After ending the first half of the season with a 9-3 record, getting a rejuvenated Joe Nathan as the team’s closer, and looking forward to Delmon Young and Jason Kubel to make a return, it was easy for Minnesota Twins fans to be positive after the All-Star Break. And by starting the second half with 12 straight games at home and against division rivals, it was an especially appealing way to continue the surge towards first place. But instead of gaining ground, the team went 5-6 and actually lost some ground on the Detroit Tigers. The starting pitching has been inconsistent, our relievers have actually been acceptable, but some of the spark that the team once had seems to have vanished.
Before yesterday’s game, in which he went 0-for-3 with a walk, leadoff man Ben Revere had only reached base three times in his last 28 at-bats. He currently sports a .249 batting average, which truthfully could be very acceptable for a CF that plays good defense and can steal some bases, except…to go along with that he has an on-base percentage of just .287. I do believe that he gets quite a bit of slack for being a rookie, and can only imagine that his plate discipline and ability to get on base will improve with more experience. With his current pace, he’d draw between 20-25 walks in a full season (close to Delmon’s numbers). And that is not acceptable for a leadoff hitter. I still think Denard Span is our leadoff hitter upon his return, and could see Revere going down to the 9-hole because that keeps the speed at top and bottom of the lineup, like Gardy likes, but also allows him to generally be in less-important situations and can give him some time to keep improving. Speaking of the 9-hole…
Tsuyoshi Nishioka had a career year last season in Japan, but I was still very excited for his arrival. Playing in just 6 games before the middle of June due to a broken leg, he didn’t get the chance to start out slow like a lot of Twins players typically do each season. When he came back from injury is when the Twins started winning more games and his production both on offense and defense became vital, especially with his infield counterpart Alexi Casilla tearing it up. Instead, Nishioka has been a major disappointment, both offensively and defensively. Some have questioned whether he should even be playing shortstop, opting for the more casual second base instead. Nishi is hitting a respectable .270 in the month of July, but like Revere has struggles getting on base with his .293 OBP for the season. But the alarming statistic is that after yesterday’s hitless performance, Tsuyoshi now has struck out 31 times on the year while amassing just 30 hits. This is a very alarming number that suggests Nishi hasn’t been able to get solid reads on MLB pitchers yet. But the question becomes, How long will Gardy stick with him? Earlier indications pointed to a very long leash, but with Trevor Plouffe performing superbly in AAA and getting the call up, does he deserve a chance to start again? His possible talent goes mostly wasted by sitting on the bench. It’s a tough situation for Twins fans to deal with, as well. He hasn’t been very solid defensively like he was supposed to be. I understand that Ichiro and Nishi are very different players, but the whole “coming to play MLB from Japan transitional phase” thing can’t apply to our 2B. Ichiro had a .350 batting average in his first year stateside, and although that was his average while playing in Japan, Nishioka’s past certainly indicates that he would be a better hitter than he has been thus far.
One of the reasons it was important to get off to a good start in the second half, other than the obvious AL Central matchups, is that now they head west for a 10-game road trip in which they take on the Rangers, Athletics, and Angels. Although the Twins have beaten the Rangers 3 out of 4 times this season, Texas sports a 14-3 record dating back to before the All-Star Break and have some absolute mashers for hitters. The Angels have a fantastic pitching staff that I feel could cause some big issues for our lineup, and Oakland is…well, Oakland.
At any rate, I predict a split in the series against Texas. I think Nick Blackburn will give us a good performance tonight and that Brian Duensing will rebound and get a W on Wednesday night. Carl Pavano could be outpitched by All Star C.J. Wilson and Scott Baker may struggle pitching outside of Target Field. Only time will tell.