Twins close out spring with loss, head to regular season betting they're better

Players believe their lineup is strong enough to overcome pitching issues.

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Boston’s David Renfroe stepped on third base to force the Twins’ Aaron Hicks on a grounder by Trevor Plouffe on Saturday.

Photo: Photos by Elise Amendola • Associated Press ,

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– The Twins on Saturday closed out the spring training schedule with a 4-2 loss to the Red Sox at JetBlue Park, then headed for a regular season in which they believe they’ll be a better team than last year.

How much better? That’s what everyone wants to know.

They didn’t make splashy free-agent signings. They are relying on inexperience in the middle infield and center field. And those closely following the team are practically overlooking this season to when the wave of talent from the farm system will start rolling in.

These Twins are living in the present. So, at this point, they are not under .500.

“Once that first pitch is made, it’s a new season and everyone has a chance,’’ said first baseman Justin Morneau, who enters a season without serious health issues for the first time since 2010. “We made some good additions, some veteran presence and hopefully it will be a good year for us.’’

Morneau hit .287 with three homers and 11 RBI in spring training games. His buddy Joe Mauer batted .452 with a .553 on-base percentage. When both play, the Twins have been tough to beat. Both feeling as good as they have in years has many optimistic that the offense will be above average.

Josh Willingham, who hit 35 homers last season, will bat between them. Aaron Hicks, who will bat leadoff, has very good plate discipline and is being mentioned among contenders for the AL Rookie of the Year award.

“Coming in here, everyone talked about how this team can put up runs, and I truly believe that,’’ said Mike Pelfrey, who gave up four runs over 3⅔ innings Saturday. “I think the bullpen is going to be rock solid. It’s a matter of us starters keeping them in the game and giving us a chance and I think we’re going to do that.

“It’s all about what we believe in the clubhouse and not what people believe outside of it. I think we have a lot of doubters, not that we need motivation, but it definitely adds a little more.’’

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire also is confident the offense will be productive. He has praised the defensive work of Hicks in center, Pedro Florimon at short and Brian Dozier at second. Gardenhire said it’s up to the starters to stay in games longer than last season, when the rotation had the second-highest ERA in baseball.

And, he believes, there is nothing wrong with having a chip on your shoulder. So the players who have been around for 195 losses the previous two seasons should be looking to make someone pay.

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