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View from the other side: Twins questions for TJ Gorsegner of Twinkie Town

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Cleveland Indians v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Our Blue Jays are in Minneapolis to play a 4-game series with the Twins,

The Twins are in first place in the AL Central, with an 8-4 record.

The Twins are scoring runs, they are second in the AL in runs scored per game, at 5.42 (while the Jays are third from the bottom at 3.50). On the defensive side the Twins are 8th in the AL with 4.42 runs allowed a game (Jays are 6th at 4.12).

I sent off some questions to TJ Gorsegner of Twinkie Town (and he asked some of me).

Your Twins are winning and in first in the AL Central. What’s going right? Do you think they will be able to stay at the top of the division?

The biggest thing going well so far is health. The Twins have had relatively few injuries to players they were counting on thus far. Miguel Sano is out for another month, but Marwin Gonzalez has been a capable fill-in, even if his bat has been cold. The only other injuries have been a couple relievers. Meanwhile Cleveland especially, but also Detroit have suffered some injuries to key players. I do think the Twins can keep up though. The offense has been potent thus far, and the starting pitching has been more than adequate. If there is one weakness, its the bullpen, and fortunately, reinforcements are both coming and easily obtainable there.

Willians Astudillo is hitting great and playing all over the place. Why doesn’t he play everyday? What’s his best position?

I love Willians Astudillo, and the fact everyone asks me about him just makes me happy. He’s an amazing player, in that he is totally unique. He doesn’t strike out or walk much. Something like 90% of his plate appearances result in a ball in play. This does make him prone to the GIDP at times, but it also makes him a potent offensive weapon.

His natural position is catcher, and he’s actually a decent defender there, but the Twins have another hot bat at the position in Mitch Garver, who is probably their catcher-of-the-near-future, as well as a renowned defender in Jason Castro. Astudillo is actually pretty decent at the hot corner as well, especially for a guy playing out of position. As a professional, he has played every position except shortstop, but expect to see him primarily behind the dish or an infield corner. He doesn’t play everyday because the Twins have strong options almost everywhere -- C.J. Cron at first (more on him in a bit) and the aforementioned Garver and Castro behind the plate are all players you want in your everyday lineup. Nelson Cruz occupies the DH spot, so you can’t slot a guy in there easily.

While you could make Astudillo the regular third baseman, Gonzalez probably is the better option there most nights, and is a switch hitter. Once Miguel Sano returns, he will likely be the regular there, as the Twins try to unlock his huge potential. In the outfield, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler are both above average players, so its a huge downgrade to sit either of them.

The Twins have a new manager, Rocco Baldelli, I know you haven’t had much time to watch him, but what do you think? How different is he to Paul Molitor?

So far the fans seem to like Baldelli a lot (he’s been pulling in 100% confidence on FanPulse,) and the players seem to respond to him as well, fighting hard even when the team is down. Molitor was a player’s coach according to what I’ve heard, and is a widely respected Hall of Fame player. That said, he seemed a little out-of-touch and skeptical when it came to advanced stats and newer technologies, although he did make efforts to use them. The Twins front office, however, places a huge emphasis on creativity and embracing these changes, so Baldelli is a better fit. Not only is he the youngest manager in baseball, but he comes from a Tampa organization that is well-regarded in those aspects. Wes Johnson, Baldelli’s pitching coach, is a great example of this as well. He comes from the college ranks, where he was a pioneer in the use of trackman and other biomechanical data in pitching philosophy. We have yet to see how things end up, but so far, Baldelli seems like the right fit for the organization. He also made a priority this winter of flying to Georgia and the Dominican Republic to meet Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano respectively in person, to help mend fences and build relationships with the two key cogs in the development of the team.

Can we have a quick scouting report of the starting pitchers the Jays are likely to face (and, likely, make look like Cy Young candidates)?

Sure! Monday you should see Martin Perez in his first start of the season, as this is the first time the Twins have needed a fifth starter. They ran Perez out of the pen as the long man a few times in order to keep him throwing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a short start anyway. He was very, very hittable playing for Texas last season. The Twins have tweaked his mechanics, and brought his velocity back up to the mid-90’s. He’s been pretty decent so far, pitching lights out against an injury-ravaged Cleveland squad in his first outing. He wasn’t quite as sharp against the Mets the last time we saw him, but the weather made even some of the best pitchers in the game look bad in that series.

After that you get to see one of my personal favorites, Kyle Gibson. Gibby found consistency over the last season-and-a-half, mainly due to a wicked curveball. Prior to that, he was known for being an inconsistent pitcher, very good when he was on, but very hittable if he was off. This season he’s had a slow start, after contracting E. Coli on a humanitarian trip this winter he dropped 15 pounds, and missed a chunk of Spring Training. Despite being number four in the current rotation (again, due to illness) he is the Twins second-best starter.

The third pitcher we will run out is Jake Odorizzi. Your readers are likely familiar with him from his time in Tampa. He hasn’t had the greatest start to the season either, with a start in Philly lasting less than an inning. His last outing was better, but he had three runs hung on him, and he couldn’t make it out of the fifth inning. Prior to the fifth, he had been lights out, and there was some theories that he was upset due to being potentially pulled for a pinch hitter before going out for that inning.

For the last of the four games, you’ll see another pitcher who used to throw in the AL East. Michael Pineda was pretty darn good with the Yankees until he blew up his elbow. Last season, the Twins paid him to rehab the Tommy John, and so far this season he has rewarded that faith with some solid performances.

With Joe Mauer retired, who is playing first base? How is he doing?

I miss Joe. He made for such easy content to write. That being said, the Twins picked up C.J. Cron during the offseason after Tampa inexplicably put him on waivers. Cron easily won a spring training battle for the position with incumbent option Tyler Austin (now with the Giants) and NRI Lucas Duda (now with the Royals.) Cron has done reasonably well so far, at least based on the eye test. He might be a small step down from Joe Mauer’s gold-glove worthy defense (Hosmer didn’t deserve the GG in ‘17, not that I’m bitter or anything,) but Cron gets the balls he’s supposed to, and some he probably shouldn’t. He hit his first dinger of the year against Detroit this weekend as well, and has been swinging pretty decent lumber overall.

Who is your favorite Twin to watch and why?

The absolutely obvious answer here is Willians Astudillo. You’ve seen the highlights. There is nothing about that man that should work as a MLB player, yet it inexplicably does, and he always looks like he’s having a blast out there. Moving beyond that, Byron Buxton is an absolute blast to watch, because he’s blazing fast, and can rob some balls you think are gone. He’s also got a streak of 30+ stolen bases (I won’t say the actual number for jinx reasons, b-ref has the answers.) Jose Berrios is also a lot of fun, because he deals filth, and makes some great hitters look silly.

Who has the closer and setup roles? How confident are you in them?

The Twins are going with a closer-by-committee for now, and essentially the top three men in the bullpen can all fill the closer/set-up role. Right now the top three are Blake Parker, Trevor May, and Taylor Rogers. I have the most confidence in Rogers, of the three. He’s been sneaky good for the last year or so. May seems to be finally settling into a role after Tommy John a couple years ago. Parker has been shaky the last couple times out. Another name to watch is Trevor Hildenberger, I suspect he will earn his way into a position of trust this year, he had a good 2017, and a good start to 2018 before misuse caught up to him.

BONUS PREDICTION: The Twins win the series three games to one. Either Perez, Odorizzi, or both will have a weak start, and the bullpen won’t be able to hold. The Twins bats keep every game high-scoring.

Thanks TJ.