Twins (8-7): Good, Bad, and Ugly
Posted By: Jason Iacovino
The question of whether or not the Minnesota Twins would ever get above .500 in 2014 was answered in the affirmative on a freezing cold Thursday at Target Field. Hours earlier, parts of the Twin Cities metropolitan area were cleaning up from over 6 inches of snowfall from the night before, yet the Twins braintrust not only were preparing for the coldest first pitch temperature in the history of Major League Baseball in Minnesota--they were willing to play two!
It turned out to be a great move as the Twins were rewarded by an outstanding 8-inning shutout performance in Game 1 by Kyle Gibson and a comeback win in Game 2 courtesy of 8 walks by the Blue Jays in the 8th inning. It was a wild day of baseball that featured very few fans at the park (The announced crowds of over 20,000 for each game represented easily 5-6 times the amount of fans who were actually there) and 2 big Ws in the standings for a team desperate for a good stretch of games.
So we wake up on Good Friday and Minnesota is 8-7 and just 0.5 games behind Detroit for first place in the AL Central as they embark on a 6-game road trip in Kansas City and Tampa Bay. How did it happen? Unconventionally...
Chris Colabello was a long shot to make the 25-man roster coming out of spring training. He had a tremendous season at Rochester last year, but this career Indy League / Minor leaguer hit just .194 with 7 HR, 9 doubles, and 19 RBI in 160 at-bats late last year for the Twins. In just 56 at-bats so far in 2014, Colabello is hitting .357 with an AL-leading 9 doubles and 19 RBI. In the nightcap on Thursday, he showed why he is such a dangerous hitter--he lined a two-run double down the left field line in the 5th inning and then shoots a double high off the wall to the opposite field in his next at-bat in the seventh inning.
Colabello is not alone as an offensive surprise for the Twins. Jason Kubel, another player signed to a minor league contract viewed as a long shot to make the team, is batting .340 with 6 extra base hits and 10 RBI in just 50 at-bats. Leadoff hitter Brian Dozier already has 5 homeruns and has an AL-leading 18 runs scored. Trevor Plouffe, who struck out 76 more times than he walked in 2013, is batting .309 with 10 walks and 11 strikeouts in 55 at-bats this year. He also has 10 RBI.
Think of it this way--Plouffe and Colabello are anchoring the Nos. 3 and 4 spots in manager Ron Gardenhire's lineup and are performing so well that you wonder where Josh Willingham (Who is making $10 million this season) will fit in when he returns from the disabled list.
The other major bright spot is Gibson, who is 3-0 with a 0.93 ERA in three starts. He's allowed just 2 runs and 12 hits in 19 1/3 innings pitched...and he's the team's No. 5 starter! If the Twins are to be conteders in the next couple years with the likes of Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Alex Meyer joining the team, you would figure Kyle Gibson would also have to be a valuable part of that mix.
You also have to throw in an honorable mention for the bullpen, particularly Samuel Deduno. Deduno has been decidedly wild at times so far this year (2 wild pitches and 2 balks), but the results remind you of Fransisco Liriano when he was good for the Twins. Deduno has 12 strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings pitched against just 6 walks.
Along with the good surprises have come some disappointments and topping that list in the lineup is Aaron Hicks. Hicks is giving us an instant replay of April 2013, where he hit .113 with a .229 on-base percentage and just 1 extra-base hit in 71 at-bats. This year Hicks is batting .180 and since starting off 4-for-7 in his first two games, he's hitting .116 with a .235 OBP and 1 extra-base hit. At this rate, he will be returning to Gene Glynn's Red Wings in May just as he did in 2013.
The other clear disappointment is shortstop Pedro Florimon, who has been given every opportunity by Gardy to prove he belongs in the lineup, starting in 12 of 15 games, and has an abysmal .111 avg. and .200 OBP. Florimon will be replaced sooner than later by an Eduardo (Either backup infielder Eduardo Escobar or newly acquired Eduardo Nunez, who started Thursday night's game and will be back in Rochester today).
To be honest, though, if Hicks and Florimon are your disappointments, then the Twins are in good shape as they are the 8 and 9 hitters in the lineup, respectively. And the Twins are in good shape offensively at the moment--they lead the AL in runs scored!
But then, of course, there's the issue of the other four starting pitchers. Prepare to cringe.
Ricky Nolasco ($12 million), Phil Hughes ($8 million), Kevin Correia ($5.5 million) and Mike Pelfrey ($5.5 million) have each made 3 starts, are making a combined $31 million in 2014, and have a combined record of 1-5 with a combined ERA of 6.24. They only have 3 quality starts between them and only two starts that have gone beyond 6 innings.
And the Twins are 8-7, 0.5 GB. I'll take it.
Jason Iacovino can be heard Tuesdays and Fridays on KRFO-AM 1390 at 3:50 p.m. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JasonIacovino.