April Showers Bring May Power

The Twins Are Playing Like Their Early Slump Is Behind Them. Maybe.

The key to Torii Hunter's turnaround, on the other hand, is clearly a more disciplined approach, born perhaps of frustration. He's not exactly lighting it up yet, but he has shown signs of breaking out of his slump, and part of that is that he's seeing more pitches. As I noted a couple weeks ago, that sort of patience doesn't come easy for him, and he's obviously struggled with it, yet he also seems to be figuring out that until he learns to be more selective he's going to stop getting pitches he can handle. Hunter, like Jones (and Kirby Puckett before them), is always going to be a hacker and a streaky hitter, but he's already drawn 14 walks this season (in 118 at bats), hardly Bonds-like numbers, but that figure still ties him with Kielty for second on the team, behind Corey Koskie (with 17). And considering that Hunter has drawn 18, 25, and 35 walks in his first three seasons, his 2003 walk totals represent something more than baby steps in the right direction.

As with last year's team, this version of the Twins is extraordinary in so many ways. Nothing ever quite adds up with this team, and they never seem to be able to put all facets of the game together at any given time, yet they continue to plod along and find ways to win. If someone had told you that Brad Radke, Rick Reed, and Joe Mays were going to have a combined ERA of almost 6.00, Torii Hunter was going to be batting just .229, with four homeruns, and the entire team was going to be hitting .242 with four homeruns with runners in scoring position in the second week of May, you'd have no reason to believe that they would be anywhere near .500, let alone three-and-a-half games out of first place.


Does the merger --or whatever the hell it was-- between STATS and the Sporting News piss everybody else off as much as it does me? Over the last ten years or so I'd learned to take for granted the service STATS provided the average fan, and their annual Major League Handbook and Player Profiles were indispensible resources. With those two volumes you literally had a comprehensive statistical profile of every player in the Major Leagues, with breakdowns in almost every imaginable category --performance by month, ahead and behind in the count, with runners in scoring position, and versus left and righthanders. The new Sporting News Baseball Register, which is the first fruit of the new collaboration, is a pale imitation of the old STATS annuals, and I still have no idea where, if anywhere, a guy can find the sort of in depth statistics that were a staple of those old volumes.

To go back to that business about pitching being 90 percent of the game, it would be easy enough to turn the tables on my earlier argument and point to the example of the Texas Rangers, who are currently 15-18 and in third place in their division, despite having the top three homerun leaders in the American League (and four of the top six), three of the top five in RBIs, three of the top four in on base plus slugging, and the number two guy in batting average. All that offense doesn't accomplish much, obviously, when your pitching staff has a 5.73 earned run average.

Given the struggles of Luis Rivas at second base, it might be worth taking a look at the decent career Tom Kelly's old whipping boy Todd Walker has had since being traded away by the Twins. In case you haven't been paying attention, Walker is building a nice little career for himself, and seems to be a fine fit in Boston. He's now hitting .310 with 20 RBI, 21 runs, and a .364 OBP for the Red Sox. And he's still not Bill Mazeroski with the glove, but he did tie for the lead in National League fielding percentage last year (with only eight errors), and led the league in putouts. In 749 Major League games Walker now has a career batting average of .292, with 58 homeruns and a respectable .435 slugging percentage. The trade that sent Walker to the Rockies did net the Twins Todd Sears, so there's still a chance that they'll salvage something out of the deal, but his bat would look pretty good in the Twins lineup right now.

Justin Morneau, the top Twins firstbase prospect, who recently got promoted to the Triple A Rochester club when Sears was called up, is having a monster season at the plate. Through his first seven games with the Red Wings Morneau is batting .444 with four homeruns and three doubles. In 20 games at Double A New Britain he hit .329 with six homers and 13 RBIs.

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