It’s been an exciting season so far for the Twins, who sit at 48-40 and are in position for an AL wild-card spot after Saturday’s 9-5 victory over the Tigers, a day after they came back from a six-run deficit to beat Detroit 8-6.
Paul Molitor was asked if he thought his team would be performing this well in his first season as manager.
“I wasn’t exactly sure of how this team would form over the course of a season. Obviously, I tried to be optimistic about having a vision of players that I felt were getting better last year, even in a losing season,” Molitor said. “I saw some things that I thought we could build on. I think the biggest plus for us so far is we couldn’t have hoped for our starting rotation to pitch as well as they have here. That has been the biggest reason we’ve been a better team, is our pitching. We’ve had offense up and down throughout the year, but our pitching has been fairly consistent throughout the year, and that has given us a chance.”
Molitor appears to have made the right move in bringing on Neil Allen as pitching coach and Eddie Guardado as bullpen coach. They have helped turn the Twins staff from dead last in the AL in team ERA last season at 4.57 to ninth in the AL this year at 3.90.
“You’re always careful, because it’s my belief that the guys before them were high-quality people who really had a lot of success for the majority of their time here,” Molitor said. “But with the change with Neil and Eddie it’s a different energy, a different philosophy to some degree. They are people that I think our pitchers have a lot of confidence in and the results have been there, so you can’t argue with that.”
When asked for his biggest surprise this season, Molitor pointed to All-Star second baseman Brian Dozier and veteran outfielder Torii Hunter.
“Dozier continues to get better,” he said. “We’re kind of understanding now that he’s becoming a player — maybe not like we all envisioned — that he’s going to hit a lot of extra-base hits. He’s not going to ever hit for a really high average because of his approach, but he’s a big threat to have at or near the top of the lineup.
“Torii has made a big difference not only because he has performed really well, but he has these guys believing that they can win. I look at those two guys offensively as guys, we’ve had a lot of contributions, but probably those two guys standout the most.”
Does Molitor think this team can stay in the fight to win the AL Central?
“I try not to get too far ahead of myself,” the Hall of Famer said. “I think the longer we can hang around, the more these guys will start to believe that that could happen. I try to caution them about getting too far ahead of themselves but at the same time having a vision that will allow you to sustain this kind of performance throughout the course of the year.”
Quarterback sleeper for U
No doubt the Gophers will go as far as their quarterback will take them, even though last year the defense probably should get credit for the 8-4 record. Coach Jerry Kill said Mitch Leidner is the No. 1 QB and Chris Streveler will back him up, but Kill said the kid who has really surprised them is a walk-on named Jacques Perra from Roseville.
“He had a little bit of arm problems in the spring, so he didn’t get a chance to play in the spring game, which I wanted to see how he would do,” Kill said. “We have the true freshman [Demry Croft] who has all kinds of athletic ability but we have to get him on the field to see that. Then we have a kid who is committed that I hope we can hold on to, because he is special. I think that we’re sitting fine.
“The biggest thing is taking Mitch from where he was this past year and taking it one more step. We brought [former Gophers QB] Adam Weber in. I look for him to do good things. I feel good about Chris, he has improved a lot. I think we’ll be all right there. The biggest thing is who we put around them, and I think we’ve put some people around them that can help us be more explosive and be able to make some plays. You look at the kid who won the national title at Ohio State [Cardale Jones] and he threw the ball downfield, sometimes into double coverage, but it didn’t matter. They had people just go up and get it. We have to have some playmakers, and we’ve worked hard to get some playmakers.”
Kill talked a bit more about Perra, who could eventually push for playing time.
“Perra … played well in the spring and did a good job — and then he hurt his elbow and it has been a slow process for him. Conor Rhoda has come a long way, too. The big thing is we have a chance to have a good football team and a lot of that lies on everybody else getting better and then from the quarterback standpoint, taking the next step. I think we all know that, and that’s what we’re going to have to do to compete and be better than we were a year ago. We’re going to be good on defense. I don’t think there’s any question about that. Offensively we’ve been solid, but we need to go from being solid to being really good.”