Just One Of 162, But Twins Win Felt Big
Image courtesy of Bruce Kluckhohn, USA TodayWhile no one will say it, it was clear in spring training that the Twins wanted to get off to a good start in 2017. That showed in their Opening Day roster configuration. It was an early pitcher's duel, but it was an important game for the Twins to try to find a way to win.
And they did.
First of all, it was Opening Day. Opening Day is always special and deserves to be treated as such. We’ve been waiting since last September for “real” baseball games. Baseball is back, so there should be renewed hope and optimism.
Joe Mauer started on Opening Day for the 13th time in his career, tying Harmon Killebrew with the most in team history. He batted fourth, something that he has been doing the last couple of weeks in spring training.
Paul Molitor announced on Sunday that he planned to start all four left-handed hitters despite talented left-hander Danny Duffy starting for the Royals. Why? Right or wrong, you just start your regulars on Opening Day, unless you have a predetermined platoon. That made for quite the challenge because Duffy was on his game. He was good. The lineup will likely be different against lefties going forward, and that will be fun to see, but for this game, it worked.
The Twins hadn’t won an Opening Day game since Livan Hernandez led them to a win in 2008. That’s eight straight Opening Day losses. All of those seasons, it was “just one game” too, but it’s always nice to get off to a good start and set a tone the first game. But it’s just another negative statistic that ends.
It is also nice to get a nice win in front of the home crowd. 39,165 fans came out to Target Field in large part because it was Opening Day. While there will be a severe drop in attendance when the Twins take the field again on Wednesday against the Royals, seeing the team win and put up some runs will hopefully create some excitement and encourage fans to come back.
Despite 17 Quality Starts in 2016, Ervin Santana went just 7-11 a year ago. He rarely gave up many runs, but either the offense wouldn’t score for him or the bullpen blew small leads.
That’s how the game looked to be going again on Monday. When Santana walked off the mound, having struck out three in the top of the 7th inning, the score was tied 1-1. Lefty Matt Strahm, the West Fargo native who gave up just three earned runs in 22 innings late last year, came in. Jorge Polanco blooped a single just outside the infield. Max Kepler beat out a bunt (after review). Eddie Rosario laid down a very nice sacrifice bunt. Brian Dozier was intentionally walked, without being pitched to, something we’ll have to get used to. Robbie Grossman walked in a run.
Peter Moylan was brought in and got Byron Buxton to strike out for the second out of the inning. Another pitching change and lefty Travis Wood came in. Joe Mauer walked in another run to make it 3-1. Miguel Sano walked to make it 4-1. Jason Castro slapped a single to left to drive in Grossman and Mauer and make it 6-1. Jorge Polanco hit his second single of the inning. This one drove in the Twins seventh run.
Not one hard hit ball. But that’s OK. We’ll take that as Twins fans. They showed a good approach. They showed patience at the plate. They didn’t try to do too much. They took what they were given and came through against the Royals bullpen.
Fun fact… after posting a 1.23 ERA in 22 innings last year for the Royals, Matt Strahm starts his 2017 season with a 108.00 ERA after today’s outing. Note that he is going to be just fine. His stuff is electric, and it’s not like the Twins hit him.
We know that individual pitcher Wins are an overrated stat, but it is a stat that people pay attention to. Ervin Santana pitched very, very well, and he was rewarded with a Win.
It should also be noted that Danny Duffy is tremendous and equally deserving of a Win (though he only went six innings, instead of seven like Santana). He throws a good fastball in the 92-94 mph range. However, it’s his changeup that could push him into the elite category. He’s got a really good curveball too but it’s his changeup that earned him the five year, $65 million contract extension.
Matt Belisle came on for the eighth and went 1-2-3 in his Twins debut. Brandon Kintzler came on for the ninth and got a double play ball and a groundout to end the game.
Ervin Santana gets the Win. The Offense showed up late. The bullpen did not have to be extended.
Jason Castro went 2-3 in his Twins debut, slapping two singles to left field, the second obviously being a huge one. It’s always nice to get off to a good start with a new team.
In 2015, the Twins went 0-3 to start the season and were outscored 22-1 in those games in Detroit. They won just one of their first seven games. Obviously they didn’t want to start 0-9 like they did in 2016 either. Of course, winning game one doesn’t mean they won’t be 1-9 after ten games, but getting that first win should help the Twins relax as they go into the rest of the series.
While he went 0-5 with three strikeouts in the season opener, Byron Buxton showed off his defensive prowess. Not once, but twice. He made two diving catches. The first was on a low liner off the bat of Alex Gordon. Buxton dove forward to make the inning-ending catch. A couple of innings later, he actually took a mis-step. He took one step back on a short fly ball. As he reversed direction and headed in, he nearly slipped. But then his speed took over, and he outran the ball, leaping forward to make another great catch. Patience will need to be used with Buxton’s bat. He won’t hit like he did in September all the time, but hopefully they’ll keep him in the #3 spot in the lineup and let him play.
Let’s talk a little more about the defense. The outfield is going to be terrific. Buxton made two diving catches, and he’s flanked by Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler who each have good range and strong arms too. Brian Dozier made a couple of very nice plays at second base, including a glove-flip to first base to get Raul Mondesi, Jr. by a step on a nice bunt attempt.
The question marks on defense are on the left side of the infield. Miguel Sano made two or three routine plays at third base, and he caught back-to-back high pop ups. Routine for most, though he had some issues with that last year, in Rochester and with the Twins. Jorge Polanco had a good day at shortstop. He was involved in a couple of big double plays, and he made the plays he needed to. As we’ve noted all along, if those two can make those routine plays most of the time, the Twins will be just fine.
Robbie Grossman had a two-true outcomes game today. A three-true outcomes player is a guy who hits a lot of home runs, walks, and strikes out a lot. On Opening Day, Grossman went 0-3 with three strikeouts and two walks.
Miguel Sano really struggled early in spring training, striking out a ton. Late in camp, he started making some hard contact. In Game 1, he made some really hard contact on a Danny Duffy fastball, crushing it into the left field seats. He also showed a much better eye at the plate too, which is encouraging.
How good was it to see Rick Stelmaszek throw out the first pitch? The former Twins coach (for 32 years) has been battling pancreatic cancer. But it was clear how much he was respected when you saw how many former players showed up to be on the field with him. On the field included former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire who will have surgery due to his prostate cancer and then begin treatments. Gardenhire was on the field with his new club, the Diamondbacks, on Sunday in their season opener. However, thanks to early-season scheduling, he was able to make the trip.
Also, recently-retired former Twins catcher AJ Pierzynski, who also just signed to continue to work as an analyst for Fox Sports, was also on the field. So was still-unsigned Justin Morneau. It was a great moment.
Yes, it was just one game. There are 161 left, but it was really nice for the Twins (and their fans) to get a win in their opener. At the very least, they don’t have to wait a couple of days to try to pick up that first win.
My sense in Ft. Myers, and even moreso after seeing the Opening Day roster choices, was the the Twins really don’t want to get off to a bad start. Winning Game 1 felt more important than usual. While it really wasn’t, and no one would say that it was, it really had a different feel than many Opening Days.
It’s important not to make too much of it, but it’s OK to find the positives in it. And hopefully the start of Ervin Santana will propel the rest of the rotation to want to put up strong numbers in their first starts. And hopefully putting a seven spot on the scoreboard will help relax the hitters a bit. It was a nice win to hopefully build upon. And hopefully the fans can turn their negativity into some positivity. OK, that’ll take a few more than one win, I’m sure… But you can’t win two games until you’ve won one. The Twins have won one, so now they can go after win #2.
- Tibs, nytwinsfan, Broker and 2 others like this