The Twins lost the series to the Chicago White Sox at the US cellular field, 2-1, after winning Joe Crede's homecoming by a comfortable margin, mainly due to offensive issues the last 2 games.
So far this season the Twins are 3-4. What does that mean? Last year the Twins also started the season 3-4. Let's look at some of the specifics of the 2008 and 2009 teams' performances and try to see whether there is anything of note in this comparison:
After seven games in 2008: 3-4
team batting: .252/.295/.349 19 runs scored;
team pitching: 4.06 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 27 runs. 13.97 Pitches/IP, 5.83 K/BB, 4.77 K/9
After seven games in 2009: 3-4
team batting: .233/.306/.345, 26 runs scored;
team pitching: 5.16 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 37 runs. 15.87 Pitches/IP; 1.98 K/BB, 5.46 K/9.
There are 2 silver linings for the 2009 team:
a. they equaled the record of the 2008 team that went on to win 88 games, without Joe Mauer and by having a home series and an away series; the first 7 games of 2008 were at home against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Kansas City Royals.
b. the 2009 team seems more efficient with the bat than the 2008 team. It scored 7 more runs in the same 7 games with about equal team OPS. If this continues, and esp. if this offensive effort gets more equally distributed among games, is a very positive sign.
What went wrong?
The 2009 pitching in these first 7 games has not been as good as the 2008. The root cause is fairly obvious when one looks at the numbers: The Twins' pitchers have a harder time throwing strikes this season, compared to 2008. The number than speaks the most is the K/BB comparison: 5.83 for 2008 and just 1.98 for 2009. This translates to a higher number of pitches thrown per inning (15.87 vs. 13.97), and a higher WHIP (1.18 vs. 1.31), which in turn translates to more runs allowed (37 vs 27) and results to a higher ERA (4.06 vs. 5.16). An apparent positive note is the K/9 number: 5.46 for 2009 vs 4.77 for 2008. However, at this point, I am not convinced that this is not an artifact of increased wildness and batters simply swinging outside the zone.
The bottom line from the first 2 series is that:
- The 2009 Twins are keeping pace with the 2008 Twins where it matters: W-L record
- The biggest issue with the pitching has been an inability to throw strikes, which I think is very correctable for this squad, because throwing strikes has always been a power of this group and these pitchers did not overnight collectively forgot how to do it
- The biggest issue with the offense has been very similar to that of the 2008 team: Run distribution per game. I am not sure that this is correctable, but it is concerning. The Twins' bats seem to act in unison: there are days that everyone hits and there are days than nobody hits. That said, the 2009 team's offense so far has been more powerful than that the 2008 team's, and Joe Mauer will return soon
What is coming up? A 3 game home series with the Toronto Blue Jays and the return of Scott Baker who pitched 7 very efficient innings in a Florida State League game with the Ft. Myers Miracle last week. One of Philip Humber, R. A. Dickey and Brian Duensing will probably leave the team when Baker returns. I think that the obvious choice is Brian Duensing, not because he pitched worse than Philip Humber, but because, unlike Humber, he has options. R.A. Dickey has earned a spot and should be with the Twins in a bullpen role.
Position Player MVP of the series at Chicago:
10 AB, 5 H, 2 R, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 1 K; .500/.583/.500
Best Pitcher of the series at Chicago:
1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K; 0.00 ERA, 0.00 WHIP, 13.53 K/9