T.S. Eliot once famously wrote that April is the cruelest month, and for the Twins that adage has held true over the past two years. Between 2011 and 2012, the team went 15-33 during the season's first month while watching devastating injuries pile up Ė from Tsuyoshi Nishioka's broken leg and Joe Mauer's bilateral leg weakness to Scott Baker's unscheduled Tommy John surgery.
Against that backdrop, the first four weeks of this 2013 campaign have been blissful, even if the club's performance has been more solid than great and the game-viewing conditions have been mostly horrible. With nearly a full month in the books, the Twins are above .500 and everybody's intact. And the temperatures are back in the 70s. Life is great.
But like the temperature, which is expected to return to depressingly frigid levels in a few days, the Twins' run of good fortune won't last forever. In fact, a harsh dose of reality may be in the offing as they head to Detroit to take on the three-headed monster named Scherzer-Verlander-Sanchez. That tough series opens a 10-game road trip that should prove telling. Can the Twins continue to add to the win column while plagued with so many problem areas?
The lineup has sputtered too often, ranking 10th in the AL in runs per game and 13th in OPS. The defense has been shaky, with inexperience manifesting in head-scratching miscues. The starting rotation, while on the surface seeming to be a vast improvement over last season, still presents major concerns, especially when you factor in the inevitable return to Earth for ace-of-the-moment Kevin Correia.
Yet none of that seems too pronounced. The baseball season is a long one, full of ebbs and flows, and right now the Twins are in a positive place, fresh off their most impressive accomplishment thus far.
A stacked Rangers team brought a 14-7 record into a town and tipped off a four-game series with two straight one-run victories. Surprisingly, the Twins recovered from that gut punch and bounced back to split the series with a pair of convincing wins, outscoring the Rangers 12-2. It marked the first time this year Texas has suffered consecutive losses.
For Minnesota, this was a statement series, and Correia's gem in the finale was a statement game. The Twins are charging ahead with their trademark formula: throw strikes, let 'em hit it, manufacture enough runs to come out on top. Their pitchers sport the league's lowest K/9 average (6.1) but also the league's lowest BB/9 (2.4). Right now, it's working well enough for them, in large part because their pitchers aren't giving up any homers. They've surrendered only 11 long balls, tied for fewest in the majors-- unsustainable for such a contact-heavy staff even if it is laden with sinker-ballers.
While that formula seems unlikely to hold up in the long run, an important thing might be that it's gotten them by until now. As I've frequently mentioned, this is a team that stands to get better as the season progresses, and we're seeing that dynamic unfold before our eyes. Aaron Hicks is gradually figuring things out, Oswaldo Arcia is showing promising early flashes, Kyle Gibson appears to be closing in on a promotion
and Alex Meyer is tearing up Double-A.
Entering the season, my thinking was that these early weeks would be the hardest on the Twins, as green rookies went through the usual growing pains and the reassembled rotation took its obligatory lumps. The club has weathered all that, and is still in position to wrap up the month with more victories than losses with a win Monday or Tuesday in Mo-town.
No one should be hoodwinked into thinking that the Twins are suddenly a surprise playoff contender because they've played well over their first 21 games, but staying afloat in this first month has been crucial. Recent brutal starts have put a hurt on the team's ticket sales and this year would have been especially toxic when combined with the nasty weather this month. Reversing the trend was a high priority.
Will this help set up the Twins to carry out their stated goal of remaining relevant into the final month of the season? Still a cloudy proposition, but with confidence building and impact help potentially on the way, it's hardly outlandish.