. Until Friday’s impressive win over the “best team in the American League” (to quote Eric Chavez), the Twins had yet to play any potential playoff teams- unless you consider the Royals contenders (*snicker*). I think the next couple of weeks will speak volumes about this team. Tonight was just the beginning.

Now, I also realize the hitters will probably come back to earth somewhat. I firmly believe Twins will continue to be a very good hitting team, but probably not second best in the majors (just as Detroit isn't going to lead the league in runs scored).

Where the casual fan might find this blurb by Ringolsby as a foreshadowing of doom for our beloved Twinkies, I actually see it just the opposite way: If the Twins have started 15-7 with all these factors working against them, just imagine what they can accomplish when things really get going! I don't know about you, but I can't wait!