Thursday, May 05, 2011

Cleveland's Clock

Please, I’m begging you, quit trying to make me care about how far the Twins are behind the Indians. It doesn’t matter. Because the Indians don’t matter. At least not yet.

Cleveland started out they year by feasting on crummy teams. They’ve improved to 20-9 – including a recent seven-game winning streak - because they continue to feast on crummy teams. If the Indians are legit, we aren’t going to know it while they’re playing Seattle, Baltimore, Kansas City and a Victor Martinezless Detroit. (By the way, they’re 14-2 against those teams.)

The soonest the Indians can prove they’re legitimate is the middle of June. Currently, they’re on a west coast trip against Oakland and the Angels, then come home to face the Rays. Then they have another chance to fatten up their record before starting a touch stretch at the end of May. They face the Reds and Red Sox at home. Then come the Rays, Blue Jays, Rangers, Twins and Yankees. My prediction? They’re no more than five games over .500 by June 14th.

And speaking of facing the Twins, the Twins have 16 games left to make up whatever deficit they have. Last year Cleveland was 6-12 against the Twins. This year they’re 0-2. The Twins don’t play them again for over a month, by which time they should be (knock, knock) healthier. They also play each other six times in the last two weeks of the season.

So don’t ask me to explain the Tribe’s hot start. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. This division will be decided in September, not April.

So let’s keep it simple: the Twins need to start playing well. In a very winnable AL Central, everything else is just clamor. And that is especially true for Cleveland. How the Indians are doing now, or where they are in the standings, doesn’t matter.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Here’s what I can’t get past – 94 wins.

I watch the games. I can read the stats. I’ve seen the ineptitude and the disabled list and the standings and the anger. I’ve seen that it isn’t just that they’re losing, it’s how they’re losing. And still, I keep coming back to:

94 wins. That’s how many wins the Twins had last year, and this is essentially the same team. The rotation is almost exactly the same. The lineup, except for a couple of middle infielders, is the same. The bullpen is not, but the bullpen hasn’t been a huge problem. So how has this team gone from a team that legitimately won 94 games last year to a team that looks THIS hapless.

Let’s see if we can find out. We’ll start with the offense today….

Last year’s Twins team ranked 5th in the American League in offense, scoring 781 runs, or 4.82 per game. This year’s Twins team ranks last with 85 runs, which is an average of just 3.15 per game. At that rate, the Twins would score 270 runs less than last year. It would also be slightly less than Seattle’s impotent offense last year, which was damn near historical, and one hundred runs less than any other American League team.

But the makeup of the offense hasn’t changed that much from last year. The only regulars missing are JJ Hardy, who ranked 10th in Runs Created on the team, and Orlando Hudson, who ranked 8th. Together, those two were worth about 105 runs – and some of those should be made up by Alexi Casilla and the mix of second basemen. So what’s going on?

Certainly injuries are part of the problem. The Twins top two offensive producers last year (again, using Runs Created) were Delmon Young and Joe Mauer – and they’re both out right now. Justin Morneau, despite missing half the season, was also a huge run producer, accounting for 75 runs, good for 5th on the team, and he’s missed time this year, too. Jim Thome has also been out for almost a week and ranked seventh last year. Add up those four guys, and they were responsible for about 325 runs last year. That’s some big time pain.

But on top of that, all those guys, and several more, are really struggling. The stories stack on top of each other when you look at how each position is hurting

OPS by position:

At third base, Danny Valencia provided a huge boost last year, making up for miserable performances from Nick Punto and Brendan Harris. This year he has the position all to himself, but he’s hitting .211 instead of .311.

At first base, Morneau, even when healthy, has been a shell of himself. He’s hitting .225, just hit his first homerun and has an OPS of 625.

At shortstop, Casilla has been the whipping boy lately, mostly because of his defense. It’s worth noting that Punto hit really well when filling in for Hardy at shortstop last year. The Twins don’t have either Punto or Hardy this year, and Casilla’s 543 OPS is, sadly, pulling the average up at that position.

In left field, Young had a terrible start to the year, going from an 826 OPS to a 567 OPS at just 25 years old. And then he got hurt.

At second base, you wouldn’t necessarily expect Hudson’s departure to hurt the team too much offensively, considering how much time Michael Cuddyer has spent there. But NOBODY has hit well while playing second base – it’s been the second least productive spot on the team.

You might be surprised to see that designated hitter has been so dismal, given Jason Kubel’s hot start (916 OPS). But Kubel has only started there six games (and not hit when he has). Combine Thome’s semi-slow start (708 OPS) along with a general lack of depth due to injuries, and designated hitter has been the second biggest disappointment on the team.

But the biggest disappointment on the team is also the least productive spot – catcher. Last year, Mauer’s 905 OPS at the position offset the other catchers and raised the group’s OPS to 795. This year? Mauer struggled early, Steve Holm is hitting .118, and Drew Butera just .106.

Blink. Blink.

Suddenly, I’m kinda craving a catcher who only hits .320 without much power.