The Detroit Tigers have thankfully put Tampa in their review mirror and are headed to the Twin Cities for the final leg of their current road trip. Over the weekend, the Tigers will face a Minnesota Twins team that has somewhat outperformed expectations early on buoyed by some unexpectedly strong starting pitching and an effective defense.
BYB: After a quick start the Twins have slowed down a bit. Now that we're a few weeks into the season, what are your thoughts on the team at this point? Is there anything you have seen so far that surprises you?
Mike: Byron Buxton's extreme offensive struggles have been a surprise, especially after the high-end production he finally showed last September.
For the most part the starting pitching has been better than expected, but the continued lack of swing-and-miss stuff beyond Ervin Santana likely makes a top-five ERA unsustainable.
BYB: Ervin Santana and Hector Santiago are both off to impressive starts. Which of those two do you think is most likely to maintain that level of performance through the rest of the season?
Mike: Santana. He misses bats with a plus slider and has displayed outstanding fastball command so far.
BYB: Byron Buxton is off to a slow start. He's only 23, but people tend to be pretty impatient with the development of highly valued young talent these days. What do you see happening with Buxton going forward and what are your thoughts on his progress as a ballplayer?
Mike: Just when Buxton finally seemed to have the outside expectations under control, he has taken a big step back in the first three weeks. I still believe his overall talent, work ethic and baseball IQ will enable him to thrive at this level, but yet another stint in Triple-A is looking more likely with each passing day.
BYB: How much is the defense supporting the success of the pitching staff and the team in general?
Mike: After ranking at or near the bottom of the majors in defensive efficiency since their decline began in 2011, the Twins have vaulted to the top of the charts in that category through the first 10th of the 2017 schedule. A young, athletic outfield has made a difference, and the left side of the infield (boyhood friends Miguel Sano and Jorge Polanco) has been better than expected.
BYB: Jose Berrios seems to be pitching pretty well in Triple-A. How long until he gets called back up, and what do you think could be reasonably expected from him this season?
Mike: Berrios is a 4-A pitcher at this stage of his development: too good for the International League, where he has pitched for parts of the past four seasons, but lacking the high-end fastball command to make his repertoire work at the major league level. I still expect to see him in the Twins rotation by June, but he needs to prove he can keep his poise and keep the ball in the park against the game's best hitters.
Once again, a big thanks to Mike Berardino for answering our questions. Make sure to check out Mike’s work at TwinCities.com/Twins, and to check there for all your Twins news. You can also follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBerardino.