What an incredible start to the season for the Minnesota Twins and new manager Rocco Baldelli.
A dominant 6-2 win over the Astros on Wednesday moved their record to 18-10 through 28 games, matching their fourth-best start since the team moved here from Washington in 1961 and the best in the American League.
It also means that on Thursday, with staff ace Jose Berrios on the mound, the Twins will have a chance to win the season series over Houston, the 2017 World Series champs and one of the best teams in baseball.
For Baldelli, he tied the second-best start for a Twins manager in his first year at the helm of the franchise, bested only by Billy Martin, who went 19-9 in 1969 and matched by Bill Rigney in 1970.
Including Baldelli this year, the Twins have had 14 seasons with a first-year manager, and somewhat surprisingly 10 of those managers had a winning record through 28 games.
Along with Baldelli, Martin and Rigney, Cookie Lavagetto was 16-12 in 1961, Sam Mele 15-13 in 1962, Cal Ermer 15-13 in 1968, Gene Mauch 15-13 in 1976, Tom Kelly 15-13 in 1987, Ron Gardenhire 17-11 in 2002 and Paul Molitor 16-13 in 2015.
The only managers to have losing starts at this point in their first full seasons were Frank Quilici (13-15 in 1973), Johnny Goryl (10-17 plus a 7-7 tie with the Mariners in front of 2,171 fans at Metropolitan Stadium in 1981), Billy Gardner (10-18 in 1982) and Ray Miller (12-16 in 1986).
It is worth noting that Mele, Ermer, Quilici, Goryl, Gardner, Miller and Kelly all had the benefit of having taken over in the middle of the previous season before becoming full-time managers for the Twins.
But there is no doubt that this season has gotten off to as good a start as Baldelli could have hoped for, given the fact that his team was coming off a difficult season with questionable pitching.
The Twins also have a $121 million payroll, which ranks 18th in Major League Baseball and includes around $11.1 million in salary to Miguel Sano and Addison Reed, who have yet to play with the big league club.
“Some parts of it I definitely thought we expected,” Baldelli said about the Twins’ start. “We expected to have a good group that handled their business well and prepared well. We knew we had guys with a lot of ability.
“To see some of it come into play during the season, I can’t say that I think it’s unexpected. I think there are some guys that have had great performances. I don’t know how you can know that’s ever coming or not, but we saw some really good things.”
Baldelli said being a manager has been about what he expected, even if it continues to be a learning process.
“You learn something new every day,” he said. “You see different things every day. But we have great people around here, all over this clubhouse and all over the organization.”
Offense has exploded
One of the biggest surprises has been the Twins’ home run prowess at the start of the season.
Last year through 28 games the team was hitting .242 with a .417 slugging percentage, 34 home runs and 110 RBI.
This season those numbers have jumped to a .256 average with a .493 slugging percentage, 51 home runs and 139 RBI.
Heading into Wednesday night, the Twins were tied for fifth in the American League in batting average, second in home runs and seventh in RBI.
“Our guys have been swinging the bats well,” Baldelli said. “It’s easy to get excited about the home runs, and they’re great, you know they help you win games, but I think the at-bats that our guys have been having up and down the lineup kind of lead you to a good outcome, a successful outcome.
“I think we’re seeing that in these games where we’re hitting some balls over the fence, it’s the at-bats earlier in the game that get us to that point.”
The two biggest contributors in the lineup have been 25-year-old Jorge Polanco and 27-year-old Eddie Rosario, who are on several American League leaderboards.
Polanco stayed hot on Wednesday night, going 2-for-4 with a double, RBI and run scored, while Rosario finished 0-for-3 with a walk.
Heading into the game, Polanco and Rosario were tied for seventh in the American League in slugging percentage at .600 while Rosario was tied for fourth in total bases with 63 and Polanco was tied for ninth with 60. Rosario led the league in home runs with 11 and was tied for fourth in RBI with 24.
Polanco also ranked third in the league in wins above replacement, trailing only Angels outfielder Mike Trout and Rangers pitcher Mike Minor.
“They have that kind of ability,” Baldelli said. “It is very nice to see. They’re swinging the bat great and carrying us at different points. But I think they are both extremely talented guys. I’m not surprised to see the success, I’m just happy to see it.”
And while the biggest concern for fans and media alike has been the Twins pitching staff, entering Wednesday it remained above the league average in ERA at 4.37; the league averages 4.43.
The league splits for starters vs. relievers is about even, with a league-average ERA of 4.43 for starters vs. 4.45 for relievers.
That’s where the big split for the Twins was most evident as they entered Wednesday. Their starters had a 4.21 ERA while the relievers had a 4.63 ERA.
Baldelli said that in his mind, the team is where it needs to be when it comes to the pitching staff.
“I’m not sitting here thinking we need [to add] anything,” he said. “What we need to do is execute on a daily basis, and I think our guys are doing that.”
Does that include the bullpen?
“Our bullpen has done a nice job,” he said. “We have seen several runs of games where our bullpen has actually picked us up in some great ways and carried us. There are a lot of guys that are finding themselves in that role and figuring out what they need to do to do their job as best they can. But I think there are a lot of guys that are ready to go and throwing the ball well.”
• CBS Sports released their preseason Top 25 for college football, following spring practices. The Gophers were ranked 23rd, in front of No. 25 Northwestern and not far behind Penn State at No. 20. One thing to note is that four of the final six teams in the poll were from the Big Ten, meaning most national pundits expect a tight race for the conference.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. on Monday and Friday and at 9:30 a.m. on Sundays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org