Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.

Section 219: Glimmers of sunshine from the Twins

Posted by: Howard Sinker Updated: April 23, 2013 - 9:32 AM

Almost half of the starting lineup is hitting below .210 and Joe Mauer is the only everyday player hitting above .254. Two of the new starting pitchers have ERAs above 7 and the weather hasn't exactly been conducive to getting on a good baseball groove.

Still, the Twins are 8-7 -- and have done it without playing a schedule of losers.

If you need a quick comparison, the 2012 Twins were 5-10 after 15 games and about to start a massive skid that would turn the season into irrelevance. It took more than twice as many games (31, to be exact) for the Twins to win their first eight games last season, which pretty much countered any notion than the 2010 flop was caused by the "perfect storm of injuries" that became company jargon.

Don't mistake the first 15 games for proof of a turnaround. But if you want some reasons for encouragement, let me provide you with some to use on your friends who haven't started paying attention and may hit you with a question or two about how things are going.

*Joe Mauer is batting second and should continue to bat second until his twins-in-utero are ready for college. It is much better for the Twins to have Mauer batting second and Gardy trying to figure out how to work the lineup behind Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham -- in others words from fifth on down. Let this last another couple of weeks and we can celebrate to end of the Revere, Punto and friends in the second spot. (If you needed a reminder of what that was like, there was Jeff Keppinger batting second for the White Sox over the weekend.)

I suspect some of you have been flinching at Mauer's relatively high strikeout rate so far this season -- 18.3 percent compared with 13.7 percent last season and 9 percent in 2010. But can you give a quick answer to the question: "How many double plays Mauer has grounded into so far this season?" If you answered "one," that's one too many. Mauer grounded into 23 double plays in 2012. I'll take the tradeoff. (Despite Aaron Hicks' struggles, Mauer has batted with runners on base about 45 percent of the time so far this season, compared with about 49 percent in 2012. Also, he batted more frequently with two outs in 2012 -- when he couldn't hit into double plays -- than he has so far this season.)

*There are two shortstops who are better fielders than anything the Twins have used at that position since J.J. Hardy left. The Orioles didn't need Pedro Florimon because they have Hardy and the White Sox had little use for Eduardo Escobar because of Alexei Ramirez. Between the two of them, the Twins may fashion something better-than-average from a couple of scraps. Their offensive numbers are certain to diminish, but when you consider the shortstops before and after Hardy, they should continue to be an upgrade. (Plus, I no longer have to listen to the yammering about Francisco Liriano's potential. For the Twins, "traded to Pittsburgh" is more than a punchline from the movie "42.")

*The bullpen currently has no room for guys filling spots just because there's nobody better. Tyler Robertson didn't last a week and Alex Burnett and his incredible shrinking strikeout rate are gone -- first to Toronto and then from Toronto to Baltimore. Go back and look at the 24 pitchers who appeared in games last season and you'll see some true ugliness, some names that simply shouldn't be said in the same sentence as "major league pitcher."

*The starting pitching, at its best, will be a collection of No. 2 and 3 starters. That doesn't sound like much, but if things work out, that's pretty much what the Twins had while managing to contend in the first three seasons after Johan Santana left. The Twins aren't going to need a fifth starter until next week and, while Pedro Hernandez is the current No. 5, there are several options just off stage. Between the major league upgrades and pitchers-in-waiting in the minors, it looks like the Twins have moved beyond the "Well, who do you expect us to pitch?" phase, both in the rotation and in relief.

In Chicago, the Twins won despite flawed play: Leaving 15 runners on base Saturday and the double that clanged off Josh Willingham's glove on Sunday. Last year, those events would likely have stood out as key moments in losses. Those were overshdowed on Saturday by  Vance Worley and the bullpen and on Sunday by Willingham's bases-loaded double that turned a 2-2 tie into a 5-2 lead.

That's my short list after 15 games. The Twins have managed 8-7 while being very patient with Hicks, checking out the youngster Oswaldo Arcia and breaking in unproven players (Brian Dozier and Chris Parmelee) at new positions. Things could look very different after the next 15, which include four games against Texas starting Thursday and a Detroit-Cleveland-Boston road trip.

For now, though, having reasons to pay close attention feels like a victory.

 

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HR: MIN- None DET- I.Kinsler (17)

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San Francisco - WP: M. Bumgarner 8 FINAL
Pittsburgh - LP: E. Volquez 0
Minnesota 7:25 PM
Green Bay
Buffalo 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Detroit
Chicago 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Cleveland 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
St. Louis 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Atlanta 10/5/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Tampa Bay 10/5/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Houston 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Dallas
Baltimore 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Pittsburgh 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Arizona 10/5/14 3:05 PM
Denver
Kansas City 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
NY Jets 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Diego
Cincinnati 10/5/14 7:30 PM
New England
Seattle 10/6/14 7:30 PM
Washington
Washington 1 FINAL
Buffalo 6
Carolina 3 FINAL
Columbus 6
Pittsburgh 2 FINAL
Detroit 0
Montreal 3 FINAL
Chicago 1
Arizona 2 FINAL
Edmonton 3
Fla Atlantic 6:00 PM
FIU
UCF 6:00 PM
Houston
Arizona 9:30 PM
(2) Oregon
Louisville 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Syracuse
San Diego St 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Utah State 10/3/14 9:15 PM
(18) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(12) Miss State
Ball State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Army
Iowa State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(21) Oklahoma State
Marshall 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Old Dominion
Southern Miss 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Middle Tennessee
(20) Ohio State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Maryland
Purdue 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Florida 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
SMU 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(22) East Carolina
Virginia Tech 10/4/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Eastern Mich 10/4/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Texas 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Indiana
Massachusetts 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Tulsa 10/4/14 2:00 PM
Colorado State
New Mexico 10/4/14 2:30 PM
TX-San Antonio
(3) Alabama 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(11) Ole Miss
(14) Stanford 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(9) Notre Dame
(17) Wisconsin 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Navy 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
(7) Baylor 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Texas
(4) Oklahoma 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(25) TCU
Wake Forest 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
NC State 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Clemson
Buffalo 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Bowling Green
Ohio U 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Central Mich
Oregon State 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Colorado
Vanderbilt 10/4/14 3:00 PM
(13) Georgia
Kansas 10/4/14 3:00 PM
West Virginia
Kent State 10/4/14 4:00 PM
Northern Ill
South Alabama 10/4/14 5:00 PM
Appalachian St
Texas-El Paso 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
(15) LSU 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(5) Auburn
UAB 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Ky
Texas Tech 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(23) Kansas State
Michigan 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rutgers
Hawaii 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rice
Toledo 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Mich
ULM 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Georgia State 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
Idaho 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Texas State
Memphis 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Arizona State 10/4/14 6:30 PM
(16) USC
So Carolina 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Kentucky
Pittsburgh 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Virginia
Miami-Florida 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Georgia Tech
(19) Nebraska 10/4/14 7:00 PM
(10) Michigan State
UNLV 10/4/14 7:00 PM
San Jose St
Ga Southern 10/4/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Utah 10/4/14 9:30 PM
(8) UCLA
Boise State 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
Winnipeg 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Edmonton 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Hamilton 10/10/14 6:00 PM
Toronto
Ottawa 10/11/14 9:00 PM
Brt Columbia
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