MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Twins still have the worst record in the American League. Still in last place in their division, 12 games below the .500 mark. Still missing most of their stars to injury.
Yet the energy has returned to their clubhouse. They’ve won nine of their last 11 games to cut the deficit in the AL Central from 16 1/2 games to nine for a team with a history of second-half comebacks.
As lousy as they played in April and May, well, plenty of time remains to rally in a division that no one has taken hold of.
“Winning breeds confidence,” said Michael Cuddyer, one of the key cogs in a lineup that has increased its production significantly after a lifeless start.
Delmon Young has started to hit, too, and Ben Revere and Alexi Casilla are providing the speed the Twins wanted to bring back this year to better balance their offensive attack.
Starting pitching has fueled the revival, highlighted by Francisco Liriano’s flirtation with a no-hitter that helped the Twins win a four-game series against defending AL champion Texas. The Twins have a 2.02 ERA in June, the best in baseball.
The patched-together bullpen has been steadier since the month began and the brigade of fill-ins from Triple-A Rochester has played better. Joe Mauer and Tsuyoshi Nishioka are expected to be in the first wave of players coming back from the disabled list this week.
“It’s about having fun coming to the ballpark, wanting to get here and wanting be a part of something,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I think we’re starting to get that feeling pretty good.”
The Twins have already used 39 players this year, several of whom have been called up from the minors more than once. One of the biggest sparks has come from the smallest guy on the roster, the 5-foot-9 rookie Revere. The former first-round draft pick has contributed speed on the base paths, clutch hitting and strong defense in the outfield.
He made the play of the weekend in Saturday’s win over the Rangers, racing right and extending his 170-pound body horizontally above the grass to make a diving, eyes-closed catch of a line drive in the gap.
Revere’s second stint with the Twins matches the stretch exactly over which they’ve won these nine of 11. After they fell 20 games under .500 by losing on the first day of June, Revere arrived and has batted .292 (14 for 48) with nine runs scored, four RBIs and three stolen bases.
“It’s been great to contribute, with this team,” Revere told reporters over the weekend. “Right now, we’ve got so many guys hurt. Just imagine when these guys get back what we can do.”
Gardenhire even dropped Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett’s name in comparison when discussing Revere’s impact over the weekend.
“He’s not afraid to take a little criticism, but it doesn’t affect the way he likes to get after it,” the manager said. “He doesn’t back away from anything, which is really something that you need in this game, because you’re going to have some of those issues as a young player. You’re going to be told a lot of different things. It’s a big learning process. He’s not afraid to listen and learn and understand when he makes a mistake, and he tries to get better afterward. That’s a good thing.
Though Revere has a below-average throwing arm and little power-hitting potential, both traits that Puckett carried, he has the same type of attitude and charisma.
“By no means am I comparing him to like a Kirby Puckett as a player yet, but that smile: He’s got that smile when he comes in, and he’s happy to be here,” Gardenhire said.
That’s been apparent in most of the replacements, lately.
“They were thrown in the fire, we weren’t winning, and I think they were getting some of the blame,” said Denard Span, one of five regulars currently on the disabled list. “I think now they’re just relaxed and realizing that this is the same game it was in A-ball, Double-A, Triple-A. So just come up here and get to work. They’re rallying with each other.”
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