On Sunday, the Minnesota Twins played their 54th game of the season, meaning that they are now officially one-third of the way through their 2013 schedule. This milestone presents a good opportunity to review what has taken place thus far. How has the season matched up to expectations, and to the club's stated initiatives?
The most noticeable trait of this team has been the brutal starting pitching. Improving last year's horrendous rotation was frequently called out as the front office's top priority during the offseason, but so far this reconfigured unit has, astoundingly, proven worse. The lineup has also mostly failed to live up to its potential, even with Joe Mauer at the top of his game.
Still, compared to the last two seasons, the positives in this campaign have been almost overwhelming. Even after enduring a 10-game losing streak, the Twins are on pace for 75 wins, which would put them within shouting distance of .500 -- the unspoken goal for this bridge year.
This improvement has been made possible in spite of the rotation's struggles because the Twins have been remarkably successful in three areas they have heavily emphasized. I think these impressive strides deserve recognition.
1) Better Start
Last year the Twins lost seven of their first nine games and by the end of May they were already 15 games below .500. In 2011, they went 17-36 over the first two months. Digging those kinds of holes is a fast path to irrelevance.
This year, although they've been far from great, the Twins have been able to offset their bad stretches by bunching victories. Few would call them contenders in the AL Central, but then again, they are only 4.5 games out of first place.
Terry Ryan said he wanted his team to be playing meaningful games in September, and at this point they're on track to do so.
2) Better Fundamentals
Above and beyond the recent losing, you got the sense that the miscues and mental gaffes from players young and old really began to grind on Ron Gardenhire and Co. An organization that has long prided itself on doing "the little things" had drifted a great distance from it's previous identity.
Whether it's personnel or coaching, the difference this year has been stark. Playing smart and avoiding mistakes can be difficult things to quantify but, by the eye test, the Twins have been markedly better in execution and are on pace to commit 41 fewer errors than in 2012.
3) Better Health
Cutting down on injuries is a tricky task since they are more a function of luck than anything else. Sometimes, players get hurt. And sometimes injuries happen in rapid succession. That's been the story of the past two years, so perhaps the reduction of injuries this season is simply a sign that the Twins' run of bad breaks has come to an end. They also shook up their medical staff during the offseason, dismissing head trainer Rick McWane and promoting former assistant Dave Pruemer, so perhaps that too has been a factor.
Either way, the Twins have (knock on wood
) avoided the disabled list almost entirely this year. Darin Mastroianni's broken foot has been the only truly significant injury, and when your backup center fielder is the only guy missing extended time you can count your blessings.
The improved health has been apparent in the lineup, where Trevor Plouffe recently became the first regular to land on the DL (he expects to return after the minimum). The improved health is even more evident in the rotation. The Twins have three starters on pace to reach 150 innings, which would match their total from 2012 and 2011 combined.