Like a car engine struggling on an icy day, the Twins' lineup had a tough time revving up during the chilly month of April. Ambitious thoughts about the potential for an offensive core powered by numerous potent bats went wayward as the runs trickled in at a disappointing pace.
The Twins finished the season's first month ranking near the bottom of the league in OPS and runs scored. This, at least for me, was somewhat jarring, because from my standpoint they didn't appear to be overmatched. Hitters throughout the lineup were taking good at-bats, several key players were excelling and, most importantly, everyone was healthy. But overall the offensive unit just wasn't clicking.
Here in May, the tide seems to be turning. And this transformation has taken place in the most unlikely of ball parks.
Entering this week's four-game series against the Twins, the Red Sox were 20-11, including 11-5 at Fenway Park. In their own yard, Boston had held opponents to an average of 3.8 runs per game. With the league's hottest rotation leading the way, the Sox had jumped out to an early lead in the rugged American League East.
The Twins hardly looked intimidated. In the opener, they jumped on April's AL Pitcher of the Month, Clay Buchholz, hanging four runs on him in six innings. This marked the first time this year the right-hander has allowed more than two runs in a start or completed fewer than seven frames.
After ultimately coming up short in that game, the Twins won the next three for an impressive series victory. In the four-game set the offense scored 31 runs.
Suddenly, the team's numbers look quite a bit more respectable. The Twins now sit seventh in the AL in runs per game, with a 4.58 mark that places them above the league average. The team OPS has cracked the .700 mark at .702, about 20 points higher than when they opened the series.
Will this upward trend continue? It's hard to see why not. Joe Mauer continues to look like Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham is doing his thing and Trevor Plouffe is beginning to drive in runs at a steadier pace. Justin Morneau is the remaining wild card in the middle of the lineup, but he's one player who appears poised to turn the corner and start crushing it at any time.
Elsewhere, we're seeing increasing signs of life. Pedro Florimon has been surprisingly competent at the plate and hasn't slowed down yet. Ryan Doumit has broken out of his early-season slump and is hitting .308/.345/.577 in May. Oswaldo Arcia, who turned 22 on Thursday, is transforming into an impact hitter before our eyes.
Sure, there are still underperformers – Aaron Hicks hasn't had a multi-hit game, Chris Parmelee holds a .611 OPS and Brian Dozier hasn't shown much consistency at the plate – but in each case these are young, developing players with seemingly nowhere to go but up.
My biggest reason for excitement regarding this season was that the Twins figured to be, if not competitive, at least quite entertaining to watch. So far, they have been both, even with the offense largely falling short of its potential.
Are they now taking steps toward meeting that potential? Too soon to say, but the lineup made a resounding statement in Boston this week and now returns to Target Field for a nine-game homestand.