Sample size, shmample shmize. We've had three whole games, so let's wrap up the series prematurely while prematurely evaluating the 2009 season with The Five Basic Questions:
1. What's Most Promising?
No question, it's the performance of the top of the lineup. Last year the Twins discovered their leadoff hitter for the next five years, and this year it looks like they've found their #2 hitter.
Denard Span seems to have shaken off the lingering doubts that haunted him during spring training and has become THE indispensable outfielder. Seriously, who do you replace him with at the top of the order right now? More about that dilemna later....
And we're starting to see Alexi Casilla develop into a quality #2 hitter. He had a workmanlike spring training, battles at the top of the order, and has a quiet confidence about being able to put a bat on the ball. If Mauer comes back, the top six spots in this lineup become officially scary.
2. What's Most Worrisome?
The Twins have played three games and not one of them has been a quality start, and their Opening Day pitcher is already on the DL. The Twins rotation is the key difference between this team and the rest of the division. There are other teams with better offenses. There are other teams with better bullpens. But there isn't an AL Central team that should be able to compete with the Twins in terms of providing a quality start day in and day out. And the starting staff hasn't delivered.
Oh, and that's at home, against a team that finished last in the weakest AL division. Two come-from-behind wins are papering over the fact that this team could have started 0 for 3.
2. What's Most Unexpected?
I think we assumed we were gonna see four outfielders fighting for three spots, or five outfielders fighting for four spots. Instead, it looks like its going to be three outfielders for two spots.
And for the record, I think Gardenhire is right. How often can Gardy sit down his only leadoff guy? And how often is he going to sit down Cuddyer while Mauer is out? Not as long as Cuddyer does enough to hold down the #3 spot.
That leaves Young and Gomez sitting out against right-handers and Kubel or Gomez sitting out against most left-handers. If I had odds, I'd put money on Gomez being the odd man out tomorrow. And I wouldn't be shocked if we get through Chicago with either Span or Cuddyer (or both) having played every game.
4. Where Is This Team Right Now?
Keeping their head above water, but certainly not elite. The striking thing about this series is how similar these teams looked. They had similar rotations, lineups, defense and middle relievers. The biggest difference was the closer, and that's why the Twins are leading two games to one instead of losing two games to one.
I suppose that doesn't bode terribly well for the future. But in truth, Seattle looked a lot better than most people probably thing they're going to be. They've made some good personnel moves, they seem to play smart baseball, and the manager uses the bullpen effectively. I'm really surprised that a management team that put this team together dropped the ball on getting an effective left-handed reliever. That's a pretty big oversight, especially against the Twins.
5. What's Next?
This series would feel a lot better with a 3-1 series win than with a 2-2 split. Looking at most Twins career numbers against Washburn can make a guy pretty pessimistic. (For that info, check out DugoutSplinters.com). But I'm also more comfortable with a left-hander like Perkins facing the meat of that Mariners order. If Perkins can deliver that elusive first quality start, the Twins should find a way to win this game.
And after that, the Twins get to visit Chicago. I expect the White Sox to struggle a little this year, though probably less than people expect. Even so, the White Sox will be favorites in two games of that series, just because of the pitching matchups. So a win tomorrow sets up the Twins with a very good chance of returning home next week as a winning team. A loss makes that an uphill climb.
No, I Mean What's Next for the Site?
Oh. I'll be back on Friday with a GameDay Chatter rant for the Twins Radio Network. And tonight at 10:00, be sure to listen to MNGameNight.com where Seth Stohs and I will wrap up this first series and preview the White Sox. And finally, if you want to try your hand at getting twittered, sign up at Twitter.com\twinsgeek for Twins tweets that can be sent directly to your cellular phone. See you tomorrow.