Monday, April 24, 2006

Taking stock

Well, that was ugly.

After being swept by the Champs in Chicago, the Twins have been left to lick their wounds on the off day and wonder what happened? The scores really look bad, but two of the games were closer than the final score because the White Sox had a big eighth inning after Santana left in the opener and because Juan Uribe broke open the series finale with one swing of the bat, a three-run homer.

This series marked the end of what was considered a brutal opening 18 games, with all 18 coming against what are considered playoff contenders. However, the reality is that the Blue Jays, Indians, Athletics, Yankees and Angels are all hanging around .500. The next 16 games are with the Royals, Tigers, Mariners and Rangers, which at the beginning of the year appeared to be a break after the difficult start to the season. It still appears that way, however the Tigers have a better record than anyone the Twins have played except for the White Sox.

There all ready is talk that the Twins are looking like they are going to be buried quickly this year and might even have a hard time staying ahead of the Royals. What you don't want to forget is this is baseball, it is unlike any sport in how different a team can look from month-to-month or even week-to-week. Ask the A's or the Yankees how the Twins looked to them.

Looking bad in one or two April series means very little. For example, the Twins in 2002 were coming off a season in which they faltered in the second half after dominating the Central in the first half. They had an early four-game series at Cleveland which gave them a chance to make "an early statement." Instead, the Indians were the ones to "make a statement" sweeping the series in dominating fashion. The Twins "looked" terrible. However, a week later, the Indians came to the dome and it was the Twins' turn to dominate, sweeping a three-game series in equally impressive fashion and the Indians were never heard from again that year.

Another good example was the 1987 Twins. They were starting to take control of the AL West in mid-August when they headed to Detroit for what turned out to be a playoff preview. The Tigers thrashed the Twins, outscoring them 26-3 in three blowouts and making the Twins look totally outclassed. Of course, things turned out differently in October.

The 2002 Angels can also serve as inspiration. The Angels opened their season with 17 of their first 20 games against the AL West and promptly fell on their faces, going 6-14. The Angels salvaged the series finale against the Mariners and then played their next 23 games against Toronto and the AL Central. The Angels went 20-3 and ended up winning 99 games, the wild card and the World Series.

So, let's not get too carried away with how the Twins look in April. Remember last year the Twins were 14-7 in April. Like any race, it's not how you start, it's how you finish.


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