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Twins showing a lot more life this season

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There has been a marked change in the attitude of the Minnesota Twins this season and it bodes well for the future.

It is a good bet this change is coming from the clubhouse. There are positive ways of handling your players and this year there seems to be some better leadership on the team. The evidence has been showing up in the number of series the Twins have won this year, eight out of 14.

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Former manager Tom Kelly made the remark once that one of the keys to a good season is to minimize the number of losing streaks your team has during the season. Every team has rocky stretches over a 162-game schedule but keeping those losing streaks short is important. The longest winless streak the Twins have had this season has been four games. At this point of the season last year the Twins were in the midst of a 10-game losing streak. They went from 18-17 on May 13 to 23-29 on May 29.

The Twins went into this week’s series in San Diego with a 21-21 record and tied for second place in the American League Central with Kansas City.They were seven games behind Detroit. If you know major league baseball you know the Tigers are one of the top teams in the game this year. They have the pitching and the hitting to take them to the World Series. The Royals were also expected to do well this year because they finished above .500 last year. It is the Twins that are a surprise in the AL Central.

The Twins are just average in many categories this year and below average in others but their .334 on base percentage is exceptional. Only two clubs, Colorado and Oakland, have better marks. Up through the Seattle series the Twins had scored 195 runs, seventh-best in the majors. How many baseball experts would have predicted that?

What is even more remarkable about the Twins is that they have been hanging in there while their star hitter is hampered by back problems. When was the last time Joe Mauer ranked sixth on the team in hitting? That is where he was after the Seattle series. The three-time American League batting champion was hitting at a .287 clip after the Seattle series.

The Twins are also hanging in there despite the fact that Chris Colabello has been practically no help at all in the month of May. After carrying the Twins in April with a clutch bat that drove in 30 runs, Colabello has been in a mean slump that could cost him his job. Was this guy just a fluke in April? He had a great spring training and he carried it into April but where has his confidence gone?

Colabello is not the only player the Twins want some production from. Jason Kubel had a decent April but he has been very quiet at the plate in May with one RBI and two runs. Josh Willingham is one of three outfielders on the disabled list. The guy the Twins went after when Michael Cuddyer departed for Colorado played just six games this year before being sidelined.

Our new leaders are guys like Kurt Suzuki (.378 on base percentage,.312 batting average, 26 RBIs), Brian Dozier (AL-leading 40 runs and 11 home runs), Eduardo Escobar (.523 slugging percentage), Aaron Hicks (.382 on base percentage in May), Trevor Plouffe (AL-leading 17 doubles to go along with 27 RBIs) and good spot performances from guys like Josmil Pinto, Chris Parmelee, Eduardo Nunez and Danny Santana. They have been taking turns getting the job done.

It is fortunate the Twins have been able to score runs because their pitching staff has been generous in surrendering them. Despite all the attention the Twins paid to improving their starting pitching over the last two years the club has allowed 208 runs and rank 28th in the big leagues with a 4.65 team ERA. Starters Ricky Nolasco, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfry have a combined record of 3-12.

So far, the only off-season acquisition to pay off on the pitching staff is Phil Hughes, who used to make life miserable for the Twins when he was with the Yankees. Hughes has emerged as the team’s winningest starter.

While Hughes was supposed to produce no one was counting on a lot from Kyle Gibson, who barely scratched out a place for himself as a starter. Gibson has the most decisions on the Twins staff with four wins and three losses.

The Twins have also seen relievers Brian Duensing, Glen Perkins and Casey Frien pitch well in relief roles. Duensing had a 1.50 ERA after the Seattle series. Perkins is tied for first in the American League with 12 saves. Fien is 3-0 with a 2.12 ERA.

Something is keeping these 2014 Minnesota Twins competitive. Something they have not had the last three years.

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