The Twins went to Baltimore and got swept by a mediocre-at-best Orioles team. They scored five total runs, never lead and looked generally awful (with a couple notable exceptions) the entire weekend. It was not a good start and, though I try to remain rational, had me teetering on the edge of a “We’re on the verge of a second coming of the 90’s” post.
The good? Despite looking deathly skinny, Justin Morneau went 4-10 with two doubles and a walk over the weekend. Obviously, he’s not out of the woods but it’s a strong start. Morneau will need to hit for the Twins to have any chance this year. And, if they’re not in it, he’s one of the few players who could have some value at the deadline if he can prove that he’s healthy.
Anthony Swarzak stepped up, giving the Twins five good innings while filling in for the ailing Liam Hendriks. Swarzak was excellent in a couple of spot starts last season and has clearly ingratiated himself with the FO and Gardy. I still think he’s a fringe starter at best, but he might get a chance if Scott Baker’s elbow doesn’t hold up.
Now for the bad. The Twins are about to play the toughest April schedule in the MLB facing LA, Texas, New York, Tampa and Boston in succession. They might be the five best teams in the majors and they’re definitely five of six or seven teams that will be in the hunt for a playoff spot come September.
The Angels had a big offseason, signing that Albert Pujols fellow as well as adding CJ Wilson to an already formidable rotation. Kendrys Morales is finally back and looking healthy and Mark Trumbo has displaced (for the time being) Alberto Callaspo at third, meaning this is a powerful lineup. The kind of lineup that isn’t likely to have trouble knocking balls out of Target Field. Mercifully, the outfield should be rough as Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells are in the twilight of their respective careers and Peter Bourjos isn’t likely to repeat last year’s offensive numbers.
Game 1 Monday at 3:05 CST:
Nick Blackburn (4.49 ERA, 4.84 FIP, 4.61 K/9 3.28 BB/9) v. CJ Wilson (2.94 ERA, 3.24 FIP, 8.30 K/9)
-Phil Mackey has been riding the Blackburn train all spring as his (i.e Blackburn’s) contact rate this spring was 16% lower than his career rate in the majors. It is possible, however unlikely, that Blackburn could continue this trend throughout the year, becoming a much more effective pitcher. Regardless, he’ll need to regain the control he featured in ’08 and ’09 as 3.28 BB/9 is a recipe for disaster if you’re not striking out about a batter per inning.
-Wilson, the Angels’ less-heralded offseason acquisition, was at the helm of a Rangers staff that reached two consecutive World Series. The converted reliever improved all of his core numbers last year and he’s just a mighty fine pitcher. He gets grounders, strikeouts and limits walks. His fastball (per Fangraphs) rated as 17.3 runs above average, 7th in MLB. His cutter, a nasty upper-80’s pitch, ranked as the fifth most effective cutter in MLB.
Game 2 Wednesday @ 7:10 PM CST:
Carl Pavano (7 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 1 K) v. Jered Weaver (8 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 10 K)
-Pavano didn’t pitch terribly in his first start, outside of serving up a gopherball to Nick Markakis in the 1st.
-He generated just three swinging strikes in 95 pitches but was able to get 12 groundballs.
-Jered Weaver finished second in the AL Cy Young voting last season and looked the part in his first start of the season. He’s just a very good pitcher.
Game 3 Thursday at 12:05 PM CST:
Francisco Liriano (4.0 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 4 K) v. Dan Haren (5.1 IP, 11 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 5 K)
-Liriano had Twins fans foaming at the mouth after a strong spring and a first inning in which he struck out the side. Then he went all Liriano on all of us, melting down entirely. I’m still cautiously optimistic about him this year.
-Haren might be the best Angels pitcher of them all. Last season was his seventh consecutive year with over 200 IP and his 2.98 FIP was the best of his career. He walks nobody (1.25/9 last season) and throws a monster of a cutter that ranked as 30.5 runs above average (per Fangraphs) last season. He threw it a massive 48 percent of the time.
-If Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter and Jason Hammel can shut the Twins down, I’m not optimistic about the lineup’s chances against the three studs the Angels will throw.
-Torii Hunter has thrown a lot of mud at the Twins since leaving. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get plunked after his most recent comments. Which, by the way, were entirely inaccurate. Maybe he’ll lose his job to Mike Trout one of these days.
-This afternoon will be the third home opener at Target Field. People aren’t as optimistic about the team and new park this year but it’s still just an absolutely gorgeous place, even if the team sucks.