The Twins started the season 1-6, getting outscored 45-16 and looking like there was no real hope in the season.
It would have been easy for any fan to think it was going to be a fifth consecutive disastrous year where the Twins lost 90 games or more and were dominated in the American League Central by Detroit, Kansas City and Cleveland.
They also had to deal with losing Ervin Santana, their free-agent acquisition who was suspended before the season began, and have had a number of nagging injuries.
But since a 12-3 loss to the Royals on April 13, the Twins have gone 15-7. After defeating Oakland 6-5 on Thursday, they have won 10 of 13 and stand three games above .500, at 16-13, for the first time since 2010.
The Twins hitters combined to go 46-for-229 in that early 1-6 stretch, a .201 average, along with a .255 on-base percentage and a .275 slugging percentage. The pitching staff was just as rough, with a combined 6.36 ERA, and 22 walks to 35 strikeouts in 58 innings.
But during this 22-game turnaround, the Twins have hit .275 with 61 walks, 117 runs scored, 18 home runs and 111 RBI. They have averaged 5.32 runs per game. The Blue Jays lead the major leagues in runs per game, at 5.34. The pitching staff has posted a 3.17 ERA over 199 innings during that same stretch with 189 hits allowed, 72 earned runs, 52 walks and 118 strikeouts. And the Twins now have the best home record in the AL.
Molitor praises leaders
New Twins manager Paul Molitor was asked how the team was able to keep it together when they very easily could have given up early.
"A big part of it is I think we have good leadership in the clubhouse where guys like Torii [Hunter] and Joe [Mauer], obviously, and then you have guys like [Trevor] Plouffe and [Brian] Dozier and Phil Hughes, these guys have been around," he said. "They understand that you have to keep pushing even when things appear to not to be so good on the surface. I give the player leadership a lot of credit for that."
Still, Molitor understands that just because the team has turned things around, there is still a lot of room for improvement. But he does like the attitude in the clubhouse.
"We're not even a fifth of the way through the season," he said. "But it is good to see a club playing as confidently as they are. I feel that they think they have a chance to win every day. I'm not going to get too far ahead of myself as far as where this thing can go, because I don't think anybody has a crystal ball. But I do know that these guys, when they take the field, feel like they have a chance to win."
Molitor, who waited 17 years between ending his playing career and becoming a big-league manager, was asked if the job has been what he expected.
"It has been a lot of fun," he said. "There's a lot of things that come your way that keep you very busy at your job, but you really try to work at trying to develop these players. You try to teach and get them better and hopefully you can instill some confidence along the way."
Molitor was a coach under Ron Gardenhire last season and was asked if he has noticed any early differences between this year and last?
"The biggest difference is for the most part we've been getting a lot better starting pitching," he said. "Our rotation has given our team a chance to win. I think that, combined with the maturity aspect and the fact that we have some players developing into winners, is a big part of it."
Molitor even has hopes for Ricky Nolasco, who was 6-12 with a 5.38 ERA last year. He won for the second start in a row after coming off the disabled list Thursday, although he still has a poor 9.00 ERA to go with his 2-1 record. Against the Athletics, he gave up four runs and six hits in five innings, throwing 94 pitches.
"I have a lot of hope for him. I think that he got set back with the inflammation of the elbow, he had a really good spring and I think he's motivated to do well," Molitor said. "He's still trying to find that groove in the starts that he's had since he came back. But he's in the rotation and he will continue to be."
• Gophers football coach Jerry Kill got another big in-state commitment this week in Matt Kegel, a 6-6, 300-pound offensive tackle from Chaska. Kegel, whom Rivals.com has ranked as the fifth-best player in the state for 2016, had been recruited by numerous schools, including Alabama, Illinois, Iowa, Iowa State, Louisiana State, Michigan State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. … Former Gophers defensive back Derrick Wells has been invited by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to try out for their rookie minicamp. … Isaac Fruechte and Zac Epping, two Gophers who had a tryout with other free agents for the Vikings rookie minicamp, did not make that squad.
• John Carlson was a great tight end from Litchfield, playing seven seasons in the NFL, including two with the Vikings, and recording 15 touchdowns in that time. But he announced his retirement at the age of 30 because of the number of concussion-related injures he had over the years. Surely a tough decision, but the right one for Carlson.
• The Twins could use better performance at two positions: center field and catcher. Interestingly, two ex-Twins traded to Washington are shining in those spots. Denard Span is hitting .305 with 13 runs scored, and Wilson Ramos who is hitting 319.
• Comparing the first 17 Twins home games this year with last season, they are currently 12-5 compared to 8-9. However, attendance is down from 414,331, an average of 24,372 last year, to 374,272, an average of 22,016 this season. The Twins also won their first home series against Oakland since July 12-15, 2007. … Dozier has had a hot bat, having reached base safely 18 of the past 20 games with 11 total bases in his past five games with four singles, two doubles and one triple. The second baseman has reached base safely in 14 of his 16 games at Target Field and has hit in 10 of 16. … Plouffe has reached base in 19 consecutive games since April 17. Overall, the third baseman is hitting .324 during that stretch with three doubles, four homers, 16 RBI, 10 walks and 12 runs scored. … From a pitching standpoint, the starters posted a 7-2 record and 4.01 ERA over the 11-game homestand.
• The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote this about new Gophers basketball signee Ahmad Gilbert when he was named to their All-Southeastern Pennsylvania first team: "Dangerous in the open court and around the basket, the 6-foot-7 senior lefthander averaged 17.6 points, 11 rebounds, 2.5 steals, and 2.1 blocks while leading the Generals to a 24-8 record and their third state championship."
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. email@example.com