April 12, 2009

Twins End First Week At 3-4

Losing back-to-back games in Chicago is obviously never fun, but splitting four home games against the Mariners and winning one out of three road games against the White Sox is a reasonable enough first week for the Twins with Joe Mauer and Scott Baker on the disabled list. Lack of offense has been the biggest problem so far, as the lineup has produced just 26 runs in seven games (3.7 runs/game) even with a 12-run outburst Friday against the White Sox.

All four losses have involved the lineup scoring zero or one run, and the Twins have been out-homered 9-to-5 overall while batting just .233. Even a healthy Mauer can't fix that by himself, but Mike Redmond and Jose Morales have combined to go just 4-for-22 (.182) in his absence and the fill-in No. 3 batters (Michael Cuddyer four times and Justin Morneau three times) have gotten on base at a .321 clip. Of course, the starting pitching has also been plenty shaky, which is why 3-4 isn't such a bad start.

Denard Span and Nick Punto have been the biggest bright spots both offensively and defensively early on. Span has played every inning while shifting between the three outfield spots, showing great range and hitting .280/.419/.400. Punto has reached safely in 10 of 21 plate appearances while making some nice plays at shortstop. Together they've drawn nine walks in 53 trips to the plate, while the rest of the lineup has totaled 15 walks in 206 plate appearances.

Delmon Young has struck out five times and grounded into two double plays while drawing zero walks in 15 plate appearances, although he did turn on a Mark Buehrle fastball yesterday afternoon for his first homer of the season. Young pulling a ball in the air was rare last season and he didn't homer until plate appearance No. 252 on June 7, so that's at least something for the true believers to cling to while he gets off to a slow start in a part-time role.

I've been mostly pleased with how Ron Gardenhire has juggled outfielders thus far. Span and Cuddyer have each started every game and Gomez has started all but one game, while Young and Jason Kubel basically platoon. That's more or less how I'd divvy up the playing time, although choosing to put Young in left field while Cuddyer is at designated hitter or Span is in right field seems misguided. Ultimately my preference would be a set outfield of Span-Gomez-Cuddyer and a Kubel-Young platoon at DH.

Baker tossed seven innings of one-run ball in his minor-league rehab start Friday at high Single-A, so he's now slated to come off the disabled list Wednesday to face the Blue Jays. Baker's return will push R.A. Dickey out of the rotation after one mediocre start against the White Sox, although it remains to be seen if Dickey will also be bumped from the roster entirely. There's still no timetable for Mauer's return, but he's finally said to be making some progress and may be able to join the lineup yet this month.

Once you're done here, check out my "Circling The Bases" blog over at NBCSports.com.

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