Upper Midwest fans of baseball woke up Monday morning still wondering this: "What exactly is this competent brand of baseball the Twins are playing, and can it continue?"
We will attempt, albeit briefly because the sample size is so small, to assess whether Minnesota started out 4-2 -- winning two series against 2012 playoff teams -- thanks to smoke and mirrors or other developments that could become a trend. When a team enters a season without being above .500 since the end of the 2010 season, these questions start getting asked early.
Because we'd like to end on an upswing, we'll start with the dash of cold water first:
*It's only 4-2. Even if these were quality teams (Detroit and Baltimore), that is waaaaaaay too few games to determine that the Twins are at least back to being respectable. After all, they had nine stretches of 4-2 play in 2012 and eight such stretches in 2011 (calculated as such that none of the stretches overlapped at all). Even the worst teams -- which describes the Twins both years since they had the fewest wins the AL both seasons -- can get it together for a week-long burst.
*Minnesota batted .364 with runners in scoring position against Baltimore compared to just .236 in all situations for the season. Some might call that bearing down in the clutch. Others might call it a bit of unsustainable short-term luck. Rallies have been fueled by the likes of Wilkin Ramirez and Eduardo Escobar.
Now, some good news:
*Although the starting pitching hasn't been great, it has at least shown the potential to be functional. Starters have given up 16 earned runs in 33 innings through six starts. That's an average of 2.7 runs in 5.5 innings. Again, that's not great. But it's a 4.36 ERA. Starters had a 5.40 ERA last year. So through the first week, the revamped rotation is at least an improvement. Nobody will confuse Vance Worley, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey with Justin Verlander, but they should at least keep Minnesota in more games than last year as long as they are healthy.
*The bullpen has given up just 6 ER in 20 innings. Outside of the rough patch in the first game against Baltimore, the 'pen has been outstanding.
*Minnesota has scored 28 runs in six games. Again, that's not a blistering pace. But while the clutch hitting numbers will certainly go down, the overall numbers will go up. The offense has more potential than it has shown so far, and still it's been good enough to score enough runs for Minnesota to be 4-2.
*The defense has been better. There are six errors in six games, which isn't good. But three were by catchers (two on Joe Mauer, one on Ryan Doumit) while one was on Worley. On the infield and in the outfield, the Twins have generally caught the ball. Chris Parmelee has been much less of a hindrance in right field than we might have guessed.
In all, we would say this: Don't start making playoff plans. Sure, it's nice to be tied atop the AL Central after one week, but a realist knows the team's ceiling is almost certainly lower than that. That said, is it out of place to think the Twins could beat Vegas projections of mid-to-high 60s wins? Absolutely. Could Minnesota creep up on .500 and put together the kind of bridge year the franchise sorely needs? Possibly.