Have I mentioned that I love this time of year?
The Twins opened up the 2010 season on Monday night at 9:05 in Anaheim, facing an Angels team that looks a bit different than it did last season. After seeing John Lackey, Chone Figgins, Vladimir Guerrero, Darren Oliver and Gary Matthews Jr. depart via free agency, the Angels signed Hideki Matsui, the 2009 World Series MVP, to make up for the losses of Figgins and Guerrero. They also acquired Joel Pinero and Fernando Rodney to fill the pitching staff voids left by Lackey and Oliver.
There were 2 things I knew for sure going into this series with the Angels; I would not be sleeping much throughout the week, and many Twins fans would make unnecessary assumptions based on the small sample sizes of the season’s first few games.
Both of my assumptions were correct, as I have averaged a mere 6.5 hours of sleep every night since Monday, and following the Twins’ loss Monday night, the phone lines of local sports radio stations and comment sections of blogs were filled with endless negativity making it seem as if the sky were falling.
Denard Span went 0-5 with 3 strikeouts on Monday night, while Carlos Gomez was 4-5 with a double and a homerun in his debut with the Brewers. You would have thought that Gomez was Josh Gibson in the eyes of fatalistic Twins fans. What is it about opening day that makes people believe it is some sort of barometer to how the season will play out? Fun fact: the Twins won division titles in 2006 and 2009 after losing on opening day, so fear not, it is possible to have a successful season in spite of losing the first of 162 games.
I realize that I am losing all credibility for any inferences I might make from the opening series by ripping on people who get worked up over a single game, because let’s face it, the 4 games that make up the opening series are still a small sample size. There still is something that I feel I can comfortably say in regards to this new and improved Minnesota ball club, “these aren’t your daddy’s Twins.”
Gone are the days of the Twins playing the role of the “little engine that could,” both in terms of the size of their payroll and their style of play. No longer will the Twins be forced to scrape and claw for every single run they score through a constant barrage of stolen bases, sacrifice bunts and general “small ball.” This current Twins roster can absolutely mash!
The Twins hit 9 homeruns during the past 4 games, Joe Mauer, Jim Thome and Brendan Harris got into the action, with Justin Morneau, JJ Hardy and Delmon young each hitting a pair. I am not claiming that this year’s team will hit 365 homeruns (which is what they are currently on pace for), eventually shattering the current record of 264 held by the 1997 Seattle Mariners. What I am saying is gone are the days of trotting out an everyday lineup with one guy having the potential to break the 20 homerun barrier (i.e. Morneau was our only 20+ homerun guy in 2008).
This year’s lineup has 7 players with 20+ homerun power (Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Kubel, Thome, Young & Hardy), and 5 of those players have legitimate 30+ homerun power (Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Kubel & Thome). I am not saying that we should expect to have 5 guys with 30 homeruns come season’s end. I don’t believe that Thome will have enough at bats to reach that mark, and I also don’t expect every one of the other four to put up those kind of power numbers all at once.
Pavano had an excellent outing Wednesday evening, giving up only 1 run over 7 innings, while striking out 6 and walking nobody. As I said on the Henry Lake show this past Saturday (as a caller, not as somebody who was being interviewed as a guest), when you look at Pavano’s FIP (4.00) and BABIP (.335) from last season, it becomes clear that his overall numbers were much worse than they should have been. I fully expect his ERA to come down much closer to his FIB of 4.00 than it was last season, and to be much less “unlucky” with his BABIP moving toward the league average of 3.03. Overall, I expect Pavano to have a nice season, surprising many fans with more wins and better numbers.
This Twins team has shown a bit of what they can do this year offensively in just the first 4 games. Also, with the exception of Jose Mijares’ abysmal performance Monday night, the bullpen has shown that it should be strong again this year. Pair that with starting pitching performances that hopefully resemble Pavano’s first start rather than Baker’s, and as I have said before, I believe the Twins to be not only the AL Central champions, but a legitimate World Series contender in 2010.