The Minnesota Twins have had three of the worst years (2011-2013) in franchise history, but this year there have been hints that this year might be different. In April the had a win-loss record of 12-11 (.522) and averaged 5.57 runs per game. The downside was that starting pitchers had a 6.02 ERA.
In May, the pitching got better; starters threw a very good 4.03 ERA. Unfortunately the bats went ice-cold. Runs per game were down to 3.17, and Twins lagged behind their opponents by 27 runs. The month ended with a 13-16 (.448) record.
June is off to a bang with one of the most exciting wins the Twins have seen in years!
There are a number of really cool things about today’s game in New York against the Yankees, but it really starts with the first game in the series last Friday evening.
In that game, pitcher Ricky Nolasco and the bullpen held the Pin Stripes to only one run (in the third inning). Twins got on the board in the second inning with a solo home run by Oswaldo Arcia — who just returned from the Disabled List.
Josh Willingham — also newly returned from the DL — went yard in the fourth. So did Trevor Plouffe, with a two-run homer that put the Twins up 4-1. A couple singles in the eighth drove in two more runs, so the Twins won the series opener 6-1.
It’s not surprising that a team wins when they score runs. Twins are 14-2 (.875) when they score more than five runs, but 12-26 (.316) on five runs or less. Unfortunately, only just a hair under 30% of their games score that many runs.
Saturday afternoon, for the second game, the Twins had to face the Yankees’ new ace pitcher from Japan: the fearsome, awesome Masahiro Tanaka! (Man, can that guy pitch!) In the first inning, the Twins were fooled into thinking they had a chance when they managed to score one run, but that was all they got!
Twins starter Kevin Correia had a pretty good outing, only giving up one (home) run. But then reliever Brian Duensing (usually one of our best) gave up two runs, and the Yanks won 3-1, tying the series.
So today was the rubber match, and what a game it was! Not just the best game this season, but the best game in years!
It started looking like a loss for the Twins. They got on the board with an RBI single in the third, but the Yankees answered with a pair of runs in the fourth. And then there were a lot of zeros for both sides. Until the ninth!
The Twins came into the top of the ninth down 2-1. If one of God’s gifts to baseball, Mariano Rivera, was still the Yankees’ closer, that would almost certainly have been it. But fortunately for us, Rivera retired last year (the last player still wearing Jackie Robinson‘s universally retired number, #42).
The inning begins with Josh Willingham hitting a solo home run on the very first pitch, tying the game! Two strike outs and two walks later (funny how many bad things happen with two outs in the inning), a Brian Dozier RBI double puts the Twins ahead 3-2.
Joe Mauer is walked, so the Eduardo Nunez double scores two more runs, and now it’s 5-2! Then Oswaldo Arcia singles and drives in two more: 7-2!
With all nine Twins having batted, Willingham returns to the plate and flies out to end the inning. Our reliever, Caleb Thielbar, comes in, shuts down the Yankees with a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth, and the WIN is put back in the Twins!
With the two wins in New York, the Twins have a 26-28 (.481) record, so the first third (54 games) of the season ends with the Twins only two games below the important .500 mark. As a comparison, starting in 2010, at this point in the season they’ve been 31-22 (.585), 17-37 (.315), 21-33 (.389) and 25-29 (.463), so you can see why this is a little exciting. It’s not 2010, but it’s not those other years, either!
One very cool thing is that the pitching win goes to our new pitching ace, Phil Hughes, who was a Yankees pitcher from 2007-2013. He was not well-regarded by fans in New York, so his outing today was a bit of a triumphant “Screw You” to those fans. As of today, he’s sporting an ERA of 3.12!
As described above, Eduardo Nunez, also a Yankee (2010-2013), but now a Twin, was instrumental in that ninth inning ambush. He’d been brought in as pinch-runner in the eight. So two former Yankees helped us beat them in an incredible game to kick off June.
Both of the games we won, the Twins won by five runs. The one we lost was only by two runs. The total over all three games is 14-6, giving the Twins an eight-run advantage.
They averaged 4.67 games per game, which isn’t great, but isn’t bad, either! (They had 5.57 R/G in April, but only 3.17 in May.) They had a runs per plate appearance of 12.28%. (Not quite up to the April stat of 13.57%, but much better than the 8.49% in May!)
You can see from their basic plate stats that hitting can improve. In the three-game series they batted .226/.281/.377 (AVG/OBP/SLG). But what makes Twins fans very, very happy is the 1.80 ERA for starters (awesome) and the 3.00 ERA for the bullpen (for a team total of 2.08 ERA). Also very, very nice is that starters are pitching to over 75% of batters faced and innings pitched.
Pitching has finally come to Minnesota! If this persists, and the bats get hot again, who knows what can happen to this team. The AL Central division is so close right now (7.5 game spread) that almost anyone can take the pennant. Only the NL East is tighter (with a 4.0 game spread).
And here’s one more very cool thing: This is the first time the Twins have won back-to-back series in New York since 1968! Last year we won a three-game series 2-1, June 12-14, and this year we did it again, May 30-June 1.
With the season exactly one-third over, maybe — just maybe — Twins fans can dream dreams. Regardless, today was one for the memory books!