Rotation(?!) the bedrock of Twins' success

2 years ago

MINNEAPOLIS — The pitching has continued to be phenomenal, several key bats seem to be on the verge of waking up, the defense has made outstanding plays, and yes, the Twins are getting some help from sloppy opponents, too.

That’s a very happy confluence of factors for this team as it roars to the finish line of April following a decisive 7-1 victory over the Tigers on Thursday that secured a second consecutive series sweep and a perfect homestand. This latest win extended Minnesota’s winning streak to seven, its longest within a season since June 2011, and secured the first 6-0 homestand in Target Field history.

Think they’re having a good time?

“We’re having a lot of fun,” Carlos Correa said. “I was telling them, I … love this team. I … love to be part of this culture. You guys can see it when you walk into this clubhouse. Everybody’s a family. Everybody’s together. … It’s pretty special, what we’re building here.”

Sure, it’s taken some luck for the Twins to get here, and Thursday was another example, as the club’s decisive four-run rally in the fifth inning was fueled by three Detroit errors — and that’s not to mention the defensive miscues involved in Tuesday’s walk-off win over the Tigers and Friday’s comeback victory over the White Sox.

But the Twins wouldn’t have been in position to take advantage had it not been for an unexpectedly dominant start to the season from the starting rotation, which now owns a 2.39 ERA, the second-best mark in club history through the first 19 games of a season and second best in the Majors. That’s counting Thursday’s short start from Bailey Ober, who exited in the fourth inning with right groin tightness but hopes the issue will resolve before he needs to miss a start.

Behind outstanding starts from Ober (2.75 ERA), Joe Ryan (1.17 ERA, 0.70 WHIP) and Dylan Bundy (0.59 ERA, 0.72 WHIP), the Twins’ rotation, viewed as a huge question mark entering the campaign, has instead been the bedrock of their early success while many of the big bats catch up.

A year after the Matt Shoemaker and J.A. Happ experiments went awry, the Twins seem to have pushed the right buttons this offseason in their reliance on Ober and Ryan and their last-minute acquisitions of Chris Archer and Chris Paddack.

“I think it’s a combination of everything,” Archer said. “We have some really, really good arms. Wes [Johnson] is a really good pitching coach. … I’ve been on teams that are super, super analytical, and these are the best scouting reports that I’ve seen.”

As the Twins close in on the second-best March/April starters’ ERA in club history behind only the 2.10 mark posted by the 1966 team, keep in mind that they’re doing much of this without Sonny Gray, their biggest offseason pitching acquisition, who went on the injured list on April 17 with a hamstring strain.

Led by veteran leadership from Gray, Archer and Bundy, the rotation has quickly bonded as tightly as any unit on this team. They all trudge to the bullpen whenever any of them needs to throw a side session, so that they can watch, discuss and trade tips. Ryan noted after his last outing that he’d been keeping in mind slider tips from Archer and other observations from Paddack while he was on the mound.

They’re constantly talking and feeding off each other’s success, each wanting to build on — and outdo — the previous pitcher’s outing, a friendly internal competition of sorts.

“Part of the unit is going out there as one group,” Ryan said. “Watching each other’s bullpens, talking to each other during the games about pitching, just staying focused all the time, holding each other accountable, it’s just huge.”

“You want to either do the same or do better than the guy previous [to you] because you believe in yourself and have confidence,” Bundy said.

That’s part of why the pitching staff has allowed just 12 runs during this seven-game winning streak, giving the Twins breathing room while the big bats of Correa and the others are still catching up.

As the shortstop notes, if this is what they can do when he’s struggling — just wait until the offense really gets it together.

“The pitching has been doing an outstanding job all year long, even when we were struggling as a team offensively,” Correa said. “Very proud of what they’ve accomplished so far.”