The Minnesota Twins offense will be fine. It took a couple of turns of the key, but it finally ignited in Game 3. Luis Arraez will wear out opposing pitchers. Byron Buxton is going to stretch singles into doubles. If we didn’t have January weather in April, Gary Sánchez probably hits a walk-off on opening day. Such is life in the Frozen Tundra.
But pitching will make or break this team. We knew that from the beginning of the year, and it holds true now. The Twins traded José Berríos to the Toronto Blue Jays, Kenta Maeda had Tommy John surgery, and Michael Pineda signed with the Detroit Tigers. Therefore, Minnesota had to overhaul its pitching staff to try and capitalize on Correa’s arrival and Buxton’s $100 million extension.
So far, so good. I think.
- Joe Ryan: 4.0 IP, 2H, 2R (4.50 ERA)
- Sonny Gray: 4.2 IP, 4H, 2R (3.86 ERA)
- Bailey Ober: 5.0 IP, 4H, 4R (7.20 ERA)
- Dylan Bundy: 5.0 IP, 1H, 0R (0.00 ERA)
- Chris Archer: 4.0 IP, 2H, 0R (0.00 ERA)
- Chris Paddack: 4.0 IP, 6H, 3R (6.75 ERA)
When you lay it out like that, it almost looks like there’s missing data. Small sample size aside – the numbers above represent the first time through the order – nobody would blame you if you asked why these pitchers only went four to five innings. It’s because of the shortened spring training, of course. Still, it’s weird to see established pitchers like Bundy and Archer with a zero ERA next to a five- and four-inning outing, respectively.
Rocco Baldelli has been pleased by what he’s seen so far.
“The starters have been fantastic up and down,” said Baldelli before Paddack’s start on Wednesday. “I’d think I could speak for everyone, in [pitching coach] Wes [Johnson] and [bullpen coach] Pete [Maki] and [assistant pitching coach] Luis [Ramirez] on the pitching side, the starters have gone out there and thrown the ball very hard.”
But Minnesota’s rotation is a Schröedinger’s cat right now. For the uninitiated, Schrödinger’s cat is a thought experiment developed by physicist Erwin Schröedinger in 1935 that illustrates a paradox of quantum superposition.
You can read into it if you have an interest in quantum mechanics. But in simple terms, Schrödinger posited that if you place a cat and something that could kill a cat (i.e., a radioactive atom) in a box and seal it, you would not know if the cat was dead or alive until you opened the box. Therefore, until someone opens the box, the cat was dead and alive in a sense.
We haven’t seen Minnesota’s starters throw more than 80 pitches or go more than five innings. Would Bundy and Archer have kept the Mariners and Dodgers, respectively, off the board? Maybe they keep shoving as the game goes along. Perhaps they implode.
Is the starting rotation, as currently constructed, good enough to carry the Twins this season? We don’t know yet. But there are signs that it is. Still, it’s possible that things could have gotten worse the third time through the order. Hitters typically have an advantage once they’ve seen a pitcher a third time. They know which pitches are working and which aren’t. However, we won’t know that until later in the season when the starters are stretched out.
“I think we have a good-looking rotation, so I think our guys are actually looking forward to pitching more and staying out, pitching us deeper into games,” said Baldelli. “And honestly, we’re gonna need them to, as we move forward and as the rosters shrink and we carry fewer bullpen arms, the starters are gonna have to pitch. I think we’re gonna see that across the league.”
MLB is allowing 28-man rosters through April, knowing that managers will place strict pitch counts on their rotations. But starters across baseball will need to be able to handle a normal workload by May.
Most managers are limiting their starters to 70-80 pitches because they are not built up after spring training started late due to the lockout. For example, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled Clayton Kershaw seven innings into a perfect game because he had thrown 80 pitches.
“It felt like that was the right call for my personal health, the best interests of the team, and me being ready in October,” Kershaw said on Thursday. “It all seemed like the right call at the time.”
So Baldelli isn’t alone in limiting his pitchers right now. But it creates an interesting conundrum. Minnesota’s rotation looks good, given the limitations.
- Ryan is only the third player in the expansion era (since 1961) to make an opening day start within the first six games of his career. He held his own against a good Mariners team.
- Gray would have liked to go into the fifth inning, but he made a quality start. Well, a quality start given the circumstances.
- Ober is a second-year player who made 20 starts as a rookie. At least he gave the Twins five solid innings.
- Bundy and Archer are veterans who have battled injuries and looking to re-establish themselves as reliable starters in the majors. 0.00 ERA is a good start.
Paddack, 26, is neither a green pitcher like Ryan and Ober nor is he a wily veteran like Gray, Bundy, or Archer. He’s entering the prime of his career and came over in the Taylor Rogers trade. It’s fair to expect more from him. However, consider that he arrived less than 48 hours before opening day and was facing a potent Dodgers lineup.
It’s hard to draw any conclusions from the first turn through the rotation. But pitching is Minnesota’s X-factor this year, and it’s important to monitor its progress. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine overhauled the rotation while bringing in Correa and extending Buxton. The Twins are in win-now mode and need quality pitching to be better than the .500 team Vegas and sites like FanGraphs project them to be.
So far, it looks good. But we don’t really know yet, and we won’t be able to open the box until May.