SAN FRANCISCO – ESPN’s Buster Olney offered the theory in spring training that the Twins were facing the toughest 40-game stretch to open the season in the major leagues. The analysis was based on the Twins facing 22 road games and 31 games against winning teams from 2014 in the first quarter of the schedule.
The number of games was reduced to 39 — 22 on the road, 30 against winning teams — when an April home game vs. Detroit was postponed to Aug. 23.
The Twins were 19-20 after beating the Tigers on May 15. They followed by winning two of three vs. Seattle last weekend at Target Field, and then won twice at San Diego.
It was after the second of those victories on Wednesday night when closer Glen Perkins was engaged in a bus-ride conversation with other veteran players.
“We were talking about how it almost feels strange to be competitive,” Perkins said. “After three years where we were so beaten down that they felt like six years, it’s unusual — in a good way, obviously — to come to the park every night knowing you have a good chance to win.”
Perkins was saying this on Friday night, in the visitors clubhouse at AT&T Park, after the Twins lost 6-2 to the Giants. The Twins were in trouble from the first inning, when blunders on the bases (Brian Dozier), in the field (Trevor Plouffe) and on the mound (Kyle Gibson) gave the home team a 3-0 head start.
Yet, even a clunker like this one didn’t leave the Twins with the same hopeless look that was the trademark of 291 losses from 2011 through 2013. They were a gapper from being back in the game a couple of times, and there are a few guys that you actually think have a chance to produce such a hit.
“We’ve had players get better this season,” Perkins said. “That didn’t happen in 2011, didn’t happen in 2012, and it didn’t happen last season. Now, Dozier is better, Plouffe is better … [Eduardo] Escobar, once he started playing, has been a lot better.
“I don’t know if it’s the new coaches we’ve brought in over the past two years, don’t know what it is. But you see our hitters taking much better at-bats.
“And there’s more improvement on the way. Oswaldo [Arcia] is going to be here on Monday. He’s still a big kid, but I can tell you: He wants it bad, and he’s going to hit.”
Arcia was eligible to be recalled from Class AAA Rochester for Saturday’s game. On Friday, he went 3-for-5 with a three-run homer, a ground-rule double and four RBI for the Red Wings. He did this in a road game vs. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, located two hours by car from Philadelphia.
As Twins followers are aware, this baseball front office has a tendency to treat cross-country travel as though it takes place by rail. My research revealed Arcia could have caught a 7:50 a.m. flight out of Philadelphia on Saturday and arrived at SFO before noon for a night game.
Yeah, but why bother to get the hottest bat in Class AAA in the lineup against San Francisco, the team with the best record in the major leagues, when you can have Arcia make a shorter flight to MSP for Monday’s game with Texas?
Arcia’s big night in Scranton was mentioned to a grumpy Ron Gardenhire after Friday’s loss. The manager was asked if plans had changed — if the Twins now were going to put Arcia on one of those newfangled jet airplanes and get him to AT&T Park for Games 2 and 3 of this series.
“No, but I think we’re going to see him Monday … Oswaldo and Josh Willingham, who also hit a home run tonight,” Gardenhire said.
OK, Monday then: Arcia hits fourth behind Dozier, Joe Mauer and Plouffe. Willingham, Jason Kubel and Josmil Pinto share fifth and sixth in a LF/DH combination. Kurt Suzuki, Escobar and Aaron Hicks hit 7, 8 and 9.
Hicks is a void in the lineup, and there’s absolutely no option for now in center field. Beyond that, it’s a more competitive collection than was anticipated as the Twins started the toughest opening stretch in baseball.
Reason: Players have improved. And Glen Perkins says Twins observers will see more of this with Arcia’s return.