With the MLB season still shy of the 20-game mark, the Twins stellar, 11-5 start, portends great things to come as we work toward the summer months. But even while it's still far too early to gauge what's "best" to appear, the "better" looks to be in the immediate future.
Here are three reasons to believe that the Twins' next three weeks will offer as much -- if not more optimism -- than the Boys' first three:
The Twins' next six series are as follows: @Kansas City, @Detroit, @Cleveland, and then a return home for Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore and the Chi Sox. How many of these clubs present a winning record? Just one: Detroit at 9-7. Moreover, the Twins have three days of rest between the 26th of this month and the 14th of May. And then . . . the Yankees. May 14-16 finds the club at Yankee Stadium for a set; less than two weeks later the Pinstripes arrive in the T.C. for their lone taste of Target Field this season. After that: the Twins are done with the Yanks for the remainder of the (regular) season.
2. Span and Hudson
Last season -- his first as a full-timer -- Keiunta Denard Span was superb. His defensive exploits aside, Span hit .311 for the year, good for ninth in the American League. In the 54
games that Span had multiple hits, the Twins were 33-21 (.611 win percentage). In the 39 games that Span failed to deliver any hits, the club was just 16-23 (.410). From a batting standpoint, Span has gotten off to a slow 2010, hitting just .259, more than 40 points below his lifetime average.
Image via Keith Allison
However, that dropped clip can be assuaged by the fact that Span is still getting on base via his celebrated plate acumen. Both his walks (13) and On Base Percentage (.406) still chart in the A.L.'s top 20.
Given Span's highly productive (albeit brief) history, there's little reason to believe he'll be mired in the .250's for long.
A similar nod can be directed at newcomer Orlando Hudson. A lifetime .282 hitter, Hudson is charting at just .250 in the young season. But from the gravity of his No. 2 perch in the Twins' order, he's still getting on base as well, sporting a solid OBP of .357. Perhaps more importantly, the once strikeout prone O-Dog is now notching K's at a rate of just one per every 7.5 at-bats. That currently represents the best rate of his career.
Together, Span and Hudson have combined for 21 walks. Only the Yankees and Athletics' top two hitters can match that combined mark in the A.L., with their own No. 1-2's of Derek Jeter/Nick Johnson and Rajai Davis/Daric Barton, respectively. In Seattle, Ichiro Suzuki/Chone Figgins have combined for 20 BB's.
With the Twins' boppers Mauer, Morneau and Cuddyer all hitting above .328 (and all above their respective lifetime averages), it's scary to think how much the Twins offense will improve once these guys really start clipping atop the order.
Yes, Jon Rauch still pitches for the Twins. But because he's had opportunity to close out ajust once since April 12th, his impressive 6-for-6 save start has been slightly clouded by the Twins' inspired starting pitching in the last 10 days.
Just prior to Opening Day, ESPN's Tim Kurkjian aptly noted the Twins' loss of Joe Nathan among the top five stories of Spring Training. Advancing to present day: Kurkjian's ESPN colleague Jerry Crasnick just named Rauch as the No. 1 "Replacement" player in all of baseball.
Image via Wiki
Despite the recent stretch of down time, Rauch has quickly made many forget that he entered his new role with just 26 career saves coming in 44 life chances -- a mere success rate of just 59 percent. But Rauch's 2010 start is now challenging the wealth of early-season success that Nathan has had in his six years as the Twins' closer. To wit: Rauch's sixth and most recent save came in the club's 12th game of the season. While opportunity is no doubt a factor here, it's still notable that Nathan had never notched his sixth save before the club's 16th game of the year. In addition, Rauch could perhaps threaten to match Nathan's unblemished save mark to begin a season -- no easy task considering that Nathan was always a fast starter. In five of his six seasons with the Twins, Nathan saved at least his first six chances of the year. His top start came in 2008, when he was successful in his first 13 save opportunities.
Nathan and his 254 saves for the Twins aren't a part of Twins' annals just yet -- but, for the time, Rauch's highly effective start has afforded the exact piece-of-mind required for the club's bullpen to proceed with confidence.