Jason’s Blog: Royals still Kings
The Minnesota Twins have had a fine season so far.
They've been a lot better than advertised and I see three primary reasons for this:
- Coaching changes
- Torii Hunter's leadership
- Drastically improved starting pitching.
The constants from 2014, when the team lost more than 90 games for the fourth straight year, are great play from Brian Dozier and Glen Perkins and less-than-average play by the face of the franchise, Joe Mauer.
The Twins had their most important series of the year over the weekend when they split a four-game set with first-place Kansas City. The two wins came courtesy of what's been working well -- solid starting pitching, Torii Hunter's bat and Perkins. The two losses, both in extra innings, saw a lack of clutch hitting by the Twins and Kansas City's bullpen dominating the Twins' bullpen.
Part of the reason KC's bullpen outshined the Twins' in those extra-inning losses was due to manager Paul Molitor carrying on the senseless tradition of saving your closer for a save situation when you are tied in the ninth inning. I've never understood this and I never will. The Twins lost Friday and Sunday with their best pitcher never having taken the mound. I won't write any more about this situation (it did not necessarily cost the team wins) other than to say I completely disagree with the strategy, but I digress.
The other part of it was KC's bullpen, which the Twins had no shot against in any of these games. Rest assured, Ned Yost was not going to allow the likes of Wade Davis or Greg Holland twiddle their thumbs while the Twins batted in a tie game late.
Yes there were other positives for the Twins -- Mauer had a great series, rookie Miguel Sano looks as good as advertised so far, and Ervin Santana went eight solid innings on Sunday in his 2015 debut.
But the bottom line is the Twins failed to gain any ground on the Royals and continue to be 4.5 games behind, including six games back in the loss column. The Royals are just better than the Twins right now.
Second baseman Brian Dozier boldly declared after Sunday's loss that the Twins should have won all four games and everyone knows it. He may have a point, but the reason they didn't is because KC has a better knack for coming through in the clutch.
Mauer had eight hits in 17 at-bats in the series, but he was 1-for-4 with two strikeouts in plate appearances coming in the eighth inning or later. The Royals, meanwhile, came through with game-ending rallies in the bottom of the 10th on Friday and the bottom of the ninth on Sunday. They also had two clutch hits against Santana on Sunday -- an RBI single by Drew Butera of all people, and a solo HR by Alex Gordon in the fifth inning -- these hits turned a 2-0 Twins lead into a tie game.
The good news is the Twins are not that far off. If this series is a sign of thing to come for guys like Mauer and Sano, then the previously inconsistent offense is about to get a huge boost. If Glen Perkins continues to be light's out when called upon, close leads should continue to turn into wins. If Santana continues to be in mid-season form despite missing the entire first half, then this club will finally have its ace.
The Twins won't face the Royals again until September. In the meanwhile, they will have to do something about their sudden influx of starters and their holes in the bullpen. There are a few options, including demoting Trevor May to the pen or trading for a new reliever. It also would be nice if Byron Buxton produces when he returns from injury and that he stays healthy.
Until then, despite the confidence articulated by Dozier, the Royals are still kings of the division.
Jason Iacovino can be heard Tuesdays and Fridays on KRFO-AM 1390 at 3:50PM. Leave a comment below and follow him on Twitter @JasonIacovino.