Behind Enemy Lines: Rekindling rivalries with Twinkie Town

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Jesse Lund of Twinkie Town was kind enough to answer some questions for us about the upcoming series.

The Tigers are 21-15 at Target Field since it opened in 2010, and will be looking to improve upon that .583 winning percentage this weekend when they visit the Minnesota Twins. To get some inside info about the Twins, we asked Jesse Lund of Twinkie Town a few questions about their surprising 11-10 start.

1. Who the heck is Chris Colabello and when did he turn into Miguel Cabrera?

Colabello went undrafted and ended up spending most of his 20s in the Independent League. He was always a good hitter there but won Player of the Year in 2011 when he hit .348/.410/.600. The Twins brought him in as a 28-year old, and he posted an .836 OPS in Double-A in 2012.

He was given an invitation to spring training in 2013, at which point I labeled him as "unlikely" to make the roster. He didn't make the roster, but he did rake in Triple-A, putting up a sick .352/.427/.639.

While he struggled in limited time with the Twins after his promotion, he displayed an interesting characteristic: his power was going the other way.

After making the team this year, and rightfully so, his hot start has really embedded him as a fan favorite -- and this is for a guy who was already The Feel Good Underdog Story of a lifetime. The guy homered in Tampa Bay on Wednesday night, with his mom in the audience, on her birthday, as she was being interviewed on television. You can't make this stuff up.

It won't continue. It can't. But it's incredible to watch and there's nobody that's easier to cheer for.

2. Brian Dozier and Josmil Pinto have provided some additional thump in the middle of the lineup, hitting a combined 10 home runs heading into Thursday's action. Dozier had 18 homers last season, so his start seems legit (if a bit hot). What can we expect from Pinto going forward?

If Pinto can better his footwork and get better as a catcher, he could turn into the team's long-term backstop solution. He's hit very well in the minors the last couple seasons but his future isn't written in stone yet. The power he's displayed this spring, and after his call-up late last year, is probably a bit misleading - but for this team, you take any runs you can get. At the very least, Pinto is a part-time catcher who should hit well -- and that's no bad thing.

3. Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes were signed this offseason to bolster a rotation that ranked among the worst in baseball last year. Neither has gotten off to a great start, but Hughes' peripherals suggest that better days are ahead. Who will have the better numbers at the end of the season?

I think Nolasco will have the better season, but that's just based on watching them so far this season. Hughes needs to avoid big innings, and Nolasco -- so far -- I'm just hoping it's a small sample size thing. After a franchise-record free agent contract, he needs to perform.

I also appreciate the diplomatic labeling of the Twins rotation last year as one "that ranked among the worst in baseball last year", when really what you could have said was "that was a [redacted] [redacted]-storm that was so [redacted] terrible I'm not sure how Bud Selig even allowed the team to have a pitching staff this season instead of a tee." Because that would have been wholly accurate.

4. Kyle Gibson has been the surprise of the rotation, posting a 3.63 ERA and 3.33 FIP in his first four starts. Has he made any big changes since 2013, or is this just a small sample of good outings?

Gibson is a good prospect who had two years disrupted due to Tommy John surgery. Now that he's finally healthy, he's probably the most talented pitcher in the rotation, and he has the upside of a respectable number two or very solid number three. For the Twins, that's a big step in the right direction, especially considering he's also capable of NOT pitching to contact.

The biggest change, apart from getting his arm back, is probably being able to adapt his terrible experience last summer into his approach this year. Some Twins fans jumped ship on him when he struggled, but it's way too early for that. Hopefully he can give the Twins 180 innings with an ERA hovering around 4.00 this season.

5. For all their pitching woes, the Twins actually had a pretty good bullpen last year. They are off to a similar start this year, with a 3.45 ERA in 70 1/3 innings. Glen Perkins' ERA is a bit high, but results can be volatile this time of year. Any reason to be worried about the Twins' newly-rich closer? And who else can be trusted with a late innings role in that pen? (We Tigers fans don't really know what that feels like.)

It was the team's biggest strength last season, at least the biggest strength not named Joe Mauer. There are a plethora of talented arms in the 'pen again this season, and Perkins is ably backed up by Jared Burton and Casey Fien as set-up men, and then with a number of other role players. Sam Deduno is a converted starter who was out of options but too talented to let slip through waivers; Brian Duensing is overpaid but historically is very good against lefties; Anthony Swarzak has been a very good long man the last couple years; and Michael Tonkin and Caleb Thielbar are two very capable middle relievers. It's nice to have one part of the team that doesn't need to be broken down into tiers of potential failure.

Regarding Perkins - he'll be fine. It was ridiculously cold for his first couple of appearances, and until we see otherwise I think that's what we're chalking it up to. For now, he's still one of the best relievers in the American League.

6. Joe Mauer used to be a top 10 catcher of all-time, with an outside argument that he belongs in the top 5. Now, he's not even the best first baseman in his own division (/ducks). Joking aside, do you agree with the Twins' decision to move him to first?

It was actually Mauer's decision to move to first base. He knew there was a decision looming, and he made the call early in the off-season so that Terry Ryan and crew had more time to construct a team around that change. Not that they did a lot in that regard, mind you. This offense isn't going to continue averaging 19 walks per game to keep the offense afloat.

And it's a decision I think most people understand. Joe picked up a concussion late last season and sitting behind the plate opens you up to more opportunities to get nicked and cracked by foul balls and rogue Deduno fastballs and bats and whatever else. Justin Morneau proved you can get a career-altering concussion regardless of where you play, but the decision was all about mitigating risk while keeping Joe on the field.

Regarding his performance so far, he's had trouble with secondary/non-fastball pitches this spring. It'll come...unless that concussion has lingering issues nobody knows about yet. But if, as we all expect, he's still Joe Mauer -- his career triple slash averages would put him among the ten-best hitting first basemen in baseball, even if he isn't putting up a couple dozen home runs. Or even one dozen.

7. Tigers fans have rejoiced at every picture, GIF, and video of the Metrodome's demolition. Twins fans obviously have fonder memories of that building, but let's not talk about those. Is Target Field a change for the better?

There's no question. I have fond memories of a hundred-whatever games attended at the Dome, and sure it was great not to be cold or get wet, but the expense was that you had no sunshine, no beautiful Minnesota summer nights, and you were looking at a game being played inside of a concrete oval. It was an awful venue for a baseball game.

If you haven't visited Target Field, I can't recommend it enough. It's positively gorgeous, and it's unique. There aren't any bad seats, either, although I'd recommend down the third base line for skyline views or the Budweiser Deck for the best all-round views of the field and the park in general. Oh, and they also have this burger that's stuffed with rib meat. And there's a bar called Hrbek's. I mean, c'mon, as if there's anything not to like about a place inspired by the diet of Kent Hrbek.

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Once again, a big thank you to Jesse for taking the time to give us some insight. You can read my responses to his questions here, and be sure to check out Twinkie Town all season long.

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