Rocco Baldelli isn’t a weatherman or clairvoyant, but he promises things will get better. No, the Minnesota Twins may not top their seven-game winning streak this year. They may even hit another rut, as they did in the middle of April. But at least we’re gonna get some baseball weather soon, and his vaunted lineup should become more consistent.
“I mean, the weather’s gonna warm up,” Baldelli said recently. “We have a great lineup. Our guys are gonna go out there and hit, and we’re not gonna just be fine. I think we’re gonna be really productive.”
Baldelli is generally a positive person and supportive of his players, so this comment is not out of the ordinary. But it’s fair. Minnesota seemed to gear their winning formula around the lineup going into the season. The offense would carry the team, and the pitching staff just had to be good enough to keep the Twins in games.
Instead, we’ve seen the inverse in April. Minnesota’s patched-together starting rotation has shoved while the chilly air has bogged down the hitters.
- Joe Ryan was unfazed by getting the Opening Day assignment. His laid-back demeanor and lights-out pithing belie his relative inexperience.
- Bailey Ober has proven that his success in 20 starts last year wasn’t a fluke. The former 12th-round pick out of the College of Charleston is a steal if he’s even a league-average back-of-the-rotation starter.
- Dylan Bundy looks like a former top prospect, and Chris Archer, a two-time All-Star.
Chris Paddack struggled a bit in his first start, but he faced the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Twins gave him no run support against the Kansas City Royals and looked good in a fluky win over the Detroit Tigers. Paddack may be the most complicated starter to evaluate because he’s played in some weird games. But it’s not hard to see why the Twins traded for him.
Sonny Gray is also difficult to evaluate because he got hurt in his second start, but he appeared to have his stuff against the Seattle Mariners. And Josh Winder pitched well in his first start, considering the Twins initially used him in the bullpen. His longest appearance came in relief of Gray. He probably thought he would be in the rotation before the Twins traded for Paddack, so it says something about his mental fortitude that he’s been able to adjust.
I’m not making any promises that the Twins will have one of the best rotations in baseball. But I’d lean towards a miracle on the scale of miracle to mirage. Or, really, it’s just a well-constructed staff, considering the front office kind of threw it together in the offseason. So, if the pitchers regress to the mean, will the hitters deliver as they should?
“I think we’ve had some ballgames…where we’ve swung the bats pretty good, did not have a lot to show for it,” said Baldelli, “and I think we should focus on all of these things right now.”
Maybe it’s a convenient statement, but it’s also fair. Think of that ball Gary Sánchez hit on Opening Day. The one that looked like he hit out to walk off the Mariners. He thought it was out, the fans thought it was out, but it died on the warning track. In June, that ball probably lands in the second row.
Max Kepler’s bat is heating up. So is Carlos Correa’s. Perhaps Kepler will never again be the player he was in 2019, so it’s fair to be a little skeptical. But Correa? He’s pretty good. Correa was stinging the ball earlier in the year and not seeing it fall. Now it is. Even Miguel Sanó got ahold of one in the 5-4 win over Detroit. Did the Tigers botch the end of the game? Sure. But it wasn’t old friend Robbie Grossman misplaying the ball – even if we’ve seen him do that once or twice before.
The Twins will have to win differently in May than they did in April. They can’t have power outages like they had in Kansas City, nor can they assume that the pitching staff will be this good all season long. They know as well as we do that they’re dealing with incomplete information right now. It’s hard to judge pitchers until they can throw 100 pitches regularly. Spring Training affects hitters, too, so maybe that’s impacted them as much as the weather.
“The camp was short,” said Baldelli. “You just tend to lean a little more conservative — at least, we have — when you have a short camp after a lockout where you couldn’t monitor and see, kind of, where your players were at.
“Coming in, you prepared for anything,” he added. “I don’t like saying ‘prepared for the worst,’ that’s not the way I want to say it. But you have to prepare for guys coming in and maybe not being ready. And what the alternatives look like, and all the different ways to pivot. Because our players prepared so well, we didn’t have to pivot that much.”
The pivot will probably come in May. We’ll likely get a good look at how good the Twins really are. My guess is that there’s a lot of substance to what happened in the first month of the season. Every team has to adjust, even in a typical year. Players slump and get hurt; there are challenging and easy parts of the schedule. The best teams ride right through it.
The Twins have adjusted well so far. As long as the hitters do what they’re supposed to once (hopefully) it warms up, the pitchers should hold their own. We could be in for a battle between Minnesota and the Chicago White Sox for the AL Central. Who doesn’t want that? The sun will eventually emerge from the dreary grey sky. It will reveal everything we need to know about this team when it does.