If I said the Twins were sputtering out of the gate, my car would sue me for libel. As a quick example, here's the home run leaderboard so far in the season:

  • Troy Tulowitzki: 5
  • Nelson Cruz: 5
  • Howie Kendrick: 4
  • Alex Rodriguez: 4
  • Miguel Cabrera: 4
  • Ryan Braun: 4
  • Asdrubal Cabrera: 4
  • Lance Berkman: 4
  • Ian Kinsler: 4
  • Mark Teixeira: 4
  • Pat Burrell: 4
  • Alfonso Soriano: 4
  • Jorge Posada: 4
  • Prince Fielder: 3
  • Jose Bautista: 3
  • Jonny Gomes: 3
  • Logan Morrison: 3
  • Paul Konerko: 3
  • Ryan Howard: 3
  • Russell Martin: 3
  • Alexei Ramirez: 3
  • Justin Upton: 3
  • Jason Heyward: 3
  • Chris Young: 3
  • Rickie Weeks: 3
  • Rod Barajas: 3
  • Josh Willingham: 3
  • Torii Hunter: 3
  • Brian Roberts: 3
  • Adrian Beltre: 3
  • The Minnesota Twins: 3

Sorry about making that list so long. Don't blame me, blame the Twins. They are currently the worst offensive team in the league, having amassed -0.5 WAR on offense thus far in the season. They are the second worst pitching team in the league, with 0.1 WAR. As a team, they're hitting .236/.283/.506, for a batting line that would get a backup catcher sent down the minors.* Every day, the Twins' fans debate on Twitter whether it's time to panic or whether it's just a small sample size.

* Except, of course, if you're the Twins' backup catcher. I'm beginning to suspect that Joe Mauer's contract includes a secret clause that says the Twins can't have an adequate backup for him, thus explaining Drew Butera's continued existence. I call it the Joe Mauer Must Look Good Clause.

But on Thursday night, that was supposed to change. They took their league-worst offense and faced off against the second worst offense, the Rays (-0.3 offensive WAR). Carl Pavano was on the mound, with his personal caddy behind the plate, Drew "Make Mauer Look Good" Butera. And Pavano didn't disappoint -- last week he dominated the anemic A's offense, giving up 1 run in 8 innings. This week, he dominated the Rays' offense, giving up 0 runs in 8 innings. He's doing what he can to silence those pesky complaints about his contract.

And to top it off, Pavano struck out 7 batters in his 8 innings, re-trading ground balls for strikeouts upon realizing that the Twins' infield defense can't field balls hit directly at them and can't move at all. (Michael Cuddyer started at second base, again.) Unfortunately for Pavano, and the Twins, Pavano doesn't know how to win. Eight scoreless innings is only a good performance if the bullpen can finish off the win.

Pavano left the game with a 2-0 lead -- the Twins had finally broken through in the 6th inning, characteristically leaving the bases loaded -- and Nathan took over the mound. You know that saying from football, that if you have two Quarterbacks, you really have zero? Well, the Twins are apparently trying to see if the same is true of Closers. With one out, Nathan induced Felipe Lopez to pop up to shallow right field, and the ball hung in the air for what seemed like minutes -- and was enough time for Morneau and Hughes to get from the infield all the way out there to right field, just in time to convince Cuddyer (who had apparently been playing somewhere in the plaza beyond the fence in right-center after switching from second base) not to attempt to catch the ball. It dropped in for a double; apparently that was enough to rattle Nathan, who walked the next batter. After a coaching visit to the mound, Nathan did what all Twins pitchers do after receiving a visit to the mound: he got rocked for a game-tying double.

So Pavano's effort was wasted, and Nathan had blown his first save of the year. For what it's worth, it should be the first of many.

Not to be outdone, Matt Capps* took over the mound in the 10th inning with the lead newly replenished -- by a potentially-game-winning single by Danny Valencia that made the score 3-2 -- and did everything in his power to make sure he didn't lose the race for most blown saves for the Twins this season. Just six pitches into his outing, he surrendered a walk-off home run to Johnny Damon, and the Twins got to hang their heads in shame once more.

* With all the whining about Mauer and Butera right now, is it cruel of me to point out that Wilson Ramos is currently hitting .450/.522/.550 right now? Yes, small sample size. Still, that OPS is double the Twins' as a team. And by the way, I am never going to let Matt Capps live down the fact that he was traded for Wilson Ramos, in some sort of cosmic do-over of the AJ Pierzynski heist.

Entering Thursday night, the Twins hadn't had many leads to protect, and neither Nathan nor Capps had blown a save. By the time the bartender of life cut off my MLB.tv feed, they'd each blown one. The bullpen is showing itself to be about as weak as everyone had feared it would be. The defense has somehow managed to be even weaker than everyone feared it would be. The starting rotation is currently having everything go wrong aside from injuries, which are surely right around the corner. And the offense, which was going to have to carry the load this season, well ... remember the old saying that against a good offense you'd have to pitch around the first eight and pitch to the pitcher? Well, we've found the opposite of that. Against the Twins, the optimal strategy seems to be "pitch to everyone, while the fans cross their fingers and hope there isn't a perfect game."

No, it isn't time to panic. It's still early in the season, though the Twins seem to be doing what they can to skip over the summer doldrums right to the end-of-season slide, having picked up right where they left off. But it sure would be nice if someone would light a fire. Right now, it seems like they're just going through the motions. And badly, at that.

The best thing that can be said about Thursday's game -- and possibly the worst thing that can be said about the season so far -- is that, while the game ended in crushing defeat, at least it distinguished itself by being exciting. The same cannot be said for the rest of the Twins' games so far, which have been mostly one-sided affairs filled with nothing but frustration, ineptitude, and boredom.

My question to you, the reader, is this: are you settling in for a long season to watch a surprisingly bad, boring team, or are you still hopeful* that they can turn it around and contend?

* And does the news that Mauer is on the DL change things?

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15 April 2011