It wasn’t the most picturesque evening in Kansas City on Wednesday night to take in a ballgame, but the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals played through a cold and rainy evening that saw the Royals complete the sweep of the Twins by a final score of 3-0. The loss extends the Twins losing streak to three games and raises questions as to whether or not this team has the talent necessary to compete with, what appears to be, a vastly superior Royals ballclub.
The bright spot for the Twins on Wednesday was the emergence of Liam Hendriks against the young and talented Royals’ lineup. Hendriks has struggled mightily throughout his career at the majors and has succumbed to many big innings and homeruns that ruin and characterize his starts with the Twins. On Wednesday night, Hendriks went five innings allowing one run, a homerun, with four hits allowed and four strikeouts. Those numbers are a vast improvement from Hendriks’ first start of the season that saw him give up four earned runs in 4.2 innings of work.
The problem with Hendriks’ start on Wednesday was that he received no help from his teammates and yet again, another solid start by the Twins’ pitching staff was wasted. Hendriks displayed the ability to work out of trouble on a few occasions tonight by getting a few key strikeouts with runners in scoring position. By in large, however, Hendriks made his living—as he always does—by pitching to contact and allowing his defense to make the plays behind him. Yet when a Twins’ lineup can scratch out seven hits and not muster up a single run, it can be deflating for a young pitcher who is trying to solidify himself in the team’s rotation.
The Twins’ lineup seems to have hit a snag and a lot of that can be directly related to the ineffectiveness at the top of the lineup with Aaron Hicks. It is easy to point the blame at Hicks for his terrible start to the season, but we need to give the kid a break. He simply is overmatched and lacking confidence at this point and needs to reset himself and get back to the things that made him so successful this spring.
If the leadoff hitter doesn’t get on, the Twins must rely even more on Joe Mauer being a table setter for the lineup and that shouldn’t be his role. Mauer is talented enough to allow Hicks to see improved pitches because opposing pitchers do not want to face Mauer with runners on base; but if Hicks doesn’t get on base, pitchers are able to approach Mauer differently and thus limiting his value as a number two hitter in my opinion. Could the Twins try Hicks lower in the lineup and try someone else as the leadoff hitter? Sure they could, but that wouldn’t solve the long-term problem for the team who plans on Hicks becoming their leadoff hitter for the future.
For now, the team must go through the growing pains with Hicks and show patience that he will develop into a talented leadoff hitter. The team must allow Hicks to work his way through his struggles now, so they can reap the benefits of his improvement later when the team is projected to compete and will be in need of his production even more.
It is unfortunate that Hendriks must be at the mercy of such inconsistent performances by his lineup and it unfortunately might cost him his spot in the rotation once Scott Diamond returns from the disabled list this weekend. All in all, Hendriks showed tonight that he is learning how to make adjustments and pitch at the big league level. That, in itself, can be considered a victory during a night and a series that can only be characterized by moral ones.