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We have barely scratched the surface of the 2019 MLB season, but fans of the Minnesota Twins have to be excited about what they have seen from the team thus far.
The Twins won its opening series 2-1 against the Cleveland Indians, who have finished in first place in the American League Central Division each of the past three years. Minnesota pulled out an exciting extra-inning victory in Kansas City April 2 in the first road game of the year, and they followed it up with another come-from-behind win Wednesday afternoon. Other than Kyle Gibson’s rough start April 3, the common thread through all five Twins games this season has been quality pitching which has given the team a chance to win.
Through five games, the Twins have a 2.74 team ERA and 51 strikeouts in 46 innings. Granted, it is a small sample size, and the Indians (without Francisco Lindor) and Royals are not the Astros and Phillies from an offensive perspective. That is still a mighty fine start for the Twins pitching staff. After years of routinely boasting the lowest strikeout rate in the majors, Twins pitchers rank fifth in all of baseball with 9.98 strikeouts per nine innings. Starters Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi and Miguel Piñeda all looked incredibly solid in their first outings, with good control of their fastballs to get ahead in counts and strong command of their off-speed to put opposing hitters away.
For years, the Twins philosophy was to acquire pitchers who filled up the strike zone and avoided walks at all costs. That is not a bad strategy when your pitchers have better command than stuff (guys like Brad Radke and Joe Mays), you have gold-glove defenders at multiple positions (like Torii Hunter and Doug Mientkiewicz), and your offense can consistently score runs and carry your team (because of MVP-caliber hitters like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau). That is not how the Twins are built anymore.
In recent years, the Twins have made a pointed effort to add power arms to their staff, and now they are clearly targeting pitchers who frequently strike out opposing batters. The best way to prevent runs, especially when runners are already on base, is to keep opposing hitters from putting the ball in play. Baseball is not rocket science. While no one in their right mind would say Minnesota’s rotation is on the same level as Cleveland or Houston, it is also no longer a weakness, and these guys are capable of keeping the Twins in ballgames.
A major key for the Twins this season is going to be keeping starting pitchers healthy. After Berrios, Odorizzi, Piñeda, Gibson and Martin Perez, things get dicey rather quickly. Adalberto Mejia and Trevor May have some starting experience, but those guys are useful bullpen arms, and no one wants to see either of them getting 15 starts this year. Stephen Gonsalves, Zack Littell, Fernando Romero and Kohl Stewart were all once promising prospects, but they also all underwhelmed in limited exposure last year and looked overmatched at the big-league level. I would not want to pin the Twins’ playoff hopes on any of those guys.
For the first time in years, the Twins have a pitching staff that is not an obvious impediment to their playoff chances. I do not think this strong early-season pitching performance is a mirage. While there will obviously be some regression as the Twins face stiffer competition from better offensive ballclubs, the Twins have enough quality arms to remain competitive if they can avoid significant injuries and their bats perform as expected. So far, so good.
Quality pitching paces Twins during strong start
By Andy Thayer