Friday, May 27, 2011

3rd Split: 4-12

Overall Record: 16-32
5th in AL Central by 14.5 games

Other splits: 6-10, 6-10

Incredibly, things got worse. The lopsided scores disappeared as the strength of opponent tapered off. But the Twins still managed to have their worst split in years. They scored 4 or more runs 7 times. They went just 3-4 in those games. They allowed 3 or fewer runs 7 times. They went just 3-4 in those games. Basically, when they pitched well, they didn't hit. When they hit well, they didn't pitch. Whatever it took to lose, they did it.

The hitting definitely improved. The Twins averaged nearly 4 RPG and hit 15 HR - double their total to date. Their overall line of .240/.297/.362 is still beneath what you'd expect from a league average SS, but it looks pretty strong compared to what came before. This is largely due to vastly improved numbers from the bottom of the order. Alexi Casilla has caught fire since moving back to 2B, and Rene Rivera, while still hitting poorly even for a backup C, looks like Mike Piazza next to Drew Butera.

The pitching stayed about the same. Which is to say, it was pretty bad. The starters eventually kept the team in the game, but when they did, the bullpen routinely coughed up the lead. The overall team ERA was essentially flat. The K/9 improved a lot, but the BB/9 and HR/9 regressed a bit. Joe Nathan, Kevin Slowey and Glen Perkins landed on the DL, forcing more marginal pitchers into high-leverage situations. Phil Dumatrait has done well, but everybody else has been killed.

The defense was dreadful. 13 E committed, though they resulted in just 4 UER. Too many extra outs, too many extra bases. Too much pressure added to a lineup and pitching staff that are struggling as it is. And that doesn't even include some of the plays that weren't made because of indecisiveness or lack of range. Some of it is the scrubs, but just about everybody the Twins run out there is capable of doing better, at least on balls hit into their zone.

Even terrible baseball teams generally win 6 out of every 16 games. It's hard to lose more than that. Everybody has their bad days, but they have their good days, too. The Twins have managed to make just enough mistakes to lose even on their good days. I don't know where the bottom of this pit is, but I still can't believe they won't reach it soon. They've played poorly, but they've also been unlucky. It isn't probable that both of those things will continue at this rate.

Bold prediction: They bottom out.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Twins 2, Mariners 5

We're 1/4 of the way through the season. This 13-27 stretch is the worst since the 2001 Twins came out of the All-Star break 11-30. But don't write them off just yet. There was some very encouraging news coming out of Tuesday night's recap. First, feast your eyes on this beauty:

7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K

For the 1st time all season, Francisco Liriano pitched like he's supposed to. I know the Mariners aren't much better at hitting than the Twins are. But opposing lineups haven't been hitting Liriano too much lately. They've been walking. In this game, Liriano showed both improved control (17/26 batters faced started with strike 1) and a killer instinct once he got them to 2 strikes. Where has that been all season? Well... look at his stats by catcher:

Mauer - 7.71 ERA, 7.7 BB/9, 7.7 K/9
Rivera - 1.29 ERA, 1.3 BB/9, 11.6 K/9
Butera - 6.84 ERA, 6.5 BB/9, 4.4 K/9

Small sample sizes all. Liriano has been horribly erratic, and he'll have to limit the walks if he's going to succeed going forward. But it appears that Butera isn't calling the game in such a way that would elicit swinging strikes. Looking at the staff as a whole:

Mauer - 4.04 ERA, 5.9 K/9, 3.7 BB/9
Rivera - 3.45 ERA, 9.3 K/9, 4.1 BB/9
Holm - 5.44 ERA, 6.1 K/9, 3.3 BB/9
Butera - 5.58 ERA, 5.2 K/9, 4.1 BB/9

When Butera is behind the plate, all Twins pitchers have a terrible K/BB ratio. I actually find that very encouraging. As terrificly as Liriano and Nick Blackburn have done with Rivera behind the plate, I would think Gardy would want to keep that chemistry going. Since Butera and Rivera are both hitting horribly, why not go with the guy who's getting good pitching performances? And Joe Mauer will return some day. When he does, the K/BB ratio will improve, making the pitching better even as the catching spot is transformed from an automatic out into a .400+ OBP. Maybe seeing Butera outplayed by a replacement-level journeyman will help Bill Smith realize how badly the Twins need a proper backup C, and he'll do what it takes to get one.

Jason Repko started his rehab assignment yesterday, and went 2 for 5 with a HR. He will soon take the place of Ben Revere and his .167 OBP. Jim Thome is swinging the bat in Florida and should return within a week. Soon he'll be the one pinch-hitting for Rivera and Butera and Casilla. Delmon Young was rushed back too soon (evidently, a dozen or so PA against Rookie-ball pitching doesn't prepare you to face the likes of Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Michael Pineda), but he'll find his stroke soon enough. Tsuyoshi Nishioka is running in Florida and within a couple of weeks will be sending Matt Tolbert's and Casilla's sub-.250 OBPs out of the starting lineup. Danny Valencia is playing very well, just having unsustainably bad luck. Michael Cuddyer doesn't seem like he's doing much, but look at this:

Cuddyer 2008-2010: .269/.337/.451
Cuddyer since 4/12/11: .298/.360/.439

Once he made up the 30 or so PA he missed in spring training, he's played as well as we had any right to expect. Though his power has been lacking, and he hasn't done much with RISP, he's far from a liability.

This lineup is destined to score more runs, which brings me to the best news of all:

The Twins have been held to 3 or fewer runs in 28 of 40 games, and are 4-24 in those games.

Isn't that fantastic? That means the Twins are 9-3 in games in which they score at least 4 runs. (And 2 of the 3 losses were blown saves!) A .750 winning percentage can turn this season around very quickly, especially with the schedule lightening up a bit. They just have to score one more R/G. And they will.

Every team goes the rough spells. Look at the way the Rays and Red Sox started the season. Look at the way the Yankees are playing now. But every team has periods of prolonged success, as well. The 2001 team that was bad enough to go 11-30 was also good enough to start the season 29-12. A surge like that would get the Twins back over .500 by the mid-point of the season. And the '01 Twins weren't the only ones to have hot streaks:

2002: Beginning on June 30th, the Twins went 24-7.
2003: Coming out of the break, the Twins went 45-20 to take the division title.
2004: From August 15th to September 16th, the Twins went 23-7 to take the division title.
2005: They began the season 35-22 before fading to just over .500 when it was all over.
2006: Beginning June 8th, the Twins finished the season 71-33 to steal the division on the last day.
2007: From May 22nd through July 15th, the Twins had a 29-19 run.
2008: From June 16th to the end of August, they went 45-25.
2009: The Twins went 17-4 over the final 3 weeks to steal the division in game 163.
2010: Starting one game after the ASB, they went 46-17 to wrap up the division with 10 games yet to play.

Every Twins team for a decade has had a period of sustained winning. Any of those periods, applied to the 2011 team, would turn the season around.

The good times are coming. Will it be too late when they arrive?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Hell Week

Twins 2, Tigers 10

Oh my sweet Lord, when is this horror show going to be over?

Seriously, why don't they just kick me in the balls?

I'll make Saturday's loss the 4th of the season squarely on the shoulders of the depth. Not just because the Twins only needed one more run over 10 innings of batting in order to win this one. Because James Hoey got absolutely torched in the 11th, and I don't think he'd be up here right now if several other guys hadn't already failed.

For the week, the Twins pitched well enough to win on Friday and Saturday and hit well enough to win on Wednesday. But whatever needs to happen in order for them to lose, happens. They're on a 110-loss pace right now. Almost nobody loses that much. To lose that much, an avalanche of things has to go wrong. And it has.

One could have predicted that a few of the Twins' moves wouldn't pan out, and that there would be some injuries. But to lose Mauer, and Nishioka, and have Casilla suck worse than he ever has, forcing Gardy to overuse Tolbert and Butera and (who are sucking worse than they ever have), let alone Butera's even worse backups? To have Nathan and Morneau each struggle mightily to recover from their 2010 injuries? To have Capps blow more than his share of saves? To have Liriano and Pavano each see significant spikes in HR/9 and BB/9 with corresponding plummets in their K/9, becoming, in effect, completely different pitchers than they were last year? To have every young player called up from AAA sputter and fail to make a positive impact?

A few of those things were bound to happen. But all of them at once? Inconceivable. And yet, here we are.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Twins 9, Red Sox 2
I don't think the Twins hit the ball a heckuva lot better in this game. They just got a bunch of bleeders to squeak through. A team should get its share of those, though, so it was nice to see. It was also nice to see the other team commit a litany of blunders, for once. And Trevor Plouffe enjoyed an auspicious 2011 debut, 2-4 with a BB and a HR in his 1st AB. Of course, Jim Hoey also enjoyed an auspicious 2011 debut, and look how that's turning out. Still, the SS bar hasn't been set particularly high, so he doesn't have to do too much to be a an improvement.

Unless Francisco Liriano gets his act together, Scott Baker has assumed the mantle of Twins' Ace. He allowed 2 HR, but they were solo HR, and those won't kill you, right Bert? The overall line of 8 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 8 K was excellent, especially against a stacked offense in a hitter's park. Another quiet IP from Joe Nathan to end the game.

I was thrilled when the rains came after the 2nd inning. The Twins were only down 1-0, but Clay Buchholz looked like he had good stuff, so the longer the delay, the better. The Twins had just activated Kevin Slowey, and so were in perfect position drop him in for the 3rd and have him take the game into the late innings (which he did). The Sox, meanwhile, had endured this very situation just 3 days earlier, had that game go into extra innings, got a short start the following afternoon, then put 2 relievers on the DL. The fresh reliever they called up on Friday was burned in the 1st game of this series. They had perhaps 6 relievers available, but they would have to cover 7 IP, leaving many of them unavailable for the remainder of the series.

Unfortunately, Terry Francona did something that almost never happens these days: he put his starter back in after a 2+ hour rain delay. Buchholz gave the Sox 3 more IP, and was perhaps even better than he had been at the start. 4 Sox relievers finished the game with an inning apiece, none throwing more than 18 pitches. Only Michael Cuddyer had a good day at the plate.

The Twins put up a crooked number in the 1st inning for, what, the 2nd time all season? And you just knew they were going to have to keep tacking on. But 5 R represents a herculean effort for this lineup, so I suppose we shouldn't complain too much about the offense.

Carl Pavano got knocked around - eventually. Though he gave up a big inning in the 3rd, most of the balls in play were unfielded grounders, including the 2-R single he allowed to Adrian Gonzalez that slipped under his own glove. There were DPs unturned. 3 errors in this game leading to 2 unearned runs. With better defense, it's closer. However, Pavano and Jose Mijares were legitimately cuffed all over the field in the later innings - liners right and left. No Ks for Pavano in 5 IP. He's got some adjustments to make. Another good IP from Nathan, though.

This game, had the Twins won, could have salvaged the series and the road trip. Nick Blackburn pitched as well as he can, allowing 0 HR and striking out 5 in 6.1 IP. Glen Perkins and Jose Mijares followed with 3.2 IP of scoreless relief. But the Twins' limp bench did them in again, as Matt Tolbert, Ben Revere and Rene Rivera combined to go 0-15 with 2 GIDP and 5 K, including 0-5 with 2 K with RISP. If they go 1-5 instead, we're probably talking about a win, here. This is the 3rd loss of the season that I'll pin on the non-depth.

Friday night's victory was the Twins' 1st at Fenway park since the final weekend of 2007, so there's some consolation there. Even good Twins teams haven't fared well in Boston. But there's still no sign of them snapping out of the team-wide funk that has them once again at the bottom of the standings. I wish had something more hopeful to say, but...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

2nd Split: 6-10

Overall Record: 12-20
4th in AL Central by 9.5 games

Other splits: 6-10

Now 1/5 of the way through the season, the Twins are maintaining their 100 loss pace. There were a couple of promising 3-game winning streaks during this split, but it was framed by consecutive losses that featured shutouts and blowouts. However, the last 16 games are defined for me by what came in the middle: a humiliating 6-game skid. 3 losses at home in which the Twins looked like they neither belonged nor wanted to be on the field. 3 tight, mistake-filled losses in Kansas City, where the Twins hadn't been swept in over a decade. I would have expected at least one win in each series, which would have been enough for the Twins to tread water and remain within striking distance of .500.

Incredibly, the injury situation got worse. Delmon Young missed the entire split with a strained oblique. Jim Thome followed him a few days later. Jason Repko eventually went down with a sore quad. That left Gardy no choice but to fill out nearly every lineup with 3-4 players who didn't make the squad out of spring training. It's tough to win with a AAAA lineup, especially when 11 of the 16 games take place on the road. Only 1 week into May, the Twins have already had to call up 10 players from Rochester.

There was some progress on the hitting front. They doubled their HR output from the 1st split to a whopping 10 long balls. The walk rate improved. Michael Cuddyer and Danny Valencia have been getting better results, joining Denard Span and Jason Kubel as credible regulars. But the backups have done exceedingly poorly, particularly at catcher, where Joe Mauer's absence is felt every single game. It doesn't look as though Alexi Casilla is going to put it together, and Justin Morneau is producing the way we're used to seeing him hit in September (when he's healthy enough to be on the field in September, that is). It all came out in the wash - the offense remained basically flat when compared to the 1st 16 games. Which is to say, it still sucks.

No such ambiguity about the pitching - it definitely got worse. Scott Baker and Brian Duensing have been excellent, and Matt Capps and Glen Perkins continue to do solid work in the 'pen. Joe Nathan is showing signs of finding himself again. But, no-hitter or not, Francisco Liriano's control still looks frighteningly shaky, and Nick Blackburn and Carl Pavano are getting tagged all over the field. Dusty Hughes earned a demotion back to Rochester, and Jim Hoey looks headed in that direction. Jose Mijares is the bullpen's answer to Liriano. Altogether, they averaged over 5 earned runs a game in this split.

And they didn't get much help from the defense, which committed another 11 E which resulted in 16 UER. Think about that: 1 extra run per game on average from shoddy defense. Part of it is people trying to do too much, but a lot of it comes from guys who are exposed by playing everyday play. Bench players or minor leaguers who aren't mentally consistent enough to thrive at the highest level. But who else are the Twins going to run out there?

Health is everything now. Young should be ready to return this weekend. Thome and Nishioka shouldn't be too far behind. But Mauer still isn't doing any catching, and there's no timetable yet for his return. I don't see how the Twins can go too far without him. But with 50% of the next split taking place at home, and 13 of the 16 games taking place against opponents with losing records, this is certainly an opportunity for them to start to turn things around, particularly as the uninjured regulars continue to warm up.

Bold prediction: The Twins will be closer to .500 16 games from now.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Most Unimpressive

Twins 1, White Sox 0
Like every other Fantasy Baseball owner (who didn't drop him), I had Francisco Liriano on the bench for this game. So, naturally, the SOB pulls out the 1st CG shutout of his career. On the way to that, he managed to hand out another 6 BB while striking out only 2. My league scores those, so in that sense I'm glad I had him on the bench. But Liriano managed to get 27 outs from 24 balls in play, pitching the 1st no-hitter for the Twins since Eric Milton's in September of 1999. (I was working nights in those days, and that game started at 11:00 AM on a Saturday in order to accommodate a Gopher football game that night, so I slept through it. Yet another reason to be glad the Twins are out of the Metrodome.)

According to Game Scores, this was about the most unimpressive no-hitter in the last 30 years. Of course, that's like me saying that the 2006 Cardinals are the worst team ever to win a World Series. I'm sure that really bugs them every time they put their rings on. Things had been so bad for Liriano - his spot in the rotation was apparently in jeopardy - and for the Twins as a whole. They needed something good to happen, anything to spark them out of their slump. And while DIPS people will discount this accomplishment as a quirk of luck, I would remind them that the balls the Sox put in play were generally pretty poorly hit. How much of that is a credit to Liriano and how much a result of facing a Sox lineup that is every bit as cold as the Twins' I don't know. But anytime a pitcher can hold a team of Major League batters hitless for a full 9 innings, the guy probably deserves some props.

The control problems Liriano continued to show certainly don't make me any more confident about what he'll be able to give in his next start. I'm very much hoping that the Twins will use Thursday's off day to give him some extra rest, starting Nick Blackburn on regular rest for Monday's finale in Boston. After throwing 123 pitches, I'm sure he could use an extra day. And I'd much rather have him pitching at home against the Tigers. Because if he walks 6 against the Red Sox, he's going to get killed.

During his meetings with pitching coach Rick Anderson between starts, it was determined that Liriano would avoid using his 2-seamer for awhile. That's his GB pitch, and it was immediately missed, as he gave up more flies than grounders for just the second time this season. But most of those flies came off his changeup, and they tended to be popups. Mixed in properly, it can obviously be an effective pitch, especially if he can get back to getting swings-and-misses with his slider on the other side of the plate. He still needs to do a much better job of throwing strike one, though: he started 19 of 30 plate appearances in this game with a ball.

Whatever you think of the quality of this performance, it was absolutely necessary, because the Twins still can't hit a lick. Jason Kubel excepted, of course. His HR accounted for the only run of the game. I liked the aggressiveness I saw on the bases, though. Danny Valencia tested Juan Pierre's noodle arm and stretched a single into the game's only 2B. And though he was thrown out thanks to a friendly bounce off the wall, Alexi Casilla was right to try to gain second after Edwin Jackson threw past 1st on Casilla's 2-out bunt single. Even after the power comes online, the Twins won't be their best unless they force the issue like that.
These 2 free-falling teams each battled to be the one to give this game away. The Sox managed a whopping 6 H in this one, despite facing a starter in Blackburn who has averaged 9+ H/9 for his career so far. The Twins' pitchers helped them make up for that by issuing 5 BB and 3 HBP. The Sox declined that generosity by getting picked off, caught stealing, and hitting into 2 DPs.

For their part, the Sox gave the Twins 4 BB, an extra base on an error, and a critical gift base hit when Omar Vizquel failed to cover 1B on Matt Tolbert's sac bunt. The Twins reciprocated by getting picked off twice and caught on an attempted steal of 3B with 2 outs. The Vizquel gaffe proved to be the difference in the game, though, as the Twins used that extra out to score 2 R. But they gave one of them back in the 8th with a Drew Butera PB. C'mon, which of you guys wants to lose this game most? Attaway, White Sox.

Though the Twins did basically nothing in this series to show that they are on their way out of the woods, they did establish that their recent dominance over the Sox and at US Cellular Field is still in play for 2011. Let that be in everybody's heads the next time these 2 teams connect. For the time being, the Twins proved conclusively that they are not the most unimpressive team in the division. And that makes me damn proud.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Pressing, Depressing

Twins 3, Royals 4
This is the 2nd loss of the season that I'm going to pin squarely on the shoulders of the Twins inadequate depth. Between 9 H (5 for extra bases) and 3 BB, 8 different guys in the lineup reached base at least once. The one who didn't: Drew Butera, who ended 3 innings with men on base, including hanging Danny Valencia out to dry on a missed squeeze bunt. Any kind of rally sustaining PAs from him might have given the Twins' pitchers a bigger cushion.

Scott Baker was good enough that it almost didn't matter. He lasted into the 7th, when he was relieved with 1 out by the freshly called up Alex Burnett. Burnett got the last 2 outs of that inning, and the 1st of the 8th before allowing a 2B to Wilson Betemit. Matt Capps was warming in the bullpen, and had needed just 6 pitches to complete his inning the day before. But Gardy elected to save him for a save opportunity that would never come, and instead rely upon a young reliever who didn't earn a spot on the opening day roster to protect a 1-run lead with the tying run in scoring position.

And Burnett actually did his job, though he got into trouble by falling behind just about everybody. It was the defense that did him in, as Alexi Casilla clanged a one-hopper to his glove side, and then Butera threw the ball into CF while attempting to gun down super fast PR Jarrod Dyson. That let the tying run score and put the winning run at 3B with just one out. After a BB, the winning run came home on a little flare behind 3B that Casilla flagged down but couldn't get to the plate in time to stop Dyson. Had either play been made, the Twins would have taken a lead into the 9th - the slower Betemit would likely have stayed put on a short fly to the SS.

On Saturday, the Twins managed to get themselves shut down on 2 H by Sean O'Sullivan, a starter so erratic that he nearly threw half his pitches out of the strike zone. Actually, he threw more than half his pitches out of the zone, since several of the balls the Twins put in play were plummeting below the knees. Incredibly, they were lucky to get the 1st H (it was an attempted sac bunt that drew a wild throw) and both R, one of which scored on a DP (thank goodness for the extra out the Royals gave), and the other on another throwing error that should have ended the inning. Altogether, the Twins drew 7 BB, and had men on base nearly constantly for the 1st 6 innings, but could only get what the royals handed to them.

The Twins handed one back in the 3rd on a bounced relay throw from "2B" Michael Cuddyer on what should have been an inning-ending DP. The Royals took one on a no-doubter HR from Billy Butler. And the Twins gave another one away when rookie Rene Tosoni played a leadoff single into a triple with an ill-advised dive. Brian Duensing took a tough-luck loss, though he deserved to allow only 1 ER.

The wheels came off in the 8th once again. Joe Nathan gave up a 2B to Butler, then retired 2 of the next 3 around an IBB. He made one huge mistake: hitting Matt Treanor (a BA under .200 - shouldn't he be on our team?) with 3-2 pitch to load the bases. Gardy went to Jose Mijares, who did his job by getting the lefty to hit a weak-ass ground ball. Too weak for Cuddyer, who had no play by the time he reached it, allowing an insurance run to score. Jim Hoey came on and walked in another insurance run, then got a routine grounder. The throw went to Justin Morneau, who simply didn't catch the ball. 2 more R. Then a 3-run bomb to Alex Gordon. Then another weak grounder that Cuddyer didn't have the range to turn into an out. Then a bloop down the LF line that Tosoni bobbled, allowing the final R to score. When the dust settled, a tight game had turned into a laugher. I didn't think it was funny, though.

Time for a closed-door team meeting, at which Denard Span spoke up to try to inspire his teammates. Too eager to make his actions speak as loudly as his words, he went hitless in 5 AB while seeing a total of 13 pitches. That on a day when his teammates once again walked 7 times. Let it come to you, Denard.

Carl Pavano walked away looking like he didn't know how to pitch, and took his frustrations out on a garbage can in the dugout. You can't do it all yourself, Carl. But he wasn't exactly cuffed around until the 6th inning. Everything that happened before that was the fault of more shoddy IF defense, and Cuddyer wasn't even in the lineup on this day. Pavano was lucky to get an unassisted putout on a chopper to the right of the mound when both Morneau and Luke Hughes charged the ball and nobody covered 1B. Later, the Twins botched a rundown on a pickoff throw when Morneau got in the way of Pavano, who had rotated in to cover 1B, and caught the ball behind the retreating baserunner. That extra out would turn into a run. The Twins gave the Royals 2 extra outs in the 4th, both courtesy of Casilla bobbles. Slow it down, Alexi. Or maybe get a new glove.

Casilla had his best day of the year at the plate, with 2 3B and a BB. Morneau finally got his 1st tater of the year, just barely sneaking one over the RF fence. Jason Kubel continued his scorching hitting, going 1 for 2 with 2 BB to raise his line to .354/.406/.510. Glen Perkins had another solid outing in relief. That's it for the positives.

In contrast to the listless effort they gave in the previous series, the intensity on the part of every Twins player to be the one to lift the team out of this slump was palpable in KC. But the results were no better, as though they were tangled in a knot that gets tighter the more they struggle. This funk now most definitely mental as much as it is physical, and they may require some shock to the system to get themselves out of it.

  • To that end, Kevin Slowey pitched 5.2 IP at Fort Myers yesterday and is ready to be activated from the DL. That could happen in a starting capacity if Francisco Liriano or Nick Blackburn fail to pull themselves together.
  • Kyle Gibson had his 4th consecutive strong outing at Rochester. Through 5 GS he has 26 IP, 22 H, 10 ER, 3 HR, 4 BB and 27 K for a 1.00 WHIP and 3.46 ERA. He's giving every indication that he'll be ready for a June call-up should the opportunity arise.
  • Trevor Plouffe has shaken off his brutal spring to put up some very strong numbers in his 1st few weeks with the Red Wings. He's batting .282/.344/.590 with 4 2B, 3B, and 6 HR. The reviews on his defense are still mixed, but he's got to look like an upgrade to Casilla right now.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

April Review

Twins' Record: 9-17
4th in AL Central by 9 games

Hey, it could have been worse - according to the Pythagorean W-L, the Twins should actually be 7-19!

This was a historical bad opening month for them. They set a franchise record for April losses, and finished at the bottom of the league standings in R, HR, SLG, OPS and ERA. As a team, they've hit .233/.291/.322 - worse than the career averages of Nick Punto. As a team. Only 2 players have BA over .250, and just 3 have OBP over .300 and SLG% over .350. Only 3 players have double-digit BB%. Michael Cuddyer leads them in HR with 3. A team that was supposed to be emphasizing speed has just 11 SB, and no player has more than 2. No hitting + no walking + no power + no aggressive baserunning = no scoring.

Half the rotation has generated more poor starts than good. The bullpen did pretty well for the 1st couple of weeks, but then suffered meltdown after meltdown. In a remarkable surprise, the only reliever with significant appearances who's been consistently reliable is Glen Perkins. Twins pitchers have suffered from a higher than average BABIP, but they've also hurt themselves by walking 91 batters in 26 games, placing them 10th in the AL in a category in which Gardy's teams have always been among the best in the league.

Shoddy defense has also hurt the Twins, though not in the way we might have expected. The outfielders generally had a pretty good month, with Denard Span, Jason Kubel and Delmon Young all rating positively on most of the metrics. The infielders grade out as roughly average or poor, though. For the month, the defense committed 17 E, leading to 16 unearned runs, ranking them 8th and 12th in the AL in those respective categories.

To be fair, there have been a slew of injuries, including several which struck positions at which the Twins had particularly poor depth. Joe Mauer's start wasn't nearly to his standard, but his replacements haven't hit half as well as he was doing. Tsuyoshi Nishioka didn't last 6 games before breaking his leg; his loss has invited increased ABs from Matt Tolbert and rookie Luke Hughes. Kevin Slowey went on the DL after just 3 appearances, opening a revolving door for mediocre relievers to be rushed to the Major League 'pen.

And it's been an especially difficult schedule to this point, with just 10 home games. Half of the opponents faced so far finished last season with winning records. That, plus some ill-timed blown saves, kept the Twins from winning their 1st 6 series, but at least they were usually in the games. Just when things seemed to be looking up, they staggered into May on a miserable losing streak, which included a 3-game sweep in which they were outscored 29-6. It was their worst start since they opened the 2006 season at 9-16.

The similarities to 2006 go beyond the W-L record. Through 25 games, that team was hitting .251/.309/.366, with virtually the same number of BB, HBP, SF, SH, GIDP, Net SB and XBH - albeit twice as many HR. That power difference, plus a better BABIP, helped them to score 17 more runs in one fewer game. But their pitching was even worse, with a 6.35 ERA and a staggering 37 HR allowed in 214 IP. That team also staggered into May on a miserable losing streak, which included a 3-game sweep in which they were outscored 33-1!

The 2006 Twins rebounded to win at least 15 games in every subsequent month of the season, eventually earning the division title. They were trailing the Tigers, who would make the postseason as the wild card, by 8 games, and were also behind the previous season's World Series Champs, the White Sox. The 2011 Twins are 9 games out of 1st place in the AL Central, but they trail the Indians and Royals, and like the 2001 Twins and the 2003 Royals, neither one of those teams is likely to sustain their hot starts to a playoff spot. The true contenders are the Tigers, who lead the Twins by just 2.5 games, and the Sox, who are tied with the Twins in the cellar.

This Twins team can definitely bounce back. The schedule is going to get easier, although we won't stat to see that for a couple weeks yet. But more importantly, this is a talented team. Hardly anybody is performing remotely close to their established standards. They're all slumping deeply, horribly, together. Anybody can beat a team that's going through that. Eventually, though, they'll all get hot together. And when they do, no one will be able to stop them.

Ugly grades follow. I'm only going to mention hitters with at least 29 PA (to give Nishioka a break) and pitchers with at least 8 IP (your relief is palpable, Jeff Manship!):

Getting It Done

Jason Kubel - On a team where just about everybody's OPS is under .700, his is over .900. He's holding his own vs. LHP. And he's actually been an asset in the OF so far. The Twins' April MVP.

Denard Span - He took about 10 days off from drawing BB in the middle of the month, and I'd like to see a few more XBH, but he's otherwise delivered. His defense in CF has been superb. Why he's not running more, I have no idea.

Brian Duensing - He's averaged nearly 7 IP/GS, and is pacing the staff in ERA, BB/9 and HR/9. Throw out his 1st 3 batters faced in NYC, and he looks even better.

Scott Baker - 3 magnificent starts in a row in which he looked like the poor man's Ace we saw in 2008. Leading the starters in K/9 and WHIP.

Glen Perkins - I couldn't be more surprised that he's the one member of the bullpen who hasn't struggled. He's been a little lucky on balls in play, but he's limited BB and kept the ball in the yard.

So Far, So Good

Matt Capps - 1 too many HR allowed to the Rays, but otherwise a solid start. Props for being the only Twins pitcher not to issue a BB this month.

Need To Pick It Up

Joe Mauer - Apparently he wasn't fit when the season opened. That's probably because he wasn't ready for spring training when it was time to report. If he's over his sickness, he needs to get down to Fort Myers and start catching, even if it's just for a few innings at a time at first. His "replacements" are absolutely killing the team.

Justin Morneau - He seems to have put his concussion symptoms behind him. Now he's just got to get back into the flow of playing again.

Michael Cuddyer - Another slow starter who didn't get his reps in during spring training. I'm disappointed in his power numbers, yet he's leading the team in HR. Ugh.

Delmon Young - Skipped half of spring training, hit the crap out of the ball when he finally got into Grapefruit League games, then abruptly stopped hitting once the regular season started. On the DL trying to get loose.

Jim Thome - Injuries to other players have forced him into way more games than he should be playing, especially vs. LHP. The discipline is still there. Now we need to see the power.

Danny Valencia - At no point in his professional baseball career has he posted a full-season BABIP lower than .310. This month it was at .225. His BB rate is excellent. He'll be fine.

Alexi Casilla - However bad you thought he was, he's not this bad. I hope he gets another couple of weeks to warm up. The tools are still there for him to be decent if he can just get out of his own way.

Drew Butera - The average NL pitcher hits better than him. He would have to be the best catch-and-throw guy ever to justify his pathetic hitting. But he's not.

Luke Hughes - A guy who really should just be playing against LHP has been forced into some fairly regular duty. Still better than...

Matt Tolbert - The only Twins hitter who has yet to draw a BB. A "scrappy" guy who has yet to steal a base. Not a great player, but he can do better than this.

Jason Repko - I like the BB rate. 24 PA in 26 games seems reasonable. For what he is, these aren't terrible numbers, but he's capable of better.

Francisco Liriano - What's your freakin' problem? Just throw the ball the way you did last year! Jeez...

Carl Pavano - Too many BB, not enough K, too many HR.

Nick Blackburn - If he can't keep the ball in the park, he's screwed. 1.6 HR/9 this month.

Jose Mijares - 7 BB in 8 IP isn't going to work, no matter how well everything else is going.

Joe Nathan - His demotion from the Closer job was probably the most depressing thing about this month. It had to be done - he simply didn't have his velocity or command. His last few appearances have been pretty good (2.2 IP, H, IBB, HBP, 4 K), so he may be on the upswing.

Dusty Hughes - Note: if somebody isn't good enough to stay on the Royals' roster, you probably shouldn't want him, either.