The Twins started last season being swept in three games by the Baltimore Orioles. Manager Paul Molitor said he knows he has a long season ahead of him, but he was pleased to see the Twins come out of the gate so well in 2017 with Thursday’s 5-3 victory at Target Field to complete a three-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals.
This was the Twins’ first opening series sweep in 10 years, and only the 11th time in franchise history the team has started 3-0.
“You always imagine that you can find a way to win your share of games, if not more than what people expect,” Molitor said. “But like I’ve said, it’s three games and it’s always magnified at the start of the year, what you can do. We have high expectations. I don’t think we put limitations on what we can do. But I know with six months of baseball ahead, I’m not going to get too giddy. But I’m sure pleased that we were able to come out and play well the opening series at home.”
The Twins outscored Kansas City 21-5 over three games, showing impressive plate discipline by drawing 23 walks.
While many people were surprised the Twins didn’t make more offseason moves to bolster their roster, the biggest addition was catcher Jason Castro. He’s shown so far that he can be more than just a great defensive catcher.
Castro finished the series 3-for-6 with three RBI and four runs scored while drawing six walks.
“We saw a lot of good signs in camp about the way he was approaching his at-bats,” Molitor said. “He has had years where he has been a good offensive player, in addition to being one of the better defensive catchers in the game. It’s just one of those things where I think he feels really good about his offense right now and it’s showing up both in terms of the balls he’s hitting and the pitches that he’s taking.”
Another underrated part of Castro is his handling of the bullpen, which might have been the brightest development of the series.
It was bullpen by committee against the Royals as Craig Breslow, Ryan Pressly, Taylor Rogers, Matt Belisle, Justin Haley, Brandon Kintzler and Tyler Duffey combined to pitch 10 scoreless innings on three walks and five hits while striking out 11.
“I think over the course of the season, he’s going to prove to be a huge asset and a complement to our pitching staff,” Molitor said. “There’s no question that our guys trust him. You don’t see a lot of guys shaking pitches off, and they established such a good game plan before each game and each series that I think our guys are going to have a lot of confidence throwing to him.”
Molitor talked about what he expects from the bullpen going forward, as the Twins travel to Chicago for a three-game series against the White Sox, and again cautioned against drawing too many early conclusions.
“It’s one of those things where, like your whole team, it takes a while to kind of get a feel,” he said. “I think these guys have a pretty good idea of how they’re going to be used, but you can get in a situation rather quickly.
“[Friday] there’s going to be some guys that will probably be out after back-to-back days and guys might have to step up in different roles. It’s one of those things that kind of unfolds over the course of the early stages of the year.”
Molitor also said that confidence means a lot in baseball, and the difference between last season’s 0-9 start and being 3-0 this season is a big deal.
“I think a season does kind of bring times of momentum that conversely can go both directions,” he said. “We talk a lot about young players and confidence and going out there and feeling like you have an entire locker room behind you, whether you have a good day or a bad day.
“I don’t want to make too much out of it. It beats the alternative, as we know all too well from a year ago. But to get a couple wins under our belt here early, it has to make those players feel awfully good about what they’re doing and we’ll try to carry it over onto the road trip.”
Buxton, Kepler starts
Not everything went perfectly for the Twins in their opening series. Center fielder Byron Buxton once again got off to a slow start at the plate.
Buxton finished the series 1-for-14 with seven strikeouts, but he said he isn’t worried.
“It is what it is. I have to keep going out there every day and battling and competing,” Buxton said. “I just have to swing at better pitches, see more pitches up in the zone and not miss my chance.”
Does he think he can snap out of it in a hurry?
“Oh yeah,” he said. “I mean, I have confidence and am comfortable and just have to go out there and do what I do and that’s be myself and have fun.”
While he did have a lot of strikeouts, Buxton said he knows pitchers are trying to go after him a certain way.
“They’re throwing me backwards a little bit to start off the count,” he said. “But that’s baseball. You have to attack the ball and just go out there and try to do what you can.”
Meanwhile, right fielder Max Kepler had a hot start to the season. He finished the series 4-for-12 with two runs scored and one RBI.
One thing about Kepler is that he is full of confidence. He expects to continue what he did in this series throughout the season.
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