Far be it from me to worry, but as a Minnesota sports fan it comes to me so effortlessly, I can’t seem to help myself. Perhaps it’s just because scoring ten runs is so much more satisfying than giving up ten runs.
I’m thrilled to have Josh Donaldson, but today made me think we also could’ve had Dallas Keuchel or someone like him. Trading for Maeda was (hopefully) helpful, but truly committing ourselves to winning this thing, might have required us to do more with our pitching staff than we did. Even though today was the result of an imploding bullpen, rather than our starter, if Keuchel had started for the Twins today, the Twins would probably be 2-0. It’s only one game, but we’ll have to face him again, and maybe again. I’m not trying to slight Dobnak (he did only give up one run in four innings today) but I’m thinking most teams would rather face him, than Dallas Keuchel.
Littell had a bad day. Smeltzer wasn’t exactly stellar either. I forgive them. It happens. Lots of teams are pulling their starter early as the season gets under way, and they break-in gradually to throwing more pitches. I hope that today was merely a one off and not a potential trend, but getting four innings out of a starter means that the bullpen is even more critical and two nights ago they stepped up, while yesterday, Littell, and Smeltzer, at least, struggled. The offense can carry us through many games, maybe even to a division championship, but can it really carry us all the way through when we face top of the line starting pitching and the resultant rested bullpens on those teams with top of the line starting pitching? I hope so, but it’s hard to be confident about playoff success, given what we’ve seen in recent years.
Rich Hill’s start is moved back. Odorizzi’s start is moved back. Dobnak starts the second game of the season. Doesn’t this feel a lot like last year, in the sense that the Twins may dominate the “regular” season but when they eventually go against the Yankees in the play-offs (perhaps not in the first round this year) it’s likely to be an entirely different world?
Today’s game illustrated very vividly why many Twins fans are worried about our pitching. While our hitting is inarguably outstanding, the truth is, pitching still wins. While we all want Berrios to become who we all think Berrios can become, the first two games illustrated how “up and down” a season can be when we depend on our hitting to carry us. It could be argued that Dallas Keuchel (the White Sox second starter) is actually better than any starting pitcher the Twins have on their roster. He was dominant today.
As strong as our hitting is, sometimes, a superior pitching performance will need to be matched by our own pitching, and one could argue that the Twins aren’t likely to match great pitching day to day. Berrios can be great, but then again, he can look like he did at the end of last season or like he did last night, which, in truth, was far from great. Perhaps Maeda, Odorizzi, Hill, and Bailey will come up big, but it’s more likely that Giolito and Keuchel will come up big more often, and that, honestly, could be a problem along the way, and almost certainly will be a problem when the stress of play-off baseball comes into play.
Hitting dominates mediocre and poor pitching, but when that hitting comes up against superior pitching, scoring enough runs to overcome your own team’s mediocre pitching is much harder to do. Of course, it can be done. But it’s hard not to feel like we’re going to experience déjà vu all over again, as Yogi would’ve put it.
This year, as with last year’s phenomenal start (40-20), the playoffs seem all but assured, especially given the increased field. Finishing first in the division seems almost expected, finishing second would be seen as under-achieving and even finishing third may get the Twins into the playoff field. So, it’s time to start setting up the play-off rotation, and as much as I like Randy Dobnak, we best hope he is not our second starter in the play-offs again. Keuchel, or someone like him, would’ve looked good in a Twins uniform, and for reasons many of us don’t understand, we seem reluctant as a franchise to ever go after a top-line starting pitcher. It’s risky, of course. Signing a big-time pitcher to a big-time contract could backfire due to injury or performance, but that is simply the reality of Major League Baseball. The ultimate reward of a world championship requires taking some risk.
I’m fully aware that Dobnak as number two isn’t the plan. We have Odorizzi, Maeda, Hill, Bailey, etc…Surely one of those guys will step up and challenge Berrios for the number one position. But, the fact that we’re back to Dobnak as number two on day two of the regular season, should at least give us cause for some concern. It’s too early to panic, even I’d admit that, but it’s not too early to be concerned about the pitching.
We all knew the Twins would hit, and we all kind of held our breath when it came to pitching. It’d be nice to breathe deeply someday soon, and I’m not just talking about taking off my Covid mask, I’d like to go into a game genuinely believing that our starting pitcher was better than theirs. I truly appreciate that I go into most games believing that our offense is better than theirs, but one out of two may not prove to be enough. To win it all, we probably need to have better pitching.
Lest it seem like I’ve made a rather rash judgment after two games, the truth is that some of us, myself included, would’ve said the same thing prior to the first game. We go into each game hoping to score ten runs, and when we do, we will most definitely win. But when we face a good pitcher on a good day, it’s pretty unlikely we’re getting those necessary runs. But, tomorrow is another day, and hopefully we’ll get those ten runs again.