Jake's Takes: It's Opening Day so it's time for drastic overreactions
I called my Grandpa on the phone a couple of months ago to wish him a happy birthday because I'm a decent human being, and he said more or less the same thing he says every year when I ask him about his new age: "Once you retire birthdays just feel like any other day."
Now, I'm 24 years old and probably won't ever retire so I cannot corroborate the view of The Big P, but I have no reason to believe that's not the case. Some day my birthday may just seem like a random Wednesday.
But there's one day that will always elicit the same childhood excitement: Major League Baseball's Opening Day.
It's a time where every fan has hope (OK, except Marlins fans) and every fantasy team still has a shot. Opening Day is the opposite of the thumbs-down Yankees fan. Opening Day is a sneak peek at the coming summer.
Opening Day is also a time for drastic overreactions, which is where this column comes in. The Minnesota Twins dropped a 3-2 game in Baltimore on a walk-off shot by Adam Jones, who also suspiciously shot up the Jake's Most Hated Baseball Players List, and there are some piping hot takes that need to be discussed. It's a 162-game season, so no, the Twins are not going 0-162 but we're going to take a handful of reactions and talk about, on a scale of 1-to-10, how crazy they are.
The 2016 Twins are back
The Twins went 85-77 last year, earning a spot in the AL Wild Card game before the Bronx Bombers blew them away because that's how baseball works. But the hometown team is only two years removed from a 59-103 season that somehow felt even worse than that.
The thing about that 2016 season, though, was all of Minnesota knew the year was over by the time the high school baseball season even started because the Twins lost their opening nine games by a combined 36-14 scoreline. By April 15, the Twins were already seven games back in the AL Central and hope was lost. The score in their season opener? A 3-2 walk-off loss to the Orioles in Baltimore.
If No. 1 is Joe Mauer-crazy and No. 10 is Gary Busey-crazy, this is probably an eight. There are plenty of similarities between the 2018 and 2016 openers but you can chalk a lot of that up to coincidence. In order for 2016 to repeat, many of the young Twins would need to have some remarkable regression and the pitching staff would likely have to drop to a historic low, like in 2016 where they sported the worst ERA+ in the league at 83 (100 is average) and ranked in the bottom five in WHIP, FIP, strikeouts and team morale.
PECOTA projects the Twins will finish this year 81-81, second in the division and just out of a playoff spot. A drastically improved defense thanks to pitch-framing guru Jason Castro, a full season of Byron Buxton, healthy Joe Mauer, steady Brian Dozier and no outfield experiments with Miguel Sano helped the Twins drop their runs-allowed average from 5.49 to 4.86. Still not great, but not terrible either. Generally speaking, defense tends to repeat and there's no reason to believe Minnesota won't finish with a couple of Gold Gloves by the end of the year.
Paul Molitor is the best manager in the bigs
There was a moment in the 10th inning where Molitor, the reigning AL Manager of the Year did something that nearly made me do a spit take. With the bases loaded, Eddie Rosario—very much an outfielder—came into the infield and stayed there for a five-man infield and, perhaps more notably, a one-and-a-half person outfield with Robbie Grossman generously being considered half a defender.
It's not unheard of to have a five-man infield during a bases loaded situation but, I mean, come on, it never works right?
Enter Lee Corso: Not so fast, my friend.
Jonathan Schoop, who looked outmatched all game, grounded a ball to Eduardo Escobar who just so happened to be in the exact spot due to the new shift. Escobar tossed it home for the force out and Castro zipped it to first to nab Schoop and end the threat.
That was the crowning moment of the afternoon for Molitor, who also worked the bullpen with care, aside from an apparent sabotage attempt by Trevor Hildenberger, and swapped Buxton for the aforementioned Grossman who duck-snorted his way to a game-tying two-run single with two outs in the ninth.
On a scale of 1 to 10, this is probably a two on the Mauer-Busey scale.
Shakey, breakey bullpen
Former Willmar Stinger Jacob Barnes earned a save for the Milwaukee Brewers but that was one of the only Minnesota bullpen success stories Thursday.
Hildenberger and Twins newcomer Zach Duke look like mirror images with funky sidearm deliveries that looked wild like the Thornberries. Duke got the ball first in the seventh inning, where he promptly logged four strikeouts but also gave up a pair of runs off one hit and one walk. He tossed a pair of wild pitches and made life look generally miserable for Castro.
He (somehow) emerged from the inning, though, with only a 2-0 deficit, paving the way for an excellent outing from fellow newbie Addison Reed. Reed was outstanding, striking out two Orioles in the eighth and ninth innings. He tossed 23 pitches, 20 of which were strikes and zero of which went for a hit.
Enter Hildenberger in the 10th, however, and he got an out, walked a pair and was out like the Circle Me Bert sign for Fernando Rodney. Twins fans got the full Rodney experience. He got Schoop to ground into an inning-ending double play in the 10th before giving up the solo shot to Jones in the 11th.
This is a solid five on the Mauer-Busey scale. It is not inconceivable that the Twins' bullpen lets the entire state and surrounding area down (no pressure), but Molitor will have some quality arms to go to throughout the season. Reed looked so unlike a Twins reliever that it was actually refreshing and Duke will get on the same page with Castro in time. Hildenberger should figure it out and Rodney, well, we'll probably get a good bit of that. Toss in some appearances from Ryan Pressly, Taylor Rogers, Gabriel Moya and Tyler Kinley and the Twins should have a solid-but-not-amazing bullpen.
Jake Odorizzi, your AL Cy Young
Jake "Eggs" Odorizzi is not exactly the most exciting Opening Day starter but he's also not Vance Worley and he proved that Thursday afternoon.
My namesake didn't get the win but it's 2018 so we'll look past that. He fanned seven using a fastball that hovered around 91 miles per hour and a nifty little curveball in six innings of work with only two hits. He walked a pair of guys but he showed an ability to battle back from a handful of 2-0 and 3-0 counts and loved to challenge Orioles, especially Schoop, with fastballs up in the zone.
It would do my heart plenty of good to see a guy named Jake reach the pinnacle of AL pitching--2015 Jake Arrieta was great for my ego--but I know it's full-blown Gary Busey in Black Sheep crazy to say he's going to win the Cy Young. The 28-year-old right hander has a 3.83 career ERA but is coming off a year in which he finished with a 4.14 ERA for the Tampa Bay Rays. The ERA looks a lot like a standard Twins' ERA but his FIP, which basically just looks at home runs, walks and strikeouts, was 5.43. That number would have been the second-worst in the league had he pitched enough innings to qualify. His ERA+ was 100, which means he was average personified.
Last year's numbers are noticeably worse than his career totals, so he's expected to be considerably better in the new year, which is why Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey swooped in to pick him up for a low level prospect. That said, his performance Thursday was illuminating because it proved he had some put-away ability. He will eventually allow a run but he has allowed one run in 16.1 innings pitched dating back to Spring Training, so I'm OK with freaking out about the new guy.