Written By Chris Schad (ColdOmaha.com)
Photo Credit: Brian Curski
The Minnesota Twins entered the 2016 season with plenty of high expectations after exceeding their low projections a year ago. During that season, the Twins used a combination of aggressiveness and intelligence on the way to winning 83 games and coming up just short of a wild card berth. This spring, fans used what seemed like common sense to project that a young team would take another step forward and potentially reach their goal of playing baseball in October.
Instead, fans have been treated to a team that has lost their first six games in gut-wrenching fashion as they head into Monday’s home opener against the Chicago White Sox. Obviously, this begs the question as to just what is happening with the Twins as they hit the beginning of the season with the same enthusiasm as most of us greeted our Monday morning alarms (Admit it. You hit the snooze button twice.)
The most glaring example of the Twins struggles has been at the plate. In the first week of the season, the Twins have put up 12 runs on the board (aka 2 per game). The difficulty scoring runs has been amplified when there are runners in scoring position as the team ranks last in Major League Baseball with a .104 average in such situations.
A lot of this has to do with the Twins’ ability to strike out in bunches. With a league-leading 72 strikeouts on the season, the lineup has resembled a beer league softball team that hit the pre-game kegger too hard rather than one that belongs in the American League Central (or any division for that matter).
An alarming trend has been the Twins’ reluctance to play small ball in key situations such as the one they saw in the top of the ninth on Sunday.
After Byron Buxton reached on a bunt single to lead off the inning, he scampered to second base after Dillon Gee air mailed the throw to first. For those of you keeping score, that’s a (really fast) man on second base with nobody out. Instead of trying to advance the runner to third, Brian Dozier and Eddie Rosario decided to hack mindlessly into the sun as they both struck out.
Joe Mauer and Max Kepler would draw back-to-back walks following the pair of Ks, but Byung-Ho Park would cap off the inning with his fourth strikeout of the game while trying to create a new United States space satellite.
Such is a contrast from a year ago, when the Twins started 1-6, but clawed their way back by doing the little things in order to score runs. Instead, it’s almost like the team has accepted that the strikeouts will happen and decided to resemble the White Sox teams of the late 2000s that stood around waiting for a three-run homer. (Outside of a World Series victory in 2005, we all know how those teams fared.)
In reality, these offensive struggles have taken place over a six-game span at the beginning of the year. In the same breath, April games matter, and had the Twins started 4-3 a year ago, they could have been playing in the AL Wild Card game rather than watching it.
There are a ton of adjustments that take place during the course of a baseball season, but if the Twins don’t make this one early, it could plague them for the rest of the year.