Springtime Storylines: How will Target Field play for the Minnesota Twins?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  First up in the AL Central: the Twinkies

The
big question: How will Target Field play?

Maybe it’s not the biggest question. Who will be the closer now that Joe Nathan is gone probably fits that bill, but so many people smarter than me have already attempted to answer it that I really don’t have anything else to add. Personally, I’m more interested in the new ballpark.

Part of this interest is borne of years of fear and resentment of the old dome. As I’ve mentioned before, I was a Tigers kid from birth until 1987ish, and the Twins ruined
what looked like was going to be a storybook 1987 Tigers season. At about the same time I was adopting the Braves and, lo and behold, the Twins ruined the Braves 1991 season as well. Though there were home games for my guys in each of those series, my memory of them is dominated by that ugly, good-for-nothing dome. That dome with the HVAC system that I remain convinced was used to give the Twins an advantage. That dome that ruined baseball in those years for me personally and ruined baseball aesthetically for everyone else. I hated that place, brother, and I’m glad it’s dead as far as baseball is concerned.

But the problem is I like the Twins. Or at least I have since Kent Hrbek ceased bodyslamming his way across the baseball universe. I like their players. I like how they always seem to be a fundamentally sound bunch. I like how the team and its fans stuck it to Selig and his contraction schemes. I like how they rode out the parsimonious Carl Pohlad years and are now reaping the benefits of the more generous Jim Pohlad era. I really like their spring training setup.  Lots of good juju with this Twins team, and now they have a new home.

It certainly looks nice. But how will it play? It’s hard to get a true sense of such things until, you know, games are actually played, but there’s no harm in guessing a bit, is there?

The fences are set as such to be more or less neutral. The fact that it’s open air could suppress home runs during the chilly months, but it may actually promote them once it heats up, as Minneapolis is the fourth windiest major city in the U.S., behind only Milwaukee, Dallas and San Francisco. Direction matters, of course. Home plate at Target Field points to the northwest. For most of the baseball season, winds come from the south, which would generally mean winds blowing out to right field where, conveniently, there is an overhang. Gotta figure that lefties Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau will like it. You have to figure the somewhat homer prone righty Scott Baker won’t. (note: some disagree on everything I just said about the winds. My dad was a weather man, though, so I know that just about anyone who talks about the weather is full of it. Especially weather men).

UPDATE: Forget all of that. The commenters have corrected me (and my sources): the first base line of Target Field points southeast and the third base line points northeast. Thus, a southerly wind will suppress home runs to right field and help homers to left.  The more you know (rainbow, star and “bling!”).

Granted, there’s only so much you can predict about a ballpark so this is all just fun.  But this game’s supposed to be fun, right? So let’s have some damn fun out there, OK?

So what else is going on?

  • Joe Mauer’s deal is done, so the greatest source of anxiety is out of the way. Because this is the Midwest and not New York, I predict that almost no one will get hung up on the whole “will Joe Mauer crack under the pressure of his new contract?!” hand-wringing. Joe Mauer will be just fine. And if he’s not, Twins fans will probably say stuff like “You know, Joe Mauer, he’s gonna be just fine.”
  • I said I wouldn’t mention it, but the closer situation is obviously the big concern right now.  Some people say things like “trade for Heath Bell,” but that doesn’t seem like the kind of thing the Twins would do, as they rarely do anything rash or panicky like that.  I agree with Gleeman: leverage the bullpen depth that was already there, go with a closer-by-committee thing unless and until it fails, and if it does, reassess.
  • Watching the Delmon Young/Jason Kubel/Jim Thome thing will be interesting. Kubel is a beast and is obviously too good to platoon at DH (not that you could platoon, seeing as both he and Thome are lefties), but you have to figure that the Twins will give the optionless Young one last chance to show that his bat can carry left field, leaving Thome in the cold. There was some life in Young’s stroke in the second half last year, as he went .300/.322/.502, but if he continues to muck about in sub-.750 OPS land, figure he gets benched, Kubel goes to left and Thome becomes the full time DH.
  • The Twins staff will be solid, if unspectacular. Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker aren’t anyone’s idea of aces, but you know what you’re gonna get from them. A full season of a healthy Kevin Slowey will probably provide much of the same. Carl Pavano fits alongside them as decent yet nothin’ special. The wild card will be Francisco Liriano. He was reportedly spectacular in winter ball this year, and has struck out 16 in ten spring training innings so far. If he can recapture even a portion of his former greatness — and it’s looking like he might — the Twins rotation will be damn nigh transformed.  

So how
are they gonna do?

The AL Central, while not exactly tough, is highly competitive. If any of the three contenders have a chance of running away with the division it’s the Twins, and they’ll do so if they (a) get anything from Delmon Young or, alternatively, bench him and go with Kubel/Thome, one of which will necessarily happen; (b) see a return to form from Francisco Liriano; and (c) figure out how to close out ballgames without a brand name closer.  None of those things seem like a major stretch and, for that reason, the Twins are my choice in the Central.

Prediction: First place, AL Central. And I don’t want to hear a damn word from anyone about how cold it will be in Target Field. The place has the same basic climate as Chicago, Detroit, Boston and New York.  They’ll be just fine.

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Mariners 4, White Sox 3: Mike Zunino doubled and scored and later he homered to give the M’s the lead for good and Nelson Cruz had three hits and knocked a couple in. Felix Hernandez allowed three over six and that beat James Shields who allowed four over six. That’s just math.

Astros 5, Angels 2: Justin Verlander is now 9-0 as a Houston Astro. He’s 13-1 if you count the playoffs. Either way, he continues to enjoy the hell out of wearing the orange and blue. Er, the other orange and blue. Here he allowed two runs on four hits over seven innings, striking out nine, to go to 4-0 on the year. Albert Pujols did hit a homer off of him, notching his 2,994th career hit, but Jose Altuve and Jake Marisnick went deep for Houston and Alex Bregman hit a three-run double.

Rockies 5, Padres 2: A day after getting shut out in Coors Field, San Diego went six innings without scoring a run off of Rockies starter Jon Gray, who struck out eleven Padres. I’m assuming the list of teams who have been shut out in back-to-back games in Denver is short, but at least the Padres didn’t join that one, later scratching out a couple against the San Diego pen. David Dahl and Tony Wolters each drove in a pair for Colorado.

Nationals 15, Giants 2: With the run support Max Scherzer got he didn’t need to strike out ten and allow only two runs over six innings, but he did. With the fine pitching Scherzer gave the Nats they didn’t need to score two touchdowns and a two-point conversion, but they did. Matt Adams singled and doubled in runs and hit a three-run homer. Andrew Stephenson doubled in runs on two separate occasion and took a bases-loaded walks. Trea Turner got five hits. The Nats had scored just eight runs in the four-game losing streak this victory ended. Here, 14 of their 15 runs were scored with two men out. That’s clutch, or something.

Tigers 13, Pirates 10; Pirates 8, Tigers 3: The Pirates and Tigers have been cursed this year, getting rained out *guesses* seventeen times, so they played two yesterday. Neither starter gave their managers four innings in the first one which you know Ron Gardenhire and Clint Hurdle TOTALLY loved on a doubleheader day. Nicholas Castellanos had four hits, including a homer, and drove in four and teammate Miguel Cabrera had four hits as well in the first-game victory, while Frankie Cervelli knocked in six in a losing cause. In the nightcap, Jose Osuna, who was called up specifically to be the 26-man in the twinbill, hit a three-run homer. He was then sent back to Indianapolis immediately following the game. They should’ve had David Attenborough narrate his day in the same way he’d narrate the weird and sad one-day lifespan of some rando insect on “Planet Earth,” with the homer being like that shining moment the bug got to mate before his head got eaten off or whatever.

Yankees 7, Twins 4: The Yankees won despite another bad start from Sonny Gray, who allowed three runs on six hits in four and two-thirds. Didi Gregorius homered for the fourth game in a row and singled in a run to remain white-hot, Tyler Austin had a three-run shot and Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton each hit a sac fly. The Twins have lost six straight.

Braves 5, Reds 4: The big news was the debut of Ronald Acuña. He went 1-for-5, flying out on the first two pitches he saw, striking out twice but notching his first hit as a big leaguer on an eighth inning single, after which he’d score the tying run on a Kurt Suzuki single. The Braves, who had an early lead in this one that they let slip away, ended up winning it on a Johan Camargo double in the ninth which scored Ozzie Albies. Camargo drove in two on the night. The Braves bullpen — which has not been getting the job done of late — got the job done, tossing four shutout innings.

Indians 4, Cubs 1: Trevor Bauer allowed one run over six and two-thirds and struck out eight while Brandon Guyer, Francisco Lindor and Edwin Encarnacion each went deep for Cleveland. Bad news for Cleveland, though, as Andrew Miller had to leave the game with a tight left hamstring. We’ll update later today when it’s know how long he’ll be out.

Rays 8, Orioles 4: Due to the rain on Tuesday the Rays had to wait an extra day to see their old friend Alex Cobb but it was worth the wait as they tagged him for five runs on ten hits. Joey Wendle had three hits and two RBI for the Rays and Adeiny Hechavarria homered. The highlight of the game, though, was the appearance of Rays reliever Johnny Venters, following a six-year absence from the bigs due to not one, but FOUR major elbow operations, including three Tommy John surgeries. At this point his comeback is a success even if his elbow literally falls off of his arm in his next outing. You know all of those motivational posters that say “DETERMINATION” and “PERSISTENCE” and have, like, a photo of salmon leaping up a waterfall or a beaver building a damn? They should be replaced with Venters simply lifting up a pen or something with his left arm. That he actually threw four pitches in a major league baseball game is amazing.

Phillies 5, Diamondbacks 3: Jake Arrieta outpitched Zack Greinke, allowing three — one earned — over seven innings despite not having his best stuff. Aaron Altherr hit a go-ahead three-run homer in the sixth. It was the first time the Phillies beat the Diamondbacks at home in their last nine meetings.

Red Sox 4, Blue Jays 3: Mookie Betts hit a solo homer in the first inning to put the Bosox on the board and hit a two-run homer in the seventh to bring the Bosox back from behind. I like to say Bosox. Bosox, Bosox, Bosox.

Marlins 8, Dodgers 6: Clayton Kershaw walked six dudes in five innings. That doesn’t happen every day. Heck, it doesn’t happen in three or four days for him, as he hadn’t walked a man in his previous 26 innings and had not walked six in a game since he was a rookie back in 2010. We all have a bad day sometimes, I guess. Marlins starter Trevor Richards, meanwhile, struck out 10 and pitched one-hit ball over 4.2 scoreless innings, leaving due to the pitch count and thus not qualifying for the win. Richards is an independent ball product, by the way, who spent part of last year as a substitute teacher. J.T. Realmuto homered twice and Miguel Rojas went deep for the Fish.

Rangers 4, Athletics 2: Four Rangers relievers combining for four and a third innings of no-hit, scoreless ball to help Texas end the A’s four-game winning streak. Isiah Kiner-Falefa hit a go-ahead single in the fifth for the Rangers. He is the only Isiah to ever play major league ball, by the way. You can look it up.

Cardinals 9, Mets 1Jedd Gyorko hit a two-run homer and Marcell Ozuna hit a bases-loaded single to cap a three-run third inning that put St. Louis up for good. The Cards have won 9 of 11. Ozuna was only 1-for-4 and has been in a horrendous slump, but maybe this breaks him out of it.

Brewers 6, Royals 2Jhoulys Chacin was efficient, in part because the Royals were swinging at everything. He allowed two runs while pitching into the sixth and the bullpen pitched three and a third shutout innings, running their scoreless streak to 28. In turn, the Brewers ran their winning streak to eight. It’s shaping up to be a pretty sweet pennant race between the Brewers and the Cards in the NL Central this year. If you assume, as you should, that the Cubs will step it up too, it could be the most fun division in baseball in 2018.