Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wins are wins, but ...

When I first contemplated the Twins schedule, one of the first things I noticed — after "when do they have their first home game?" — was the rigor of the initial series.

Four games in Anaheim. Three games in Chicago. Then home to face the Red Sox. Three tough opponents and a ridiculous travel schedule, with that late West Coast game on Thursday forcing an overnight flight to Chicago.

I figured 5-5 would be acceptable for that 10-game stretch; 6-4 or 7-3 would make me almost giddy.

They're 5-1 now.

Now, the "even keel" approach to the long season holds that such streaks come and go. You're never as good as you look during a winning streak, never as bad as you look when on a losing streak.

And in the interest of tamping down giddiness — mine, at least, but maybe yours as well — a few things to keep an eye on.

Pat Neshek. Ron Gardenhire voiced concern near the end of spring training about using Neshek on consecutive days. Maybe we saw why this week.

Thursday: Neshek enters in the sixth inning with two on with a 3-1 lead. He faces two men, falls behind each 1-0, gets each on the second pitch. Stressful situation, few pitches.

Friday: Neshek enters a tied game in the seventh to start the inning. He got two called strikes, then two fouls — and then the batter, Alexei Ramirez, lashed a double down the third base line. Gardenhire pulled him immediately.

Francisco Liriano. Five walks in six innings is nobody's idea of command of the fastball.

Jon Rauch. Yes, he's four-for-four in save conversions. Remember LaTroy Hawkins' season (2001) as closer? He opened with a long string of converted saves but really wasn't pitching that well. He finished the season with 28 saves, 9 blown saves and an ERA pushing 6.

Rauch has gotten the job done — a win's a win, an out's an out — but he's been helped by a busted hit-and-run in one game, saved by sparkling defensive plays in two others.

These are all small sample sizes. But they provide some reason to discount the Twins' .833 winning percentage — itself evidence of small sample size. Nobody's that good.


Poll results: A sizable plurality of the 45 respondents predict Kevin Slowey will lead the Twins in win this year. Slowey had 18 votes (40 percent). Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn had nine each (20 percent), Liriano 5 (11 percent) and Carl Pavano 4 (8 percent.)

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