2013 Preview: Minnesota Twins

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Today: the Minnesota Twins.

The Big Question: Did the Twins do enough to improve their AL-worst rotation?

After a decade-long run as a consistent winner in the AL Central the Twins fell apart in 2011, losing 99 games and firing general manager Bill Smith while replacing him with the man he replaced, Terry Ryan. Things were supposed to be better last season and I suppose technically they were, but the Twins lost 96 games despite a far healthier team and some strong individual performances because they simply couldn’t pitch.

Twins starting pitchers had the worst ERA in baseball among teams that don’t call Coors Field home and the pitching staff as a whole recorded the fewest strikeouts in baseball for the second straight season. At the beginning of the offseason Ryan spoke of big plans for addressing the terrible rotation, but when the dust settled the only moves were trading for Vance Worley and signing Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey as free agents.

Worley was a sound pickup who should be a solid mid-rotation starter long term and Pelfrey is a reasonable enough reclamation project with mid-rotation potential as he comes back from Tommy John elbow surgery, but giving a two-year, $10 million deal to Correia made little sense when similar or better pitchers were agreeing to one-year deals all winter.  Of the 91 pitchers to throw at least 400 innings as starters since 2010 he ranked 88th in ERA, 81st in strikeout rate, and 80th in strikeout-to-walk ratio.

And that was it. That was the full extent of the Twins addressing their awful rotation.

Would-be Opening Day starter Scott Diamond will begin the season on the disabled list following a setback with what the team called minor elbow surgery in December and former first-round pick Kyle Gibson isn’t ready for the majors after Tommy John surgery in late 2011, so the Twins will likely turn to Samuel Deduno and/or Cole DeVries to fill out the rotation. It’s not a good sign when the same career minor leaguers who joined the rotation as emergency options during a miserable season are already back in the mix before Opening Day.

What else is going on?

• As dark as things look for the Twins now the future is extremely bright. Thanks to the combination of shrewd international signings, high draft picks, and veteran-for-prospect trades the Twins have built one of the best farm systems in baseball. They placed six prospects on Baseball America‘s top-100 list, including Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton in the top 10, and will add the No. 4 overall pick in the draft to the farm system in June. I’ve been writing about the Twins on my personal blog for 11 years and this is the best, deepest farm system they’ve had in that time.

• Sano and Buxton are still teenagers and years away from the majors, but the Twins look likely to get an immediate impact from the farm system by naming Aaron Hicks their Opening Day center fielder. Hicks has yet to play above Double-A, but the former first-round pick is a standout defender with an elite arm and improved significantly at the plate last season by adding power to his already strong patience. Delaying the start of his service time clock by sending him to Triple-A for a month or so would seemingly make sense, but all signs point to the Twins handing Hicks the job now.

• Ron Gardenhire enters his 13th season as Twins manager without a contract beyond this year and most of his coaching staff was fired or reassigned during the offseason, leading to speculation that another 90-loss season would lead to his exit. He’s the second-longest tenured manager in MLB behind Mike Scioscia.

• If the Twins get off to another bad start it’ll be interesting to see if they begin shopping veterans. In the past they’ve largely shied away from that, choosing to let guys like Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel leave via free agency, but Justin Morneau will be a free agent after the season and Josh Willingham isn’t exactly part of the long-term plans at age 34.

• Joe Mauer took an incredible amount of heat locally for an injury wrecked 2011 season, which tends to happen when you miss half the year after signing a $184 million contract. He bounced back in a huge way last season, setting career-highs in games and plate appearances while hitting .319 with the highest on-base percentage in the league. Mauer was paid $23 million last season and Fan Graphs calculated his on-field value at … $23 million. Joe Mauer ain’t the problem.

• Target Field is an amazing place to watch a game and easily one of MLB’s best ballparks, but as the Twins enter Year 4 there they’ve already squandered much of the new ballpark excitement by putting out a terrible product. Only the Astros had a bigger attendance drop last year as Minnesota fell into the middle of the pack, and 20 percent of season ticket holders did not renew. And that becomes a chicken-or-egg situation, because the Twins have sliced payroll from $115 million in 2010 to $80 million this year in part due to decreased revenue, but the lack of spending has also helped turn the team into something no one wants to watch.

Prediction: Fifth place, American League Central

Ryan Braun heads to the disabled list after injuring his calf again

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Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun had been off the disabled list for four whole days. Now he’s going back on it after re-aggravating his calf injury yesterday against the Diamondbacks. It’s the same injury that put him on the DL earlier this month.

Braun has been productive when he’s been able to play, hitting .262 with seven homers, 19 RBI and stealing four bases in 30 games, but calf injuries tend to be nagging things, especially for dudes over 30. He’ll have an MRI to determine how much time he’ll miss.

In the meantime, left field duties will be shared between Hernan Perez, Nick Franklin and Eric Thames.

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Mariners 4, Nationals 2: Nelson Cruz‘s three-run homer in the sixth gave the M’s their first game with more than one run scored in a week and snapped their five-game losing streak. Five M’s relievers held the Nats scoreless over the final four frames. I know the game changes over time and stuff, but I really would like to go back in time and see the reaction of some pitcher from the 1920s if you told him that it wasn’t all that unusual for a 4-2 game to feature 12 pitchers.

Pirates 9, Braves 4: Bartolo Colon got shelled again — the Buccos lit him up for seven runs — and Adam Frazier hit a three-run homer. Ivan Nova cruised for eight, going into the ninth with a 9-2 lead, but he ran out of gas, gave up three hits and had to be lifted. He was mad after the game for not getting the CG. That pitcher from the 1920s would understand that much better, I assume. At least if he could get past the part about two men from the Dominican Republic pitching in a major league game.

Phillies 2, Rockies 1: Tommy Joseph homered in the seventh to tie things up at one and then singled in the winning run in the bottom of the 11th to give Philly a walkoff win. Odubel Herrera, meanwhile, wore a platinum sombrero, which is always worth noting.

Rays 4, Angels 0Matt Andriese scattered six hits over eight shutout innings. Colby Rasmus knocked in all four of the Rays runs with a two run single, driving in Evan Longoria and Steven Souza and a ground rule double, driving in Evan Longoria and Steven Souza.

Cubs 5, Giants 1: The Cubs got dingers from Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist and took their third game in a row. That was three of four from the Giants overall as they finish a 7-2 home stand. The champs, who moved into first place with this win and the Cardinals and Brewers’ losses, may finally be shaking off those early season cobwebs.

Red Sox 6, Rangers 2: The Bosox likewise seem to be turning things around. They take their fourth straight. Here, five Boston pitchers combined to rack up 20 strikeouts with starter Drew Pomeranz getting 11 in six innings. Closer Craig Kimbrel got four in the ninth thanks to a batter reaching on a wild pitch strike three. Did you ever stop to think how random that rule is by the way? I’m not sure what the logic is of a batter being able to run to first due to a dropped strike three. There has to be some — most baseball rules are based in some utility as opposed to mere gamesmanship — but I’m not sure I’ve ever read or been told why that is. If I have, I forgot. Time to go Googling.

Padres 4, Mets 3: Dinelson Lamet made his big league debut and held the Mets to one run over five and five relievers had his back after that. Michael Conforto was 1-for-5 with four strikeouts. He also did this:

 

The conditions were terrible — fog and mist and stuff, so it’s not really his fault – but I can’t recall ever seeing a guy do the hands-over-head move to protect himself for a lost ball that fell THAT far away from him.

Diamondbacks 4, Brewers 0: Are you Johnny Ray?
Are you Slim Ray?
Are you Paid Ray?
Are you Sting Ray?
Are you Nick Ray?
Are you Jimmy Ray?
Who wants to know? Who wants to know?

 

Astros 7, Tigers 6Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez and Juan Centeno all homered off Justin Verlander in Houston’s five-run fourth inning, but the Tigers clawed back to tie it, thanks in large part to Justin Upton who hit an RBI single and homered. Jake Marisnick hit a go-ahead homer in the eighth, however, and that held up. Based on Marisnick’s reaction it seems like he thought it was the ninth and that he just hit a walkoff:

After the game his teammates were ribbing him about it. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Marisnick said with a grin when asked about it. “No comment.” Heh.

Dodgers 7, Cardinals 3: Down 3-2 in the fourth, Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda singled in two to help his own cause. Hyun-Jin Ryu, meanwhile, made his first major league relief appearance and tossed four scoreless innings to earn the save. After the game Ryu said that he wasn’t really comfortable with the role and feels, in his heart, he’s a starter. Manager Dave Roberts, meanwhile, talked up how “lethal” Ryu was in long relief with Maeda and it was revealed that he and the front office had been talking about this for a while. Stay tuned for some drama over this.

Royals vs. Yankees; Reds vs. Indians — POSTPONED:

All at sea again
And now my hurricanes
Have brought down
This ocean rain
To bathe me again
My ship’s a sail
Can you hear its tender frame
Screaming from beneath the waves
Screaming from beneath the waves
All hands on deck at dawn
Sailing to sadder shores
Your port in my heavy storms
Harbours the blackest thoughts
I’m at sea again
And now your hurricanes
Have brought down
This ocean rain
To bathe me again