Francisco Liriano, the struggling starting pitcher for the Minnesota Twins, shocked the baseball world May 3 by throwing the first no hitter of his career. Liriano achieved this feat against the White Sox despite coming into the game with an ERA above 9.00 — which is beyond abysmal — and having never pitched a full nine-inning game.
Interestingly enough, it wasn’t a dominating pitching performance by normal standards. Liriano only struck out a single batter while walking two. He is only the fifth pitcher in the last 30 years to throw a no-hitter and walk more batters than he struck out. However, this has been the only highlight of the Twins’ miserable start to the season.
After 33 games, the Twins open up a three-game series Tuesday against the Tigers with a 12-21 record and a full 10 games back of the leading Cleveland Indians. The slow start comes as a surprise to many. The Twins won the division last year and came into this season with mostly the same core team members. The Twins filled a roster hole by signing 26-year-old Japanese player Tsuyoshi Nishioka to play second base. Nishikoa, an absolute stud in Japan, was apparently unable to adjust quickly enough to the rougher style of play in the MLB and broke his femur while attempting to turn a double play. He is now at least several weeks from returning to the lineup.
Former MVP Justin Morneau suffered a concussion last July in the midst of a monster season. He was hitting .345 at the time of the injury, and missed the rest of the season. Morneau said that he felt light headed in games as recently as spring training. Based on his early stats, hitting .212 with a single home-run, he might still be in recovery mode.
Joe Nathan, the all-star closer out last season recovering from Tommy-John surgery, was also expected to lead the Twins very strong bullpen, but so far has been a major disappointment and has already lost the closing job.
To make matters worse, team leader Joe Mauer took an unusual DL stint. Mauer went on the DL several weeks ago due to leg fatigue and weakness and is not expected to return for another month, which leaves the Twins with a gaping hole both at the plate on offense as well as behind the plate on defense.
If players begin to produce and return from injury, the Twins should make a comeback of sorts. While it is still early in the year, overcoming a 10-game deficit and climbing out of a serious sub .500 hole takes momentum, and momentum takes time to build. Because of the division they play in, I think the Twins will recover — but because of this terrible start, I do not think they will be able to win the division again. The Indians may have been expected to play horribly, but they are still holding strong, showing no signs of letting up, and the Tigers are in a good position to do damage as well, blocking the Twins from a playoff berth. Look for the Twins to finish 2nd or 3rd.