It may have only been game one of 162, but the Minnesota Twins got a glimpse of the goal they are chasing when the Detroit Tigers, led by Justin Verlander, opened the season at Target Field on Monday.
The Twins are not expected to compete in 2013, and a lot of that is due to a talent deficiency that is concentrated in their pitching staff. What the Tigers have that sets them apart from many other elite teams in baseball is a dominant starting pitcher and a deep pitching staff.
However, it wasn’t Verlander that beat the Twins 4-2 on Monday; it was themselves.
When you face an elite pitcher like Verlander, you are only going to get a few scoring opportunities a game, and you must take advantage of those chances when they present themselves. Verlander ended up with the win after going five innings, allowing three hits and striking out seven. He was his usual dominant self against the Twins and the team never got anything going.
However, a stroke of luck occurred and the Tigers pulled Verlander after five innings. This gave the Twins a chance to attack the Tigers bullpen, arguably their weak point, and get back into the game.
The Twins could have easily taken a lead against the Tigers after Verlander exited, but they could never get a timely hit with runners in scoring position.
At one point, in the sixth inning with the bases loaded, the team opted to pinch-hit Wilkin Ramirez for Pedro Florimon in hopes they could generate some offense and take a lead. After a Drew Smyly wild pitch plated a Twins a run, Ramirez grounded out to short to end the inning and a chance to tie the ballgame slipped away.
There was another chance to tie the ballgame or take the lead in the seventh inning when the bases were loaded with one out and up stepped Trevor Plouffe and yet again, the Twins faltered. Plouffe struck out swinging and then Chris Parmelee struck out on a pitch in the dirt to end the scoring threat.
The Parmelee at-bat was especially frustrating because of the fact that Parmelee, a young and inexperienced player, swung at a 2-0 pitch with the bases loaded and the game tying run on third. Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque was struggling with his command and yet, he was bailed out.
In reality, Parmelee should have never had the option to swing at that pitch, as an automatic take sign should have been given to prevent such a disaster from occurring; yet, no sign was given and disaster struck.
I am not saying that the Twins lost the game because of Parmelee, Plouffe and Ramirez’s inability to get a timely hit, but one thing to take note of is the team’s lack of options off the bench and lack of clutch hitting with runners in scoring position.
Simply put, the Twins are not talented enough to win a lot of ballgames this year, but they have to win close games when the opportunity presents itself like it did today. It is naïve to think the team can produce every time there is a runner in scoring position, but when you leave 12 runners on base and make crucial managing errors, it paints a very grim picture.
The season is early and it would be wrong to rush judgment on the 2013 Twins after one game. However, if manager Ron Gardenhire continues to make mistakes at crucial times in the game and if the Twins cannot hit with runners in scoring position, the season may get ugly in a hurry.