Suddenly, the Twins are fun to watch.
Their early season performance was ugly. Game after game, the Twins were outhit, outpitched, and outfielded. In April, terrible hitting and constant early defecits sucked all the enjoyment out of nearly every game. In May, as the bullpen blew 10 games, every shred of hope was overshadowed by the fear that the Twins would find another way to lose. In fact, during April and May, the only people who could have found Twins games enjoyable (aside from opposing fans) were doctors who specialize in catastrophic sports injuries.
But now it is June, this team is actually managing to entertain people who like baseball. And it isn’t just because they are winning games (though that certainly helps). The Twins have rediscovered their roots as the scrappy underdog team that overachieves. They are “doing things the Twins way,” playing small ball, avoiding mistakes, and flawlessly executing the fundamentals of the game, for the first time in years.
Perhaps it’s just because Ozzie Guillen is in town, but I’ve been hearing a lot about Pirhanas again. First, the Star Tribune brought up the term, and then Dick and Bert kept it up during Wednesday night’s 4-1 Twins win. The original pirhanas – Nick Punto, Jason Tyner, Jason Bartlett and company – are all gone, but you have to admit this team is starting to resemble them. The third inning Wednesday provided the best example. After a couple of bloop doubles, the Twins added a walk, a double steal, a seeing eye single, and a bunt single. The pirhanas nibbled their way to a 3-0 lead.
You can tell they’re biting when Michael Cuddyer of all people steals three bases in a single game. Things have turned around for Cuddyer, whose early season struggle to drive in runs was well-documented. Suddenly, he is knocking them home at a breakneck pace. He has four homers and 13 RBI this month, and his 26 RBI for the season now rank behind only Danny Valencia (28) and Jason Kubel (30) for the team lead.
Cuddyer and the Pirhanas are exciting enough, but the starting rotation has shut down opponents in June, tossing quality starts in 9 of the last 12 games. Francisco Liriano has pitched so well the last two games that I’m almost starting to look forward to his starts the way I did when Johan Santana was in his prime. Scott Baker is quietly putting together a stellar season as well, striking out nearly a batter per inning.
It’s possible that the Twins horrible start has already ruined their chances to compete even in the weak AL Central this year. But even if they ultimately fall short, at least the team is finding a way to make their games worth watching.