Twins' resurgence is ahead of schedule

INSIDE PITCH

June 18, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

While seemingly en route to the kind of obscurity that only realignment could overcome, a funny thing happened to the Minnesota Twins. They became contenders.

After an unimpressive spring training, the Twins matched their worst start ever by losing seven of their first eight games.

After a mild recovery, they were still only 8-16 on April 30 and giving no signs of making an imminent recovery.

But since May 1, the Twins have posted the best record in baseball (28-11 before last night's game against the Orioles) and acted as if they are a year ahead of the organization's recent schedule.

In 1987 the Twins came out of nowhere to win the World Series, then promptly disintegrated. They regrouped for another unsuspected World Series championship in 1991, and immediately dropped from contention once again, presumably to resurface next year.

Yet here they are, acting like it's 1995, occupying second place in the newly formed Central Division. They trail, of all teams, the Cleveland Indians by 2 1/2 games in the upside-down world of realignment.

Tom Kelly, as even-keel a manager as there is in the game, didn't get overly excited about his team's sluggish spring

performance and his demeanor hasn't changed. "We're doing it with mirrors," he quipped before last night's game. "As long as we don't lose the mirrors we'll be all right."

However, as difficult as it might be to understand the Twins' rise in the standings, it is relatively simple to explain. It has a lot to do with the aspect of the game for which the Twins are least noted.

"There are no secrets," said Kelly. "If you get decent pitching, especially early in the game, you've got a chance."

And that, basically, is primarily responsible for the Twins' turnaround. They are still next to last in the American League with a 5.68 ERA -- but that is two runs per game better than when the Orioles lost three straight to the Twins a month ago.

Since Scott Erickson no-hit Milwaukee April 27, Minnesota's starters have compiled a 22-11 record, which means they haven't been taking as many early exits.

On a team that is third in scoring with 364 runs and has a .284 batting average that is fourth best in the league, a little pitching goes a long way.

Sometimes when judging a pitching staff it's necessary to go beyond the ERA. "Giving the team a chance to win," which is a common phrase, doesn't mean merely keeping the score close.

Keeping your team in the lead is what really counts, and the Twins' starters have done that nicely for the last six weeks.

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