I'm fighting the urge to get too giddy about the Twins. I keep reminding myself there are 116 games to play and more than a few teams over, let's say, the last 116 years have put together a solid quarter-season or half-season before regressing to where people return to saying mean things about them.
What's happening now is 180 degrees away from the darkest path, when a good team starts out poorly and you keep waiting (and waiting and waiting) for a change for the better. Remember the 2011 Twins, the defending division champions who began the plunge into four seasons of darkness that sometimes felt like four decades?
Those Twins already 16 games under .500 at this point in the season.
My counsel right now is to have fun with what's happening and enjoy some of the things you didn't expect.
Here are a few of them:
The outfield defense is no longer the liability it was entering the season. If the "varsity" outfield remains Eddie Rosario in left, Aaron Hicks in center and Torii Hunter in right, that turns the outfield into an asset instead of a liability. That's because the guys who were in the minors at the start of the season are huge upgrades from the defense provided by Oswaldo Arcia and Jordan Schafer. Hicks lessens some pressure on Hunter in right field. (The defensive metric cousins Ultimate Zone Rating and :"UZR 150" aren't meant to provide keen single-season analysis -- or anything smaller -- but Hunter's horrendously negative numbers for 2014 have been replaced by a positive rating so far this season.)
A question facing the Twins will be what to do with Arcia when he returns. The answer may be "trade bait." There are numerous configurations for the Twins outfield in the seasons to come with Rosario, Hicks, Byron Buxton and Arcia. And whoever doesn't play third base when Miguel Sano is major-league ready (Sano vs. Trevor Plouffe) also becomes a right-field candidate.
Right now, my vote (for 2016 and beyond) is for Rosario in left, Buxton in center and Sano in right. The fun part, of course, is whether Hunter messes with that plan by continuing something close to his current pace, staying with the Twins and saying, "Hey, guys, what about me?" My vote come winter could be significantly different than it is right now.
Whatever, the debate over the future of the Twins outfield is a fun one.
Look at the MLB pitching statistics. Look at the 14 pitchers so far with an earned run average of less than 3.00. Hey, that's Kyle Gibson at 2.72. And, that's Mike Pelfrey at 2.77. Yes, Mike Pelfrey, the guy who was headed to the bullpen before the Ervin Santana drug suspension.
Gibson looks to be evolving into the pitcher than was promised in 2014 when he was elite in the starts when he wasn't flat-out terrible. Last season, there was no middle ground to Gibson's starts. This season, he's battled through patches when he was falling apart in 2014. As for Pelfrey, he has pitched like the guy who mixed in a couple of good seasons among his weaker work during his New York Mets years -- a career arc that looks a little bit like the Phil Hughes years with the Yankees.
Again, the Twins have issues based on competition. Right now, that would be the 0.28 ERA Tommy Milone has put together in four Class AAA Rochester starts (one earned run in 31 2/3 innings, with 41 strikeouts and two walks). And it would be Jose Berrios, the first-round draft choice from 2012 who has been dominant at Class AA Chattanooga. Something is bound to happen during the months to come where another starter or two will be needed, and it's good to know that it won't be someone about whom we'll need to utter a prayer for every pitch. (Andrew Albers, Yohan Pino and a few others.)
Molitor's managing. Without being able to produce evidence, I am fairly certain the Twins are using advanced statistics on a day-to-day basis more often than in the past. If not, then Molitor is a savant instead of just a very, very smart baseball guy. There's an entire post in the moves and tweaks he's made this season, deciding when to sit players and when to get others in the lineup.
I'm not going there right now. I'm just going to roll with the idea that Molitor knows what he's doing when he builds the Twins lineup on a daily basis. There will be times when people are puzzled (Joe Mauer sitting out two games last week when the Twins had two off days, for example) on playing against platoon percentages.
But a 28-18 record trumps second guessing -- all the more when you wouldn't have been surprised if the Twins were 18-28 right now. There are a lot of debates about the Twins and their future, but right now they can be held in good spirits instead of wondering what will be next to go wrong.