Yes, it’s the middle of May. It’s still extremely early in the baseball season, but the Minnesota Twins have given fans some early optimism in the season.
After a dreadful 1-6 start which included an ugly opening series at Detroit and an even worse home opener, the Twins have made quite the bounce back. They’ve gone 17-8 since and were 18-14 heading into this week’s series at Detroit and Tampa Bay.
In a way-too-early look at the American League Central Divison, the Twins started the week just 2.5 games out of first place, one game behind the Tigers. The Twins recently swept the White Sox in a four-game series and enter this week having won nine of their past 11 games.
It’s given most Twins fans a serious question to ponder as we head into the summer: Do we wait for the inevitable tailspin that has taken place the last four seasons, or do we buy into the Twins this year as a possible playoff team?
Here are 10 reasons why the Twins are above .500 as we approach the end of the first quarter of the regular season, and why they could be relevant heading into August and September.
Decent Pitching Without Ervin Santana
Twins fans assumed the worst when free agent acquisition Ervin Santana was suspended for the first half of the season, but Minnesota’s starting pitching has stepped up in his absence. The Twins pitchers have the American League’s sixth best earned run average and are allowing less than a home run per game. They’re also averaging a little more than three walks per game.
Joe Mauer is being … Joe Mauer
Joe Mauer gets flack for his lack of power hitting, but all he’s done is produce at the plate for the Twins this year so far. In 31 games, he’s hitting .287 with 35 hits. Eight of those hits are doubles and he has 13 RBI. He also has one triple and is getting the hits knowing he won’t be getting good pitches to hit.
Torii Hunter is being … Torii Hunter
When the Twins brought back Torii Hunter to play outfield, his bad speed at 39 years old was questioned immediately. In 29 games, he’s hitting .287 with five home runs, seven doubles and a team-best 19 RBI. He’s the leader in the clubhouse and on the field for the Twins.
Relief Pitchers Are Holding Leads
When it comes to the bullpen, the Minnesota Twins are getting the job done, for the most part, when a starting pitcher leaves the game with a lead. The bullpen is statistically the fifth-best in the American League with a 3.33 earned run average and 12 saves. In 102.2 innings pitched, the Twins bullpen has allowed 38 earned runs and collected 64 strikeouts with 26 walks. Opponents are hitting .245 against the Twins bullpen, which has a 4-3 record.
Glen Perkins Perfect In Save Opportunities
The Twins have proven so far this year that they can win close games if they have the right guys on the mound. Glen Perkins has been among the best closers in baseball with 11 saves in 11 opportunities. He also hasn’t walked a batter yet this year and has 13 strikeouts in 14.1 innings. Perkins has allowed just two earned runs in 15 games.
Eddie Rosario Steps Up After Call-Up
Many Twins fans want top outfield prospect Byron Buxton in the big leagues, but Eddie Rosario got the promotion last week when Oswaldo Arcia went on the disabled list. In five games and 19 at-bats, Rosario has five hits and five RBI. He hit a home run on the first pitch he saw at Target Field. Rosario also has 10 putouts and threw a runner out at home plate in the series at Cleveland.
Mike Pelfrey Making Strides As A Starting Pitcher
A lot was made of Mike Pelfrey’s displeasure in Spring Training about starting the season in the bullpen. Pelfrey has stepped up to be one of the Twins best pitchers of 2015 so far. It hasn’t always been pretty, but he’s 3-0 with a 2.62 earned run average and has 16 strikeouts in 34.1 innings. He’s gotten enough defense behind him for the Twins to be successful.
Players Buying Into Paul Molitor’s Philosophy
After a 1-6 start and a series of bad games, the Twins appeared headed for another miserable season. But they turned things around quickly with enough pitching, hitting and solid defense to go 17-8 since. Players seem to be excited to be under the leadership of Paul Molitor, a former big leaguer himself. Molitor doesn’t hesitate to make changes and adjustments when something isn’t working, and the players seem to respect his decisions rather than just accept mediocrity.
Trevor Plouffe Off To A Fast Start Hitting, Fielding
Trevor Plouffe is off to arguably the best start of his career this season both in the field and at the plate. He’s hitting .269 and is tied for the team lead with five home runs. He also has five doubles and 17 RBI on the season. In 29 games at third base, Plouffe has had 93 total chances with 35 putouts, 57 assists and made just one error, so the confidence at the plate is translating to the field.
Brian Dozier Stepping Up After Contract Extension
Brian Dozier got a contract extension worked out during Spring Training, and he’s had a productive start. Despite hitting .244 in 31 games so far, Dozier has a .439 slugging percentage with four home runs, 10 doubles, a triple and 16 RBI. He’s also scored a team-high 25 runs. At second base, He hasn’t made a single error in 164 total chances. He’s had 66 putouts and 98 assists.
Now the question that remains is should Twins fans believe this group can compete this year, or will the last four years repeat itself into another lost summer at Target Field? We’re 32 games in, so it’s way too early to tell. We should know a lot more by the All-Star break.