Minnesota Twins fans have enjoyed a wonderful four-day weekend to begin the merry month of May! After a very rough and disappointing first week, the Twins have been playing increasingly better baseball, and topped it off by sweeping the Chicago White Sox in a four-game home stand.
The icing on the cake was an absolutely gorgeous spring weekend with sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s. The Thursday and Friday evening games were a little cooler with temps in the mid-60s, but Minnesotans are hardy people. We wear shorts and tee-shirts in 40-degrees!
The question with the Twins these days is: Can this possibly continue?
Baseball fans (or even regular readers of this blog) know that the Twins have been something of a no-account team for the last five years or so. They pulled off a Division win in 2010 only to go down to the Yankees 1-2-3 in the ALDS.
But a key element in baseball — one (of many) that I dearly love — is the pervasive philosophy that yesterday is gone, focus on today. This plays out on a day-to-day basis; the team that lost yesterday believes they will win today. It also happens on a moment-to-moment basis; a bad pitch, or a bad play, is put behind in order to focus on the next pitch or play.
And it plays out from year to year. A team that had a bad year looks at the new year as a fresh start (and frequently, teams vary radically from season to season).
Of course, baseball players are human — and many young men not fully matured emotionally — so there are sometimes bad feelings and grudges and rivalries.
(Those who follow the sport saw the Kansas City Royals causing some waves in the first month of the season. And we’ve seen a bit of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks antipathy as well. Lots of “accidentally” hit batters!)
The Twins, on the other hand, reek of “Minnesota Nice” — so much so that it sometimes seems they hate to see other teams go away disappointed. (One definition of “heartbreak” is: Watching a 7-3 lead turn into a 7-10 loss when four innings worth of relief pitches give up what should have been a won game.)
But before telling you about how May began with three straight wins, for contrast let me tell you how April began with three straight losses.
Our season started with a three-game series in Detroit against the Tigers.
Now the Detroit Tigers are a very strong team, and I imagine the best most hoped for was a good fight and some close games. What it was, unfortunately, was a rout. The Twins scored only one run in three games (so they were shut out twice). The Tigers racked up 22.
And our stats were awful, just awful. Twins were batting .151 with an OBP of only .177 and a slugging percentage of .172 (which is horrendous). What that means is that, not only were they having a lot of trouble hitting the ball, when they did manage to connect, they didn’t hit it very well. (Slugging percentage is essentially a measure of extra base hits — doubles, triples, home runs.)
Compare that to the Tigers hitting .343 with an OBP of .420 and a .559 slugging percentage! As I said, those Detroit Kitties have sharp claws.
To put this another way, the Twins averaged 0.33 runs per game (ouch!) while the Tigers averaged 7.33 runs per game (as a reference point, the MLB average is usually around 4 to 5).
The Twins were so cold at the plate that only 1.04% percent of plate appearances resulted in runs coming in. (Only 14.58% resulted in hits at all, and 20.83% of PAs resulted in strike outs. Really bad at the plate, is my point!)
What about pitching you ask? Our starters racked up an 11.37 ERA (and a 2.53 WHIP). It’s hard to be much worse than that. The bullpen managed a 3.97 ERA, which isn’t great, but isn’t disastrous either). But overall the club had a 7.88 ERA, and that is a disaster. And two of our three starters never made it to the fourth inning!
Then we went to Chicago to play the White Sox, and while we lost two of three, our numbers actually looked a lot better (the Chi-Sox appear to be struggling a bit this year, too). Twins hit .238 and managed to turn 10.17% of PAs into runs.
Pitching started looking up, too. Starters went deeper into games and managed a 3.38 ERA (1.07 WHIP). On the other hand, the bullpen slipped and threw 5.68 ERA (1.42 WHIP). But still, that brought the team ERA down to 3.96.
So a little sunshine there, but those six away games left us with these stats:
Which all makes it look like a pretty bad year for the Twins. They fired long-time manager Ron Gardenhire (and much of the coaching staff) last year and promoted first base coach (and Hall of Fame player) Paul Molitor to manager.
A lot of people have been wondering what effect that would have on the Twins. Out of the gate, it was looking like the answer was: Not Much.
The thing is, managers are the visible target for team performance, but the players and front office actually have a greater impact. Most fans agree the real Twins problem is the front office.
But as April progressed things seemed to slowly improve. It never became a winning month, but by the end of it the stats looked like this:
Which is a visible improvement. Pitching looked better over the month, too, with a 4.41 team ERA (4.50 starters, 4.24 bullpen). For years the Twins have had bad, or at best, inconsistent, pitching, and this year doesn’t seem to be much different.
For the most part, that first week aside, Twins baseball didn’t hurt too much to watch, although I did find myself doing other things while having the games on in the background.
Spring has also had a slow start in these parts. Temperatures hung out in the 40s and 50s for the most part. The end of last week brought us a warming trend, both in the skies and on the baseball diamond.
Last Thursday kicked off a four-game series hosting the Chi-Sox. The Twins had already hosted the Tigers in a three-game series that started last Monday and managed to win one of those games.
Overall they didn’t get beat up too badly there. They hit .308/.336/.423 (which isn’t bad), but the pitching wasn’t good (5.33 team ERA). But they got 14 runs while only giving up 17 (with 12.50% PAs resulting in runs and 28.57% resulting in hits). Certainly way better than the opening series in Detroit!
Thursday they exploded!
They beat up the Sox 12-2 in a great game. First two innings gave them a run apiece. The Sox answered in the top third with two of their own. The Twins said, “I don’t think so,” and batted in seven runs in the bottom of that inning!
That took out Sox pitcher Chris Sale after only three innings, and the Twins kept the Sox from scoring any more runs but picked up three more in the eighth.
Twelve runs was a season high, and so was the ten-run win. Twins fans were grinning ear to ear.
Friday was a much harder game, but the Twins won it 1-0. (In many ways a one-run game is a real nail-biter!)
Saturday had a bit more hitting, and the Twins won that one 5-3. They’d had a three-game winning streak in mid-April, but never against the same team.
Sunday they really beat the Sox into the ground. Seven runs in the third, four more in the fourth, and yet two more in the sixth. The Twins won that game 13-3.
The stats on the four-game series are pretty sweet:
Our third baseman, Trevor Plouffe, who’s been really improving as a ball player during his tenure with the Twins, hit his first Grand Slam on Sunday. That was the beginning of a seven-run third inning, and it was awesome (especially for him). Plouffe has turned out to be a solid corner man good defensively as well as at the dish.
We’ve also got Brian Dozier on second base, and he’s also a reliable offensive and defensive performer responsible for a lot of the team’s success.
On the other hand, our DH (Kennys Vargas) has struggled to get his BA up to .208 and our short stop (Danny Santana) is striking out in nearly 30% of his plate appearances and has 8 errors on the season so far!
The big question was whether this weekend was a sign of times to come or just a statistical bump that will even out. It could go either way. There is a new manager with a different philosophy and (according to some) a better rapport with younger players. (He definitely seems more affable to me; Gardy could be kinda grouchy sometimes.)
There is also that the Twins have had some talent in their farm system. Most analysts have been saying they will do much better in 2015 than they have for a while, and 2016 is expected to be even better.
I hope so. It’s been a long and painful four years!