After ranking near the bottom of the league in runs scored last year, the Twins front office took major steps to improve the club's offensive output in the 2008 season. The overhauled Opening Day lineup featured five new faces, some of whom were youngsters with loads of potential while others were veterans with established track records. The improvements provided by these added players, along with full healthy seasons from the likes of Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel, would seemingly render the Twins a lock to exceed their run production from a year ago.
Little has gone right for this offense so far. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are having successful seasons, but the rest of the lineup is littered with disappointment. Brendan Harris' weak numbers, along with his defensive inadequacy, have pushed the manager to the end of his wit. Adam Everett has been even worse than his paltry career numbers had suggested he would be. Jason Kubel has flashed power, but has displayed a poor plate approach on his way to a .289 on-base percentage. Carlos Gomez has been a strikeout machine. Delmon Young, who was brought in to provide a power jolt in the absence of Torii Hunter, has watched his slugging percentage dance around .300 for much of the season. Mike Lamb has belied his successful track record by putting up a hitting line that would make Nick Punto proud. The Twins have averaged 4.47 runs per game -- barely an upgrade from their 4.43 average last year.
Yet, mixed in with all these negatives are some burgeoning reasons for optimism. The Twins offense got off to a truly abysmal start, averaging just 3.8 runs per game in April while getting disappointing performances nearly across the board from their hitters. Thanks to some solid pitching and a good bit of luck, the Twins were able to hang around .500 despite the offensive struggles, and much improvement was expected from this lineup in the month of May. We've been seeing some of that.
After hitting just .260/.305/.362 as a team in the month of April, the Twins entered last night's contest with a .272/.333/.407 hitting line for the month of May, good for an 80-point increase in OPS. Finally some players are finding themselves at the plate. Jason Kubel has gone 8-for-20 with four extra-base hits, four walks and two strikeouts over his past eight games. Delmon Young has ripped three doubles and three triples in his last six games after managing just four extra-base hits in his first 40 games. The offense as a whole has averaged 5.3 runs per game in May and has avoided any shutouts after being blanked four times in April. This is the improved offense we'd been expecting.
Another thing that's worth noting is that while -- as I noted above -- the Twins aren't necessarily scoring much more than they did last year, this isn't such a bad thing when looked at in context. The Twins' average of 4.43 runs per game last year ranked them 12th out of 14 AL teams; and while the 4.47 runs they've averaged this year doesn't seem like much of an upgrade, it actually ranks them seventh in the AL thanks to a league-wide decrease in scoring.
So, along with what I imagine will ultimately be a middle-of-the-road pitching staff, it looks like we've got a pretty average offense on our hands here. That's nothing to brag about, but it is a significant upgrade over last year. An average offense and an average pitching staff, combined with a few lucky breaks, could make the Twins a contending team, particularly if the Central division's mediocrity holds up.