The Twins open a can of whoop-ass on the perenially-competitive Angels, taking three of four in the season-opening series. The surprising thing about the series was not that the Twins hit the cover off the ball for the majority of the four games, nor was it the somewhat-surprising fact that the starting pitching fared pretty well. What surprised me the most was how lackluster and imminently beatable the Angels looked. Their pitching is going to win them plenty of games, but their lineup has some major holes. Who knew losing Chone Figgins would hurt the ballclub this much? Torii Hunter anchors the lineup, and we all know too well what Hunter could do to a promising rally when he consistently failed in the clutch in a Twins uniform. Either way, the Twins looked impressive in this series on most sides of the diamond.
What was frustrating to see was the Twins' first inning performance against Angels starter Joel Pineiro. After Joe Mauer doubled Orlando Hudson to third base with one out in the first, Pineiro got Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer to strike out to end the threat. The Cuddyer at-bat is a given, as Cuddyer rarely delivers big hits in the clutch, but the Morneau strikeout is somewhat troubling. Usually, when you're facing premier teams such as the Angels, you need to drive in guys on third base with less than two outs in order to have a chance to win the game. You NEED to, no questions asked. What exacerbates the fact that the Twins failed at this rudimentary part of the game is the fact that one of their best players did it. Sure, if Nick Punto or Alexi Casilla or a pitcher gives three half-assed waves of the bat at terrible pitches in the same situation, we at least wouldn't be surprised. With a former MVP, however -- your clean-up hitter, mind you -- those situations MUST be productive. It's unacceptable for Justin Morneau to fail to get the run home there, and though the rest of the lineup bailed out Morneau, it's not going to be everyday that guys like Brendan Harris and Seldom Young hit home runs to provide the bulk of the scoring.
Jim Thome also homered for the Twins, and although that's a sight that Twins fans should be used to (the guy's hit fifty homers against the Twins, for crissakes), don't think that this will be a regular occurance when he plays for the Twins. Here's my bold prediction of the week: Jim Thome will end up with less than 100 at-bats for the Twins this season. I'm predicting that his line, at the time the Twins finally release Thome in mid-June, will read something like this: 89 at-bats, 19 hits, five home runs, and 33 strikeouts. Thome will be Tony Batista-esque in his short-lived stint with the Twins, and once it becomes apparent that he cannot deliver bloop hits to the opposite field (the hitting approach so prized by Ron Gardenhire and Joe Vavra), the team will jettison him in favor of the more versatile player in Matt Tolbert. Here's hoping I'm wrong, that Thome will hit so well that they bench Seldom Young and he ends up hitting 30 home runs -- sorry, but I see the former scenario much more likely.
Now the Twins are off to the South Side to face the White Sox. Tonight will be interesting, as Francisco Liriano takes the hill for the Twins. Ron Gardenhire would be wise to have a short leash on Liriano, not only in this game but also in terms of his status as a starting pitcher. After struggling so mightily with elementary things like command and mound presence, Liriano's career very much hangs in the ballots in the early season here. He opposes Chisox southpaw John Danks.
Photos: (1,2) AP/Francis Specker; (3) AP/Nam Y. Huh