Minnesota Twins: 5 Observations from the Opening Weekend
The Minnesota Twins are now four games into the season and currently sit at 1-3.
It has been an unexpectedly slow start for a team that went 20-12 during spring training and starts the season looking to win a third-straight division title.
Ahead are five observations the Twins will need to address going forward should they want a chance to make another playoff appearance in 2011.
1. Francisco Liriano Is Not Ready for Primetime
For most of the 2010 campaign, Francisco Liriano was the best starting pitcher in the Twins rotation.
Finally showing life following his 2006 rookie season that ended in Tommy John surgery, Liriano went 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA while striking out over 200 batters.
This gave hope to fans that Liriano would be able to take over the ace role this season and be the stopper in a rotation that is sorely lacking one.
That is why there was so much shock following news that the Twins were taking calls about trading Liriano during the offseason. The Twins were not convinced that Liriano is going to be a viable pitcher going into the future and would take a good offer for the left-hander if the price was right.
At this time most thought this was a crazy move by the Twins, but I am now convinced the Twins made a mistake in not trading him when his value was the highest it might ever be.
Liriano struggled all spring trying to find any command on his pitches, and that lack of control has now carried into the regular season.
During his first start this season in Toronto, Liriano went 4.1 innings, giving up four earned runs and walking five while only striking out three. Liriano routinely missed up in the zone, which led to two home runs for the Blue Jays (Liriano only allowed nine home runs over 191 innings in 2010).
It is still very early and there is still a good possibility of Liriano finding his form, but with a re-loaded Tigers and White Sox, the Twins need that turn around to happen sooner rather then later.
2. Morneau Is Not All the Way Back
For Twins fans, seeing Justin Morneau take up his normal position at first base was a welcomed sight.
Having the 2006 AL MVP back in the lineup was bound to bring a boom to a team that has finished the last two playoff runs without him.
Following Morneau's well documented concussion last July, he has had a long long road back, and I'm not quite sure he has found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Through four games, Morneau is hitting .214 with one RBI and one extra base hit.
Last season Morneau was on his way to a possible second MVP season after hitting .345 with 18 HR and 56 RBI over only 81 games.
It's great that Morneau is back, and if he can even be 80 percent of what he was last season, he should help the Twins enormously, but I think Morneau is still a month or two away from finding his stride. Only time will tell.
3. Nathan Should Not Be the Closer Yet
There is no bigger fan of Joe Nathan then myself, so this one is hard to admit; Joe Nathan should not be closer right now.
Nathan has worked incredibly hard to return to the Twins following his Tommy John surgery last spring training, but he is not quite the pitcher he was just yet.
This is not to say he won't get back to form at some time this season, but he is not there yet.
To confirm this, one needs to only do an eye test on Nathan. To me, he has lost a step on his fastball (sitting around 90-91 compared to his normal 94-96), and his curveball is hanging in the zone much more then it had back in 2009.
Nathan had an OK spring. His ERA was bloated to over nine due to two outings where he got beat around a little bit, but the majority of appearances were solid.
However, after seeing Nathan close out the Twins' series finale victory over the Blue Jays on Sunday, it's clear he isn't ready to close games.
The game against the Jays saw Nathan throw nearly 40 pitches, give up a run and load the bases before escaping with the save by the skin on his teeth.
The Twins have Matt Capps, a closer who saved over 40 games last year, making $7 million on their roster as well. Untill Nathan shows he is all the way back, Capps should probably take over ninth inning duties.
4. Nishioka Is Having Rough Time Adjusting to MLB
Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka brings a resume that includes a batting title and multiple Gold Gloves to the Minnesota Twins.
He has shown flashes of why the Twins felt comfortable giving him a three-year deal to become their starting second baseman, but he has also made many mistakes already this season that are not typical of a Twins player.
Nishioka already has committed two errors at second, both of which led to big innings for the Toronto Blue Jays.
One of the most glaring mistakes was allowing Blue Jays base runner Rajai Davis to get back to first after being picked off by Carl Pavano in the first inning of the season opener. This led to four runs being scored in the inning and the Twins never being able to recover the remainder of the series.
Nishioka does have a difficult task in attempting to assimilate into a new culture thousands of miles from his homeland which just had a national tragedy, so for myself at least, I am giving Nishioka a bit more leash to work with while he is becoming acclimated.
It will be interesting to see if the Nishioka that played so well during March can translate into regular season success.
5. Twins Bats Are Showing Rust
After four games of the season, the Twins are hitting .208.
Let me state that again. After four games of the season, the Twins are hitting .208.
Has that sunk in yet? After four games of the season, the Twins are hitting .208.
That's a real number. A team with Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Denard Span, Delmon Young, Jim Thome, Michael Cuddyer and Danny Valencia is hitting just .208.
This might be OK in certain situations, but the Twins didn't start the season facing the Giants or the Phillies rotations.
The Twins faced the Blue Jays in one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks this side of Coors Field in Colorado.
After two games, the Blue Jays had scored twice as many runs against the Twins as the Twins had hits. The Blue Jays scored 18 runs in the first two games against the Twins' nine hits in the same span.
The Twins were also the last team in MLB to hit a home run this season. Again, this was in a ballpark that Toronto hit six home runs during the first two games.
.333, .267, .091, .214, .125, .182, .333, .077, .250.
These are the averages of the starting day lineup.
Span, Nishioka, Mauer, Morneau, Young, Cuddyer, Kubel, Valencia, Casilla
Needless to say, they are going to have to pick it up soon. Especially a certain catcher making $23 million this season who has only one hit, a single, on his 2011 resume thus far.