Yesterday was one of those games for the Twins' offense that just makes you cringe. After mounting a threat by loading the bases with one out in the first inning, the Twins shut down and provided one of the more pathetic offensive displays in recent memory. After walking Michael Cuddyer to fill the bases in the first, Royals starter Jorge De La Rosa proceeded to retire 16 straight Twins hitters. Then, after allowing consecutive hits to Joe Mauer and Cuddyer in the sixth, De La Rosa went on to retire seven of the last eight batters he faced. His final line: 8 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K. Twins hitters swung at the first pitch of an at-bat eight times in the game, making me wonder if the players even bother looking at the scouting reports on opposing pitchers (De La Rosa has historically been haunted by horrible control, as evidenced by his career 6.08 BB/9 IP ratio). Not only was De La Rosa's eight innings pitched a career-high, the game marked the first time he's ever gone more than six innings in an outing without issuing multiple walks.
With all that said, I'm not going to bitch too much about the Twins' offense today. The fact is that they've generally hit the ball very well lately. The Twins pounded Royals pitching in the first two games of the series, scoring 14 runs on 28 hits. In the six games they've played since I wrote last Monday about their lack of run production, the Twins have averaged 6.17 runs per game and have raised its season average to a healthy 4.78 (even with yesterday's dud). Of course, it's important to note that the only above-average starting pitcher the Twins faced during that span was Felix Hernandez, who had to leave his start after recording just one out due to an injury. Nevertheless, the offense generally got the job done on their latest road trip.
On a broader scale, despite having hit just nine home runs in 18 games, the Twins are tied for first in the majors in doubles and are tied for fourth in the American League in runs scored. They have raised their team hitting line to .275/.331/.403 from .254/.310/.372 just a week ago. All in all, their record stands at 11-7 and they sit in first place atop the AL Central. With that in mind, it's fairly reasonable to be satisfied with the team's performance to this point. Or is it?
Keep this in mind: 13 of the 18 games the Twins have played so far have come against the four worst teams in the AL (Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Seattle, Baltimore). The Twins lost their series against the Royals and split at home with the Devil Rays, two highly disappointing outcomes that are made tolerable by the sweeps of the Orioles and Mariners. I think many would agree that the Twins have not played particularly good baseball so far, despite their winning record, and they could have easily lost several of the games they won if not for being bailed out by some bad mistakes that are characteristic of bad baseball teams (the late-inning base-running gaffes by Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre come to mind). In their other five games, against the White Sox and Yankees, the Twins went 2-3. That has been the extent of the challenge to their schedule so far. This is about to change.
The Twins open a two-game series tonight at home against the Indians. This weekend they head to Detroit for a three-game set with the Tigers. Then, in early May, they have a 12-game stretch against the Red Sox, White Sox, Tigers, and Indians. By this time next month, we will know a lot more about this Twins team than we do now. I can say this much with great certainty: if they continue to play the same type of sloppy and inconsistent baseball that they have up until this point, the Twins will not still be four games above .500 in a month.