Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Thoughts from the Twins opener

* Kramarczuk's is still so good.

* The first-level concourse was almost impassible, a chronic condition on opening day when Target Field is sold out and a goodly number of fans flock to the standing room areas and the heat lamps. It may have appeared on TV that there were a lot of empty seats. I can assure you, the people were there.

* The Kansas City bullpen ain't what it was in their World Series years.

* The lineup against lefty Danny Duffy was ... restricted. The Twins had, by necessity and choice, four lefties in the lineup, none of whom at this point in their careers should be expected to be productive against a southpaw of Duffy's quality. Joe Mauer slashed .224/.291/.319 against lefties lat year; he hit cleanup. Jason Castro slashed .149/.237/.241; he hit sixth. Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario slashed .203/.273/.322 and .263/.305/.289 respectively; they hit eighth and ninth.

The problem: With Robbie Grossman as the DH, there is no viable right-handed hitting alternative on the roster to Mauer, Kepler and Rosario. Chris Gimenez would be a reasonable platoon mate to Castro, but Paul Molitor has indicated that he's not going with a strict platoon behind the plate. And, to be sure, even Earl Weaver wouldn't be platooning Kepler or Rosario at their ages. So we're likely to see more of this.

* The game itself turned on a pair of bunts, which merits a deep dive.

Bottom of the seventh, 1-1 tie, the Royals pull  Duffy. In 2014 and April of 2015, that probably means the gas-throwing Kelvim Herrera, with Wade Davis for the eighth and Greg Holland in the ninth, and the Twins' best shot at winning is getting to extra innings. But Holland blew his arm out late in 2015, and Davis is a Cub now, and Herrera is the closer. As said above, the Royals bullpen isn't what it was.

So with a switch-hitter (Jorge Polanco) followed by a pair of left-handed hitters (Kepler and Rosario) due up, K.C. manager Ned Yost goes to Matt Strahm, a lefty making his major league debut.

Polanco singles. Kepler is asked to bunt. He fouls his first attempt, and the 2016 Twins pattern of horrendous bunting seems very much in continuation. But his next one is ideal, and Strahm, despite help from the first base ump, can't throw him out. Thanks to replay, two on, no out, and Rosario is asked to bunt. He gets it down for a sac. The Royals put Brian Dozier on, and then Strahm walks Robbie Grossman to force in a run ...

But it's the bunting I want to comment on, not four walks in five hitters. Let's say that Kepler merely got a sac bunt, not a hit. In that case, Rosario has to hit, not bunt, against the lefty and the whole inning changes. A mere sacrifice from Kepler puts the inning squarely on Rosario and Grossman (there's no way Yost was going to pitch to Dozier with first base open). 

For that matter, I question Yost's decision to stick with Strahm after Rosario's bunt with Dozier-Grossman-Byron Buxton coming up -- two righties with switch-hitter who is better against lefties. Peter Moylan (who did come in to strike out Buxton) might have fared better; He couldn't have done worse than Strahm.

Seeing the two young left-handed hitters get the bunt down against a lefty was encouraging, and the inning certainly broke in the Twins favor. But they needed some help to make it work.

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