Opening Day is all things exciting and hopeful to baseball fans everywhere, except maybe to Minnesota Twins fans. Monday afternoon, the Twins traveled to the aptly named “Windy City” to take on the Chicago White Sox and eventually dropped their sixth straight Opening Day game, dating back to 2008. While it would obviously be nice to grab a win the first day out, Twins fans shouldn’t panic just yet. The team showed several positives on Monday, and twice in the past five years, an Opening Day defeat was turned into an AL Central Championship.
Ricky Nolasco looked strong at times, striking out four batters and inducing two double-plays through six innings of work, but he leaned on his fastball far too often. Nolasco’s breaking pitches seemed to give White Sox hitters the most trouble on day one, but they weren’t thrown nearly enough. Instead, his sinking, tailing fastball was left up in the zone on several occasions and led to both of Alejandro De Aza’s home runs. Nolasco might not be completely comfortable controlling all of his pitches this early in 2014, but fans should expect more sliders and curveballs in his next outing.
Secondly, while the main cogs in Minnesota’s lineup struggled greatly against Chris Sale and company, the team got a handful of encouraging surprise performances. Brian Dozier, Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham, Trevor Plouffe and Oswaldo Arcia were a combined 1-for-19 at the plate with six strikeouts, stranding nine men on base.
However, oft criticized Aaron Hicks, Chris Colabello and Kurt Suzuki were a combined 6-for-11 on Monday. Hicks looked comfortable scoring two runs, and Suzuki drove in all three of Minnesota’s runs. Much of Minnesota’s success relies on how their major contributors perform in 2014, but the bottom of the order could send the team to its next level of productivity. Fans should be pleased to see these numbers, especially out of a bounce-back hopeful Hicks in center field.
Lastly, fans should continue to be encouraged by Minnesota’s solid bullpen. Picking up right where they left off in 2013, the combination of Anthony Swarzak, Casey Fien and Caleb Thielbar allowed only one hit through two scoreless innings of work. The bullpen kept the Twins alive in late innings and allowed Arcia to represent the tying run at home plate in the game’s final inning.
It’s always tough to lose to a rival, especially to start the year, but Opening Day isn’t everything. With a 162 game season, there’s lots of baseball left to play in Minnesota. The Twins will look to grab their first of many 2014 wins on Wednesday as Kevin Correia toes the rubber in Chicago.