What a difference a week makes.
On April 4, it was easy to be optimistic about the Twins’ chances in 2016.
Sure, every new season brings often unfounded optimism to each and every fan base, as the mistakes and messes of last season have faded from view and the roster is still shiny and new, safely ensconced in its fresh packaging and full of infinite possibility.
Following an 83-win season in 2015 and boasting a team loaded with young talent seemingly on the brink of stardom, the Twins looked particularly poised to improve this year.
When I wrote about the Twins’ upcoming season in last week’s paper, I figured it’d be a while before I wrote about the club again. After all, the baseball season is long and there’s only so much you can glean from the first week of games.
Any baseball statistician will warn against reading too much into small sample sizes; the season is a marathon, not a sprint.
But after their season-opening 0-6 road trip and a 4-1 loss in Monday’s home opener that saw the Twins booed off the field by their own fans, any remaining optimism has already curdled into the type of angst and nihilism more familiar to Twins fans in the Target Field era.
One week into the season and the Twins have made history: they are the first team in club history to open a season 0-7.
Seven-game losing streaks happen, even to good teams.
But the track record for season-opening seven-game losing streaks isn’t exactly heartening.
Since 1995, when the wild-card era began, seven teams before the Twins have started their seasons 0-7. None of that lousy lot even posted a winning record, let alone made the playoffs.
The best team of that group, the 2010 Houston Astros, won 76 games — seven fewer than last year’s Twins.
The Twins — who are just the 11th team in American League history to begin a season 0-7 — have dug themselves into a hole that may make even a mediocre season impossible.
Before play started on April 3, Fangraphs projections expected the Twins to win 78 games with a 14.8 percent shot at the wild-card game and 7.6 percent chance at winning the division.
Just eight days later, those numbers have fallen to 74 wins, a 5.5 percent shot at the wild-card game and a 2.5 percent chance to win the division.
It’s looking bleak far sooner than even the most pessimistic of us could have predicted.
Something is rotten in Twins Territory.
Swing and a miss
To truly get to that awful, rotten stench wafting from the Twins’ dugout, one needn’t look further than the offense. (Because it stinks, get it? Like really, really bad.)
Minnesota’s bats never got the memo about Opening Day’s arrival and are still snuggled up in a deep off-season hibernation.
Twins batters struck out a total of 79 times through their seven-game losing streak and lead the majors in both total strikeouts and strikeout percentage.
Now, I’m not usually one to fret too much about strikeouts or preach that players adopt a Wee Willie Keeler approach: as league-wide strikeout rates rise, they are a larger part of the game than ever before and a logical consequence and necessary byproduct of the preferred patient, power-heavy approach — an approach that produces walks and home runs.
Unfortunately, the Twins neither walk nor hit home runs. They just strike out.
Only first baseman Joe Mauer — who is quietly off to a terrific start that’s been lost in the hubbub and panic of losing seven straight — has walked more than he’s struck out so far this season.
Look up and down the roster and pick out any other name: it’s a horror show.
Let’s take a gander at some of the players Twins fans were hoping would anchor the lineup this year.
Trevor Plouffe: one walk, six strikeouts. Eduardo Escobar: one walk, seven strikeouts. Eddie Rosario: one walk, nine strikeouts. Byung-ho Park: two walks, 12 strikeouts. Miguel Sano: four walks, 13 strikeouts. Byron Buxton: zero walks, 11 strikeouts.
The Twins have managed to employ an approach of impatient, unhinged aggression but forgot that whole “hitting the ball far” part of that aggressive approach.
Minnesota hit all of four homers through their seven-game losing streak, tied for the third-lowest mark in the majors.
Strikeouts are usually a trade-off for power. The Twins got fleeced in that trade.
So you’re saying there’s a chance
Optimists may point to the Twins’ 1-6 start to last season and how a torrid May helped Minnesota turn around what could have been a lost season.
Eventually, the hits will start to fall: new big-leaguers like Park, Buxton and Sano will adjust to major-league pitching; Miguel Sano will develop a spatial understanding of the outfield and how to run with a glove on; and the bullpen will decide to stop leaking leads like a sieve.
Watching these first few games, though, it’s hard to imagine it. It’s hard to even picture Park or Buxton or Sano connecting with a pitch or working a walk.
Today, Tuesday, is once again cold and windy and bitter — I even saw a few snowflakes. This is why I must remain patient, why I must eschew my penchant for pessimism for once: I can’t quit on the Twins before summer even starts!
Sure I like wallowing as much as the next naysayer, but if the Twins are cooked before the temperature even hits 70, we’re in for a long, sad summer.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds like an awful way to spend the next five months.
No, this baseball season I’m going with glass-half-full. For once, I’m siding with the optimists.
At least until it’s warm out.