As someone who has already written about the Twins using a baseball-kicking mule and a JUGS machine in their starting rotation, the news that the Twins will have to use a mystery starter on Saturday is like one of my dumb Friday stories come to terrible, beautiful light. The fact that as I write this on Thursday, there's a game in 48 hours and we have no idea who the starting pitcher will be (note: per the magnificent cmathewson, Saturday is Sam Deduno's normal turn in the Rochester rotation, so it seems pretty likely that he'll get the call) puts a neat bow on the first half of Minnesota's season.
For all the marked improvement in the offense, keyed by the improbable Trevor Plouffe, the worth-every-penny Josh Willingham, a blossoming Ben Revere and a surging Joe Mauer, the starting pitching, absent Scott Diamond, is an abyss from which no hope or light can escape. A combination of injuries (Scott Baker, P.J. Walters, Carl Pavano and now Brian Duensing) and ineffectiveness (Jason Marquis, Nick Blackburn, Liam Hendriks, the April/May of Francisco Liriano) have turned the starting rotation into a fascinating, unwatchable mess, and virtually eliminated the Twins from contesting an otherwise winnable division. If not for a reconstructed bullpen that has been stunningly effective, it's fair to argue that this team would be worse than the (redacted)show that was the 2011 Minnesota Twins. THINK ABOUT THAT FOR A SECOND OR BETTER YET DON'T.
(Also: the Twins need to move Francisco Liriano for the best possible deal they can get. They also need to keep Francisco Liriano because they don't have anyone else to plug into the rotation. FUN!)
And yet: I absolutely enjoy watching this team so much more than the 2011 version. The offense, more often than not, has the ability to keep this team in games, and even blow another team out. For all the clubhouse magic of Michael Cuddyer or the professional hitting of Jason Kubel, that just didn't happen last year.
It bears repeating that the bullpen has been amazing. Matt Capps wasn't terrible before his injury. Glen Perkins and Jared Burton's Beard have been close to automatic. Anthony Swarzak is Captain Mop-Up and believes in Sasquatch. Alex Burnett keeps getting people out somehow. Jeff Gray is 5-0 and proving the irrelevance of wins as a statistic. At their current usage, there will absolutely be a flame-out in August sometime, and we'd do well to remember this first half before judging any of them too harshly when it happens.
And Scott Diamond. My god. Remember when we were trying to figure out why the Twins bailed on Billy Bullock for Scott Diamond? Wasn't that cool?
What am I looking for after the ASG? The following:
- How the Liriano situation sorts itself out.
- If Denard Span gets moved, or if Capps and Pavano get healthy enough to get to that point.
- If Willingham and/or Plouffe blow past 30 home runs and hit the 35/40 range.
- When Plouffe inevitably cools off, how he'll respond to that swoon, both at the plate and in the field. (Of course, if he DOESN'T slump, I'll be concerned if they can afford to sign him to a long-term deal.)
- If Ron Gardenhire continues using situational closers, which I absolutely approve of and hope he keeps doing.
- The endgame for Danny Valencia and Blackburn.
- If I finally run out of dumb #50ShadesofJeffGray sex jokes on Twitter.
- Speculating endlessly on who will be the starting five in the 2013 Minnesota Twins rotation.