We're not going to let ourselves get too carried away with the Twins being in first place (by two percentage points) one-quarter of the way into this season. But there are a few interesting nuggets to point out when comparing this season's team to the pathetic 2016 version that actually had to improve its winning percentage after the first 40 games to finish with 103 losses. Here are five of them.
The 2016 Twins were 10-30 after 40 games last season, compared with 22-18 after 40 games in 2017. That pace, had it continued, would have yielded 120 or 121 losses had it continued for the full 162 games, which would have been among the worst records ever compiled by a major league team. That fans are picking apart strategy from time to time rather than exhibiting an overall sense of despair counts as remarkable improvement.
Ervin Santana has struggled in his last three starts compared with the first half-dozen. But nine starts into this season he is among baseball's leaders with a 2.07 ERA and a 6-2 record. At this time last year, on his way to winning seven games all season, he was 1-4 with a 4-12 ERA. This year, he has put 54 runners on base in 61 innings. last year through nine starts, it was 70 runners in only 48 innings. Batters have a .241 on-base percentage against him compared to .340 at this time in 2016. You don't need to do a deep dive to find Santana among baseball's top pitchers.
Five guys who aren't here. Through the first quarter of 2016, we were watching a pitching staff that included Ricky Nolasco, Tommy Milone, Kevin Jepsen, Michael Tonkin and Casey Fien. Tonkin was the only one who earned a look by the Twins in 2017 and now he's gone. We'll spare you some of the other names who have come and gone. Some things are better forgotten.
But what about Casey Fien? The Twins ridded themselves on Fien last May after he compiled a 7.90 ERA and had given up five home runs to the 63 batters he faced. After finished up the season with Dodgers, Fien spent this April with Seattle. He faced 29 batters -- giving up three home runs, four walks and nine hits. That made for a 15.00 ERA in six innings. Now he's in the minor leagues pitching for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, the Class AAA team of the Phillies.
And Byung Ho Park? After all the angst -- from media, fans and players -- about Park's fine spring not getting him a spot on the team, Park is hitting .226 at Class AAA Rochester. Would you rather have him instead of Kennys Vargas right now? Or Robbie Grossman, who grabbed a roster spot that could have other gone to Park?
Didn't think so.