You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Optimistic

As busy and occasionally frantic as I am at this point of the school year, I always make time to track the Twins' scores. Sometimes it's a quick peek at last night's result, sometimes it's a giddy highlight reel review, sometimes it's a flipping through radio channels hoping to hear details and analyses. Even in the depths of the team's worst crap-itude, it's nice to have that brief check in as part of the day.

But of course, I prefer it when they're winning. Probably too much so. And it has not escaped my attention that the Twins are at .500 right now, nor that they are one game behind the 2nd Wild Card spot. This, while nice, is also dangerous. Unless the Twins I expected at the start of the year (you know, the woeful-pitching, incompetent-hitting, bad-luck-bedeviled, please-god-let-us-only-lose-89-games-this-year Twins we were all expecting) turn up soon, I may actually become optimistic.

So I try to keep myself calm by slowly negating all the positives of the team so far this year:

  1. We're more patient! With a .335 OBP that has us ranked 2nd in the AL. Yeah, but...a lot of that has to do with the pitching the team is facing. And the more pitchers realize that they're pitching to Aaron Hicks and Eduardo Escobar rather than Denard Span and JJ Hardy, they're more likely to attack, so that will drop and soon.
  2. The pitching doesn't totally suck this year! Yeah, but...it would be kind of amazing if they were worse than they had been lately. The starters are the third worst in the league at allowing runs, and the bull pen has the second most lost leads in the whole league. So hold on hard to Phil Hughes while he lasts, it won't stick around.
  3. They don't quit, and we actually have some clutch hitting this year! Yeah, but...clutch play isn't a real thing, just like "grit", and "stick-to-it-iveness" aren't things. Besides they are below average at driving in or advancing runners in scoring position with less than 2 outs...if you can't do that, and you get lucky enough with two outs, then whoop-de-dang-doo.
  4. We've made do despite a bunch of injuries! Yeah, but...only for six weeks. It's real nice that Jason Kubel hasn't been a disaster, and Chris Colabello's been heart warming, and Casey Fien/Brian Duensing have effectively shut down others, and Kurt Suzuki has been strangely effective. But none of them have a track record that bodes well for the long term; worse still, the minor league calvary (Misters Buxton, Sano, Arcia, Rosario et al) are in varying degrees of pain and unlikely to save the day any time soon.
  5. We've held tough against the best teams in the league! Yeah, but...uh, wait, really? Yeah we have a winning record against the AL East and the Tigers. But umm, interleague... Yankees...oh screw it...


Cliff Notes to the 2014 Twins: "The Cruelest Month"

We know how it is. Life is busy: with work and family and social engagements, there are a lot of demands on your time. So, if you've missed some developments in the first month of the season, you're perfectly normal. Missing baseball games is not unlike missing reading assignments for school, so we're happy to provide this series of Cliff Notes to summarize, explain and analyze the story that is the 2014 Twins Season.

"Chapter I: April"
Summary: At the beginning of the season, the Twins are a team in the doldrums of an interminable struggle for meaning and purpose, like the Joads on the road to California, the Crachit's on December 23rd, or the Kardashians...anytime. As they take the field for the first time in a cold and forbidding Chicago, there are few notes of spring (a symbol of hope) to be found. 

While an initial flurry of subpar performances and predictable defeats confirm that perception, there are some causes for optimism. One impressive pitcher and three solid hitters offer the sense that younger, less experienced players possess a kind of indefatigable patience and ethic that renews the spirits of weary souls. Soon, jaded on lookers are speaking in positive tones, and the initially laughable albatross of the manager's "1,000 Victory" humidor is forgotten.

Yet uncertainty pervades the atmosphere, will these younger talents maintain their performance or flame out like those common symbols of youthful exuberance in literature: foolhardy soldiers and mid-90s boy-bands? Will older veterans act on the model set by their juniors, or lapse into old habits?
Notable Characters:
Kyle Gibson--long standing Twins prospect, recovered from initial struggles in the previous year to post the best season of the major league starters
Brian Dozier--Southern gentleman second baseman with inexplicable, and heretofore unknown strength.
Chris Colabello--a journeyman, young by world standards, old within the context of his career, leading a charmed existence.
Josmil Pinto--The third potent hitter, very much in the "quiet giant" genre of characters.
Ron Gardenhire--The wise teacher/sensei/jedi master trope, only with less inventive nicknames
Joe Mauer, Glen Perkins--Two of the wearily-souled veterans, capable but worn by the past. They do not perform much in this chapter, but are likely to factor more prominently as the book progresses
Mike Pelfry--While the novel lacks an antagonist, Pelfry serves as its foil and counterpoint. Every strong outing from Gibson, every hit from the sluggers is balanced by his ongoing collapse, balancing the new life of the season and players with a "memento mori"--or death omen.

Key Quotes Explained:
Team On Base Percentage .353 (#1 in the American League)--The statistic combining both hits (traditionally a Twins strength) and walks (a new focus) demonstrates the growth and development of the team as they grow into a more patient, mature team.
Team ERA for Starters: 6.08 (#15 in American League)--Despite one pitcher's success, the team continues to flounder in this particular area--the ominous presence of Pelfry has particular relevance here.

A Literary Device to Impress Your Teacher/attractive English Major Friends:
Bildungsroman--This is the term for a novel that covers the moral or mental growth of its main character (in this case the Twins), or as people less fond of German might say it "a-coming-of-age-story". At this point in the season, the Twins of 2014 very much resemble a bildungsroman, both in the development and maturation of younger players (Gibson, Dozier, Josmil), inexperienced players (Colabello), and in team philosophy (increasing the walk rate and on base percentage). However, it is notable that the bildungsroman motif must be maintained for an extended time period--and a single chapter may be a little early to make that decision.