Twins surprising fans and experts with early season play
Those Minnesota lads in red, white and Navy blue are doing a pretty fair job so far making people forget about their dismal 2016 season.
The first week of May saw two Minnesota players off to great starts. Third baseman Miguel Sano was one of the American League leaders in home runs, RBIs and batting average. Pitcher Ervin Santana sported an earned run average so low that if he cashed that number in he would not be able to afford a candy bar.
While it is true the attendance figures have not changed too much, the Twins probably play their early season home games in the coldest weather of any major league club. Despite this handicap, they were averaging more than 21,000 as May arrived. That average is going to rise with the mercury and the end of the school year.
Sano has been a shocker at the plate. Here is a guy that challenged for the strike out title last year with 178 whiffs in 116 games. He was a disappointment after a healthy 2015 season. He was too slow for the outfield and booted too many at third base.
Sano is a big, incredibly strong player who has already put some baseballs into orbit. When the Twins parted company with Trevor Plouffe in the off-season it was a huge vote of confidence in their young power hitter. The Twins rated him worthy of some extra tutoring in spring training camp and he has not disappointed them.
He was the American League Player of the Week at the end of April and started off May with a five-RBI game against Oakland. Where is this guy going? We might be talking about another David Ortiz here.
Santana is another huge talent who has to be an early favorite for AL Cy Young honors. The Twins seem to have plenty of hurlers who are learning to pitch. This cat seems to be giving the lessons. The Twins have not had a pitcher like Santana since another Santana, Johan, was traded away to the New York Mets in 2008.
Ervin Santana is playing in his 13th major league season and took a 5-0 record into May. After winning a career-best 17 games in 2010 he threw a no-hitter against Cleveland in 2011 while playing for the Los Angeles Angels. He has pitched more than 200 innings a season five times in his career.
Santana has 10 years on Sano but these guys are both carrying around a major load of talent.
As far as the rest of the team is concerned do not be surprised if Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario and Kennys Vargas play a ton of baseball for the Twins in 2017.
The real strength of the team in the first five weeks of the season has been the starting pitching. The Twins do not have the very best run-producing bunch in the majors but their pitching staff sported the eighth-best earned run average as May began. That jaw-dropping fact after the 2016 fiasco is the best thing the Twins have going for them. Before the season began their staff was ranked 28th out of 30 teams by USA/Today.
Hector Santiago is off to a solid start after joining a tired Twins squad near the end of the 2016 season. Phil Hughes may not be all the way back but like Santiago, but he has given the Twins a veteran arm behind Santana.
Minnesota's secret weapons may be Jason Castro and Chris Gimenez, their light-hitting catchers. The Twins were looking for defense and good pitch calling when they went after these two guys and they seem to have found it.
Not all the surprises have been good. Some have been very ugly. The Twins have looked pathetically weak in the bullpen in many of their losses. The Boston series last weekend saw the Red Sox run up 11-1 and 17-6 victories. In five of their losses this season their pitching has surrendered 66 runs. A loss is always going to be a loss no matter what the final score is but it makes you wonder what the Twins are using for scouts and pitching coaches.