I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: The Twins started Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Anthony Swarzak and Nick Blakcburn in the first four games of 2012. Not surprisingly, they lost them all (while Scott Baker idled, in all places, on the DL). They’re all gone, and a rotation including Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey is temporary. The Twins used their excess of defense-first center fielders (Denard Span) to acquire Alex Meyer from the Nats, and Meyer shouldn’t take long to supplant someone. He was the Nats’ first-round pick out of the University of Kentucky in 2011, and he’s pitched like it: a 2.73 ERA with 158 strikeouts in 145 innings, and he’s started 2013 in the same manner. He has a 1.69 ERA in three AA starts, and Baseball America rates him the 59th-best prospect in baseball. A word of caution: Pelfrey was once ranked as high as 20th by the same publication. And we know how that career turned out.
What is this man doing here? The Twins are playing Pedro Florimon and Eduardo Escobar at shortstop while Jamey Carroll — who may not have power but does have a .354 career on-base percentage — mostly watches. Here’s hoping he doesn’t get bored, because he’s likely to be needed. Florimon has only three hindrances: a bad eye (34 walks vs. 117 strikeouts in the minors last year), bad legs (50 caught stealings in 152 career minor league attempts) and a bad birth certificate (he’s 26, or a little late to be reversing his career trends). Florimon has a career .675 minor-league OPS and although he’s walked six times in 35 plate appearances this year, it’s unlikely to last.
What he said: Joe Mauer on former teammate Mike Redmond returning to Minnesota as manager of the Marlins: “I’m really happy for him. It will be fun to see him.” What he meant: “It will be even more fun to play against that lousy team he manages. Even Aaron Hicks (who’s batting .059) ought to start hitting.”
Outlook: The Twins have had two managers over the last 27 seasons — stability no one else in MLB can match. (The Yankees have had two managers over the last 18 seasons, but they had six over the previous nine.)
Of course, the Twins endured eight straight losing seasons under Tom Kelly from 1993-2000, including four straight with 90 or more, because Kelly won two World Series in his first five years.
No Yankee manager could last half as long as Kelly, no many World Series they had won. Perhaps it’s true Midwesterners have more patience.
Ron Gardenhire, in his 12th season as Kelly’s replacement, is the beneficiary now. He’s earned it — the Twins had eight winning seasons and six playoff berths in his first nine years. Or maybe not — the Twins have also lost five straight playoff series and their last 12 playoff games.
Gardenhire will need all the goodwill he can muster this year. The Twins have lost 99 and 96 games the last two years, and despite their 8-7 start, figure to lose 90 more this year (with the Marlins in town, their record will get better before it gets worse).
The biggest culprit is the Twins’ pitching, which has improved from horrid to awful. The Twins were 28th in ERA last year, and they’re the only team in baseball which can add Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Correia and Vance Worley to their rotation and consider it an upgrade.
The offense is better, but the order has no top or bottom, just a middle. If rookie Aaron Hicks, a .384 on-base percentage at AA last year but 3-for-his-first-51 this year. doesn’t hit, the Twins will be perhaps the only team in baseball which can trade Denard Span and Ben Revere and have a leadoff centerfielder who gets on base less.
The middle of the infield will be porous, once Eduardo Escobar stops hitting, but it’s cheap. And it’s not so bad that anyone misses Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who was handed a middle infield job and returned a .503 OPS in 254 plate appearances. It’s not easy to make Kaz Matsui look good, but Nishi excelled at that, if nothing else.
The Twins have help on the way: Hicks is only 23, Oswaldo Arcia is younger (21) and better (.328 average, .955 OPS in AA last year) and Miguel Sano might be better still (28 home runs at age 19 in low Class A).
Sano, at Fort Myers in the Class A Florida State League, hit his sixth home run in 17 games Sunday and then was ejected as he rounded the bases for taunting the opposing Palm Beach Cardinals.
The parent Twins could use a little of that: the home runs, and the attitude.
Trivia answer: The five brother combinations with the most victories are the Niekros (539: Phil 318 and Joe 221), the Perrys (529: Gaylord 314 and Jim 215), the Madduxes (394: Greg 355 and Mike 39), the Mathewsons (373: Christy 373 and Henry 0-1) and the Martinezes (354: Pedro 219 and Ramon 135).
Team song: Lucinda Williams: Minneapolis