CHICAGO – The baseball season is almost two months old, enough time for teams to figure out what they have.
What the Twins are finding out is that their pitching is improved, they can hit good pitching and they don’t let bad losses linger.
They are loose, they are laughing and they are seven games over .500 after beating the White Sox 8-1 at U.S. Cellular Field on Sunday. They took two of three games in Chicago to complete a 4-1 road trip.
Brian Dozier smashed two home runs: a leadoff homer on the second pitch of the game and a three-run shot in the seventh inning. Kyle Gibson gave up only a solo home run to Jose Abreu over eight innings to improve to 4-3 and lower his ERA to 2.72.
After losing 3-2 on Friday, the Twins ended up one Phil Hughes fielding play away from sweeping the series and the road trip.
“We should have swept,” said Dozier, whose nine home runs lead the team. “We had that [Friday] game won, we feel like.”
They are 15-6 in May, their most victories in a month since July 2011. And they still have six games this month.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in here,” Gibson said. “We have been saying that even after the 1-6 start that we like our team and we like the leaders in here. And we fight. It’s what we do.”
Some with the club believe that, in recent years, a loss such as Friday’s would have leaked into the next game. But now they have Torii Hunter yelling such words as: “We lost. Big deal! We get to play another game tomorrow.”
Saturday, the Twins rebounded by beating Chicago ace Chris Sale for the second time this year. Their strong play carried into Sunday, when they beat Jose Quintana, who had not given up more than two runs in each of his previous five outings. Against the Twins, the lefthander was torched for seven runs, six earned, in six innings.
“The one thing we have done well through  games is we have stayed away from the long droughts, other than the first week,” said Twins manager Paul Molitor, whose team is 7-3 against the White Sox. “A lot of that goes to leadership as well as the fact that our starting pitching finds ways to bounce back and give us a chance to win.”
Gibson (4-3) has done that more often than not. Sunday, he gave up one run on four hits with no walks and eight strikeouts, tying a career high. Abreu’s homer is the only run off Gibson in 16 innings against the White Sox this season.
His outing is the latest in a run of Twins starts that has kept the workload down in the bullpen. Sunday marked the eighth consecutive outing by a Twins starter of at least five innings. True, outings of six or seven innings should be expected. But the Twins teams of recent years have been marked by some of the worst starting pitching in the majors. Molitor noted the improvement when asked if the team is playing the way he envisioned coming out of spring training.
“The things I did envision that have happened is that our starting pitching would be better, that we have a chance to compete almost daily,” Molitor said. “We have had a few blowouts along the way. I thought last year, even in losing 92 games, that most days we competed and we found a lot of ways to lose games, particularly the later stages of games.”
The Twins have minimized that some by scoring first in 24 of their 43 games, including all five games of this road trip. After Dozier’s blast got them going early against Quintana (2-5), they scored four runs in the fourth, including a two-run single by Eddie Rosario. Dozier finished the scoring by greeting reliever Scott Carroll with a three-run homer for his second career two-homer game.
There’s now seven weeks of evidence pointing to them being as good as they think they are.
“You just have to be relentless about how you go about it,” Molitor said. “Each day brings a new challenge. There’s a lot of things to like about how things are going, but you’ve got to take a step back and realize how much work you have left to do.”