Twins in Misery

Today (May 27) the Tigers finished sweeping the Twins, and the three losses each highlighted one of the Twins’ deficiencies: Friday, in a game we attended, their starting pitchers – Swarzak and Liriano – were terrible; Saturday, in a game I skipped, their hitters struck out 16 times; and today, in a game I watched on TV, they nursed a lead until their suspect closer – Capps – gave up a two-run homer on an 0-2 pitch. They have already ransacked their farm system, and with no help in sight are a lock to do worse than their 99-loss season of 2011.
Sometimes with a bad team there are young players whose potential can provide a measure of interest, but except for Brian Dozier, who may turn into a steady if unspectacular shortstop, the Twins are also lacking here. Last week SI had an article about the young players that teams have locked into long-term contracts, as well as a half-dozen newcomers with possible big paydays in the offing. Tellingly, there were no Twins on either list. The only bright spot so far this season came when rookie call-ups Scott Diamond and P.J. Walters provided five wins in their first six starts. Neither has obviously great stuff, and whether either or both will be winning pitchers long-term is still very much in doubt. I don’t have the same gut feeling for them I did when Baker, Blackburn, Slowey and Garza, not to mention the old Liriano, were embarking on their Twins’ careers. Speaking of pitchers, Kyle Lohse and R.A.Dickey, two that the Twins discarded, are off to great starts this year and would be the staff ace if still around.
One measure of the Twins’ desperate situation is their insistence on getting Trevor Plouffe, a .135 hitter, into the lineup, whether at second or third base, left or rightfield. Behind him on the bench have been outfielders named Mastroianni and Komatsu, wonderful for geographic diversity but a far cry from the never-better-than-average duo of Dustin Mohr and Bobby Kielty. Basically, where the Twins are is where they have been, in my opinion, for awhile: in a position to go only as far as Justin Morneau can take them. When he is on a streak, everyone perks up and the Twins can play with anyone. When he is slumping or, as has been the case more often, hurt, they just can’t do any damage. Joe Mauer is an endlessly debatable subject, but the bottom line is, if you’re down a run in the ninth, there are about 20 players in the American League you’d rather have at the plate, yet he’s getting paid more than all but one or two of them. Not only is he not a leader, but his presence makes it hard for any other leader to emerge. When it comes to well-struck, meaningless singles and the occasional double, though, he’s your man.
Which brings me to the question: why watch a team this bad? If the game’s on TV, I enjoy Dick Bremer’s announcing and the commentary of Messrs. Blyleven, Smalley and Coomer. On the other hand, as much as I didn’t like John Gordon, I am even less enamored of this year’s new radio voice, Cory Probis. Still, a baseball game is good background noise and there’s plenty to do – gardening, reading the paper – while they play. Going to the game, however, is a different story. I have been graced with great seats at both outings this year, but great seats don’t guarantee good company around you. At the first game, a quartet of young men behind us kept up a loud running commentary that I couldn’t escape and got continually more annoying. Friday was a similar experience, only this time it was a group of kids interested mainly in coming up with loud, unison cheers – “Mauer Power” – for each batter. The general noise level of Target Field, with the perpetually large crowd and the overactive scoreboard, is so high that, in fairness, these individuals almost had to yell to hear each other. I know that I could converse with my seatmate only by leaning close to his ear. Then there is the general ambience of Target Field, where there is always a multitude strolling the concourse and lining up for every drink and delicacy on hand. The Twins seem committed to making the ballgame an “evening-out experience.” It is very far from the old days when you went to the ballpark to watch a game – and could even hear yourself think. It’s not as bad as the NFL or, certainly, the NBA, where the in-person viewing experience requires a couple aspirin. Maybe, like my experience at rock’n’roll clubs, it’s more a matter of my growing old, but going to the ballpark has lost much of its allure. Combine that with the state of the Twins, and my rabidity level is way down. I wonder how long, if ever, it will take the rest of Minnesota to feel this way.