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: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Red Sox 5, Mariners 0: Chris Sale dominated Seattle with seven shutout innings, allowing only four hits and striking out 13 dudes. I’m so old that I still remember people saying he was too lanky and slight to hold up in the big leagues. Hell, I probably even said it once or twice. I’m not necessarily a fan of his really, but his continued dominance in the big leagues makes me happy if, for no other reason, than it reminds us that none of us know anything and that cool stuff happens all the time.

Indians 12, Tigers 2: I was watching the England-Panama World Cup match yesterday morning and, once it got to 5-0, I asked people on Twitter who know more about soccer than I do (i.e. everyone) to characterize the level of blowout that was in baseball terms to help me understand what I was seeing. Most people described it as the sort of score that, while not occurring often in league or international play, was not necessarily newsworthy. A good shellacking to be sure, the sort of which you do not see every day, but one which is not historic or anything. The point was, that while you may see an occasional comeback from, say, 3-0, you NEVER see it from 5-0 (or later 6-0). Which was to say, in baseball terms, it was like the Tigers getting beat 12-2 by Cleveland.  I didn’t watch this game, so I have no opinion if anyone’s heroics here — say, Edwin Encarnacion‘s five RBI or the homers from Francisco Lindor or Jose Ramirez — were as cheap as Harry Kane’s hat trick (two PKs and an accidental deflection), but like Kane’s hat trick, the numbers still count.

Reds 8, Cubs 6: The Reds sweep the Chicago Cubs and have won seven in a row overall. The Cincinnati Reds. That team with Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez and a bunch of guys you don’t think about all that often. This after they were down 5-0 early and 6-1 as late as the seventh inning. Jesse Winker — who on Friday I described as someone who “while not necessarily one of baseball’s future stars” — came off the bench to hit a rally-stoking three-run homer. Pitcher Mike Lorenzen, actually started the rally with a homer. This a week or so after my last time making a comment about how pitchers hitting is dumb and the DH should be universal. The Reds are surging too late to truly get back into the playoff picture, I suspect, but there are worse ways to spend the rest of the season than simply making everyone who thinks they know anything about baseball look silly.

Dodgers 8, Mets 7: The Dodgers hit seven — seven! — solo home runs. Kiké Hernandez and Cody Bellinger each hit two and Max Muncy, Joc Pederson and Justin Turner each smacked one. They needed all of them too, with Turner’s coming in the 11th inning to win the game. The Mets had a couple bombs themselves, with Kevin Plawecki hitting a three-run shot in the eighth to tie things up and force extras. The seven solo homers ties the record for the most in a big league game. The Dodgers win was their 12th straight victory over the Mets. L.A. has gone 25-9 since falling 10 games under .500 on May 16.

Rays 7, Yankees 6: Jake Bauers hit a walkoff homer in the bottom of the 12th to give the Rays a three-game sweep of the Yankees. In the ninth inning Clint Frazier of the Yankees hit a bomb that would’ve been a homer anyplace, but which hit a speaker hanging from a Tropicana Field catwalk which was caught on the ricochet for an out. That does sort of suck, but given how many homers that have flown out to the sort right field porch in Yankee Stadium would’ve been outs in other places, I think the amount of complaining Yankees fans can do about that one is somewhat limited. Everyone has a home park.

Braves 7, Orioles 3: The Braves win to avoid a three-game sweep at home at the hands of baseball’s worst team. Freddie Freeman hit a two-run single in the first, Dansby Swanson hit a pinch-hit, two-run homer late in the game and the Braves’ bullpen tossed four innings of one-hit ball against an O’s lineup that looked like it was happy to get out of town and back to their own beds in Baltimore having taken two of three.

Diamondbacks 3, Pirates 0: Clay Buchholz tossed five shutout innings but left with an injury. No worries, though, as the bullpen finished the job. David Peralta and John Ryan Murphy hit homers in the first and second innings, respectively, and there was nothing doing for anyone else for the rest of the game.

White Sox 10, Athletics 3: Yoan Moncada hit a three-run double and a three-run homer on his six-RBI day. Daniel Palka and Yolmer Sanchez also homered as the Sox broke a stretch in which they lost nine of ten. Or maybe they merely interrupted a stretch in which they lose eight of 11? I dunno, baseball has infinite end points and you can tell all kinds of stories about teams and players if you manipulate said end points.

Cardinals 8, Brewers 2Jose Martinez hit a three-run homer in the Cardinals’ five-run fourth, Harrison Bader reached four times and Luke Weaver was solid. The Cards salvage a split.

Twins 2, Rangers 0: Jose Berrios allowed only three hits in seven shutout innings, striking out 12 to help the Twins avoid a three-game sweep and to snap the Rangers’ seven-game winning streak.

Astros 11, Royals 3: Houston put up an eight-spot in the second inning with Yuli Gurriel hitting a grand slam. Jose Altuve drove in two runs and scored twice and Evan Gattis hit a pinch-hit homer. The Astros have won 15 of 17 and extend their AL West lead to 4.5 games.

Marlins 8, Rockies 5Derek Dietrich homered for this third straight game and also doubled and hit two singles. The Marlins starter, Caleb Smith, left with shoulder tightness early but the pen handled it form the second inning on, limiting the damage while Dietrich inflicted his. He’s hitting .410 in the month of June.

Giants 3, Padres 2: Hunter Pence hit a two-run double in the 11th to give the Giants the walkoff win. This after Cory Spangenberg had San Diego ahead in the top of the 11th with an RBI single. In other news, how many of you remembered that Hunter Pence was still playing?

Blue Jays 7, Angels 6: Another extra inning game, this one won by Kendrys Morales‘ homer in the top of the tenth. Curtis GrandersonAledmys Diaz and Devon Travis also homered for Toronto, who won on Saturday and Sunday to preserve a 2-2 split of the series.

Nationals 8, Phillies 6: Daniel Murphy hit a two-run single in the eighth — his third single of the night — which brought the Nats back from behind and put them ahead to stay. This after the Nats had flashed a message on the scoreboard — while they were behind — reminding fans that the last Metro train left the station in a few minutes. Nothing like the home town scoreboard encouraging fans to leave early. Anyway, Anthony Rendon homered and doubled, Bryce Harper hit three doubles. Michael A. Taylor had three singles himself as the Nats rattled off 17 safeties.