The Minnesota Twins are still very much of an enigma at this stage of the season.
But then again, this isn't an unusual state of affairs in Twinkie Town.
Since Ron Gardenhire took over as manager, the Twins are only two games above .500 at the 25-game mark in each of the past seven-plus seasons. Yet, Minnesota's overall record during this time frame is 635-525, including this year's 12-13 slate.
The Twins' success under Gardenhire, which features four American League Central Division titles, suggests that they are very good at staving off the butterflies and boo-birds that accompany the first month of the season and making the necessary adjustments that ensure success down the road.
This edition of the Twins, though, may require an unusual amount of patience.
Thus far, the 2009 season has been marred by a rash of disappointing performances and unfulfilled promise, only occasionally leavened by a pleasant surprise or two.
Sunday's encounter with the Kansas City Royals was a particularly illustrative example.
Scott Baker, with the Twins leading 4-0, took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. At one point, he had retired 15 consecutive Royals. Suddenly, following consecutive singles to Willie Bloomquist and Mark Teahen, Baker self-destructed by surrendering a three-run homer to Jose Guillen which ignited a 7-5 comeback victory for the Royals.
It was Baker's fourth consecutive setback, but the first to bear huge promise. He's sporting a 9.15 ERA and he hasn't registered more than six innings yet in any of his starts, a far cry from his breakout year in 2008 (11-4, 3.45) which rightfully earned him the title of staff ace.
Francisco Liriano, considered the other pillar of the starting rotation, has fared much better, but his 6.04 ERA over five starts still won't help the Twins reach the promise0 land.
Liriano, like Baker on Sunday afternoon, has stumbled in the middle innings after promising starts. When he's stood on the precipice of hurling a gem, Liriano has, more often than not, succumbed to an avalanche of hits, walks and runs.
Liriano authored a sharp start on Apr. 28 in which he limited the Rays to seven hits over 6.2 innings. It was his second quality start in his past three outings, although he's still winless at 0-4. Yet, it bore renewed hope that Liriano may right himself and recapture some semblance of his rookie form.
Glen Perkins (1-2, 3.34 ERA), the least heralded member of the starting rotation, has been the most impressive. He was unhittable in his first three starts, allowing just four earned runs in 24 innings. In his past two starts, Perkins has been all-too mortal, surrendering nine earned runs in 11 innings.
Nick Blackburn (2-1, 4.02 ERA) and Kevin Slowey (4-0, 5.17) have been, well, sturdy. They have combined for five quality starts between them. Slowey leads the staff with 23 strikeouts.
The bullpen has been as maddeningly consistent as a leaky faucet.
Juan Morillo (22.50 ERA) and Philip Humber (12.46) were jettisoned to Triple-A Rochester following short but ineffective stints. They, like Craig Breslow (8.10), R.A. Dickey (5.93) and Jesse Crain (7.50) have let the Twins down often in crucial situations, but the honor for the most unreliable arm in the bullpen must go to Luis Ayala (5.84 ERA), who already has blown three saves.
Of course, stellar closer Joe Nathan, who blew a save Apr. 28 only to recoup the victory when the Twins scored in their half of the ninth, has been a clutch presence, as has Jose Mijares, who didn't make the Twins' opening day roster. Upon his recall, Mijares has been brilliant. He hasn't allowed a run in 4.2 innings, striking out eight and walking only one batter.
The Twins' offense has been a conundrum as well.
The only blue-chippers for the Twins have been Denard Span, Justin Morneau, and Jason Kubel.
Span, a former Twins' first-round selection in the amateur draft, has been overshadowed by his mates in the outfield, Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez, both obtained in high-powered offseason trades. Span, however, fashioned a breakout season in 2008 (.294), while Young and Gomez fell short of their promise.
Span has been a model of consistency in 2009, hitting around .300 with a cluster of clutch hits. While Young is slowly rebounding from an early-season slump and Gomez still hasn't shown much at the plate.
Meanwhile, Morneau and Kubel, hitting .327 and .294, respectively, have accounted for 10 homers and 37 RBI between them.
Third baseman Joe Crede, acquired as a free agent, has proved to be a major disappointment (.225, 3 HR, 6 RBI). The Twins also expected more from Michael Cuddyer (.253, 2 HR, 10 RBI) and second baseman Alexi Casilla (.160, 0 HR, 2 RBI), who batted .281 in 2008 with seven homers and 50 RBI.
The Twins received a much-needed offensive spark from an unlikely source in Jose Morales who, with Mike Redmond, assumed the full-time coaching chores in the wake of Joe Mauer's injury. Morales hit .340 before being sent down to Triple-A following Sunday's game to make room for Crain, who was activated from the disabled list.
Another surprise has been the play of Brendan Harris who was acquired with Delmon Young in a trade with Tampa Bay in October 2007. Harris is hitting 327 in 49 at-bats, giving Twins' fans reason to believe that the deal which sent pitcher Matt Garza and shortstop Jason Bartlett to the Twins wasn't so one-sided after all.
Mauer's return to the Twins' lineup Friday evening added even more spice to the Twins' storyline this season.
All the two-time American League did was add to his considerable myth Friday evening against the Royals, crashing a home run in his first plate appearance of the season. He added a double and scored three times in the Twins' 7-5 victory.
On Saturday, a 10-7 Twins loss, Mauer collected four hits with an RBI in six at-bats. On Sunday, Mauer contributed a pinch-hit single that delivered a run as the Twins fell once again, 7-5.
Yet, Mauer's reappearance, after all, didn't restore instant credibility for the Twins who dropped two of three against Kansas City. That's not the way fairy tales are supposed to go, is it?
And so the story of the Twins unfolds once again.
Are they sleeping giants?
Or, will the Twins continue to rub the nerves raw of the faithful with their maddening inconsistency?
It seems that the Twins still aren't prepared to lift the veil for the season.
That would be out of character.
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