If any Twins fans were in need of validation for Francisco Liriano’s performance over the first month of the season, they definitely received it on Monday. Liriano was named American League pitcher of the month for the month of April after going 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA in his first 5 starts of the year. This marks the first time a Twins pitcher has won the award since September of 2006 when Johan Santana brought it home.
Across his first 5 starts, Liriano has accumulated 36 strikeouts over 36 innings pitched, but walked 13 batters, a trend that hopefully will not continue over the next 5 months.
What’s been most impressive about Liriano thus far aside from his numbers is the fact that his velocity finally appears to be back. His fastball late in ballgames has been consistently 94-96 mph with his slider working around 87-88 and his changeup around 84-85. This is usually the surest sign that a pitcher has fully recovered from Tommy John.
Another encouraging sign was something that I noticed in his last start against the Indians last Sunday. Coming into the game riding 23 consecutive scoreless innings, Liriano proceeded to quickly give up 2 runs in the bottom of the first inning, something that would have lead to a complete mental breakdown a year ago. Liriano recovered well, and ended up throwing 7 strong innings, giving up a total of 3 earned runs while striking out 9. This ability to settle down after a rocky start shows a maturity that we haven’t seen from Liriano.
Anybody that has watched the Twins so far this season has probably noticed that they have been struggling a bit with the bases loaded. Anybody who consistently reads about the Twins is probably sick of reading about their struggles with the bases loaded. This has frustrated me all season, so I decided to do some statistical digging to see just how bad it really is, and the results are disgusting…
Entering Monday the Twins led all of baseball in plate appearances with the bases loaded at a whopping 52. The league average slash line in these situations sits at .292/.334/.443, meaning that on average that amount of opportunities in 25 games should lead to a ton of runs. However, the Twins in those situations have hit an abysmal .163/.192/.186
Albeit those numbers are terrible, the Twins are tied for 3rd in all of baseball with 140 runs scored. As all of my readers should know by now, I am eternally optimistic and believe that the Twins production with the bases loaded will improve significantly over the year. This increased timely hitting will make one of the best offenses in baseball even more potent.
To make Twins fans and even the occasional sports writer even begin to think about muttering the words “Mauer who?” would take nothing short of a superhuman performance on the field. Somehow Wilson Ramos was able to perform well enough in his first 2 major league games that had some people thinking this way.
Wilson Ramos began his major league career by going 4 for 5 with a couple of doubles that he absolutely laced. He didn’t skip a beat by going 3 for 4 last night in his first game at Target Field, giving him 7 hits in his first 9 at bats. If you were a casual observer at Target Field on Monday night you would have thought that people believed they should begin etching Ramos’ name on a plaque in Cooperstown. I even heard one fan two rows behind me trying to muster up the chant, “trade Mauer.”
Yes, Ramos has been hitting the ball well and calling a good game behind the plate, but how even the most casual of fans trying to reason that the Twins should trade arguably the best player in baseball, a 3-time bating champion and reigning AL MVP who we just locked up with a long-term deal just makes me want to vomit. I know that Minnesota sports fans have been called “short sighted” or “fair weather” by people outside of this market, and it is thoughts and comments like this that lead to this belief.
Ramos is one of the top 3 prospects in the Twins organization, one of the best prospects in baseball, and is a prototypical catcher who is built like a brick wall. He is a guy who will hit for average, and seems to have as much raw power as just about anybody in the organization. He will fill in nicely while Mauer is injured, and will be sent back down to Rochester when Mauer comes back. I am sure that many fans will be up in arms when this takes place, but you just simply cannot risk stunting the growth of one of your organization’s top prospects by sitting him on the bench and giving him maybe 4 at bats a week.
Literally as I am writing this sentence, JJ Hardy is crossing the plate for the Twins first ever walk-off win at Target Field. It seems fitting that Hardy be the one to score this run as he made a phenomenal heads up defensive play for the last out of the 9th and preserve the tie. I thought the ball that Hardy hit was gone when it left the bat, which probably would have been cooler, but a win is a win.