Freelance Winners

The Twins patch together a strong start

The season is barely a month old and already Ronald McDonald has made two appearances at the Dome, which one could reasonably argue is two more than either Seth Greisinger or Carlos Pulido should have made.

Ronald was on hand to sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the first home stand, and made a return appearance a week or so ago to throw out the first pitch. We may not see the outré hamburger pimp again all year, yet Pulido is perhaps even more of a long shot to make a repeat appearance; after working in six games and racking up an unsightly 8.74 earned run average, the lefthander was sent back out to the Triple-A club in Rochester. Greisinger, though--well, I fear we might have to see a bit more of him before all is said and done.

Guys like Pulido and Greisinger are the sort of decent stories the major leagues are full of, and it's easy enough to root for such characters as long as they're not on your team. Pulido, you might remember, was a nice little sidebar item last year, when he made some sort of history by finally reemerging in the majors after something like an interval of three decades. Like I said, it was a decent enough story. It wasn't such a good story, however, when Pulido made the team out of spring training.

Luis Rivas: Half of a still-flawed middle infield duo
Craig Lassig
Luis Rivas: Half of a still-flawed middle infield duo

Nor was it particularly cheering when Greisinger, a 28-year-old righty who last pitched in the big leagues in 2002, was the first guy on the plane from Rochester when Joe Mauer came up lame in the second game of the season. When I say "last pitched in the big leagues," I should probably mention that this was with Detroit, and that prior to that Greisinger missed all of the 2000 and 2001 seasons recovering from ligament replacement surgery in his pitching elbow. It might also be instructive to recall that even that 2002 season was twice interrupted by trips to the disabled list with shoulder woes. In other words, while I sympathize with the guy and admire his apparent determination to gut out some kind of career in the major leagues, I'm not exactly comforted to have him on the Twins' pitching staff.

Because, face it: When a team gives up two spots on its pitching staff to guys like Pulido and Greisinger, it's essentially signaling that it's either desperate or expecting to be in more than its fair share of blowouts. Or, as the case may be, both.

In Minnesota's defense, the recall of Greisinger was obviously prompted by desperation. In the first week of the season the Twins' bullpen had been overworked in a pair of extra-inning games and a blowout in the first series with Cleveland. The projected fifth starter, off-season acquisition Rick Helling, was already on the disabled list with a broken leg, so the team needed somebody to fill the mop-up/fifth starter role until Helling got back. Unfortunately, Greisinger wasn't much suited for even that modest responsibility. He has, in fact, been pretty much as bad as Pulido was--he now has an 8.74 ERA (identical to Pulido's when he was sent packing) with four appearances and a couple of starts under his belt--and it's apparent that Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson don't have much confidence in him. It probably wasn't a good sign when Greisinger, upon being informed of his first scheduled start, expressed his determination to give the team "a couple solid innings." By that standard his four-inning performance--in which he gave up six hits and two earned runs--was a smashing success, but I'm pretty certain we would have received a more ambitious statement of purpose from legendary distaff hurler Ila Borders.

Greisinger and Pulido notwithstanding, the Twins have done just fine, especially given the injuries. It's hard, anyway, to argue with a 15-9 record, which is where things stood coming off the disappointing offensive performances against Anaheim on Saturday and Sunday--Minnesota scored just one run in dropping two straight to the Angels, and wasted excellent pitching performances from Brad Radke and Johan Santana.

Still, it's hard to read too much into one month of the major league baseball schedule; the schedules of the other major professional sports are to baseball's marathon as dog years are to human years. Twenty-four games into the NBA season and you could already draw some reasonable conclusions about your favorite team's chances. You could cram 10 NFL seasons into major league baseball's 162-game schedule, and if this was football we were talking about, the Pro Bowl would already be behind us, and we'd be well into the excruciating banality trek that is the countdown to draft day.

But this is baseball, and April doesn't mean a whole lot. Texas is in first place, Detroit leads the American League in runs scored, and Derek Jeter is hitting .181. Ronnie Belliard, a 29-year-old career .266 hitter, is leading the AL in batting average at .400. Lew Ford, who didn't even make the Twins out of spring training, is second at .391, followed by Juan Uribe (at .384), a guy who hit just .258 in three seasons in Colorado, and Ken Harvey (at .366), who hit .266 for the Royals last year. Ford actually might be the best hitter of that bunch. Rondell White, who has averaged about 60 RBIs a season over his 11-year career, leads the AL with 22.

I'd be happy to entertain wagers with anyone who's foolish enough to believe that a single one of those teams or individuals will still be anywhere among the league leaders at season's end.

Yet, looking back over the Twins' first month, it's tempting to think they could actually get a whole lot better, and, with the possible exception of Kansas City (and if the Royals are going to get better they better do it in a hurry, or risk losing Carlos Beltran), I don't see any other teams in the Central that you could say that about.

But--as I think I just said--this is baseball, so there's also always a chance Minnesota could get a whole lot worse. In 2002 I dubbed the Twins the Good News-Bad News Bears, and as Ron Gardenhire moves into his third year at the helm, the name is as apt as ever. Because for every encouraging sign this team shows, there always seems to be something ugly or troubling going on somewhere else. Some key guy or another always seems to be either hurt or badly slumping. The team will play a great, inspired stretch of baseball and then turn around and stink to high hell for two weeks at a time. The starting pitching will suck, but the bullpen and/or offense will bail it out. Or: Just when the starters get their shit together, the offense stops scoring runs, the defense starts kicking the ball around, and/or the pen gets rocked.

And even if by some miracle Minnesota gets all its injured players healthy and back on the field, even if the starting pitching and the bullpen get in a groove at the same time, etc., etc., there remains this most ugly and troubling of facts to deal with: Cristian Guzman and Luis Rivas are still holding down--and I do mean holding down--the middle of the Twins' infield.

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