Throughout the season, we’ll take a look back at the month that was for the Minnesota Twins. Today marks the first installment after the Twins played .500 baseball through 24 games in April.
April record: 12-12
Tyler Mason’s player of the month: 1B/RF Chris Colabello, .295 average, 3 HR, 27 RBI
There couldn’t have been many stories in baseball better than Colabello in the first month of the season. After spending seven seasons playing independent ball, Colabello finally got his chance with the Twins and debuted in the majors last year. His first month of 2014, however, was one that few people could have imagined.
Colabello’s 27 RBI set a team record for most RBI in the month of April, surpassing Kirby Puckett’s record. The 27 runs batted in were also the second-most in the American League and third-most in all of baseball. Now that Colabello has tasted success in the majors, the question will be whether he can sustain it as the season moves forward.
Tyler Mason’s pitcher of the month: RHP Kyle Gibson, 3-2, 4.34 ERA
Gibson had to battle for the No. 5 spot in the Twins’ rotation this spring, and he emerged as Minnesota’s option for the final spot. Through Gibson’s first three starts this year, he was brilliant. He went 3-0 with a miniscule 0.93 ERA. His two most recent starts haven’t been as crisp, and he earned the loss Wednesday against the Dodgers. Still, Gibson has been the Twins’ top pitcher in a rotation that has been slow out of the gates.
Looking up: The Twins had one of the highest-scoring offenses in baseball in April, and it was thanks to several bats that few people expected to contribute as much as they did. It starts with Colabello, who leads the team in RBI after entering spring as a bit of a long shot to make the 25-man roster. Additionally, catcher Kurt Suzuki — known more for his defense than his offense — batted .302 in the first month and is tied for second on the team with 19 RBI. Lastly, outfielder Jason Kubel, who signed a minor-league deal this offseason, has returned to hit like the player he was during his first stint with the Twins. Kubel had just one home run in April but hit .288 with 12 RBI and six doubles.
Looking down: Aside from Gibson, Minnesota’s starting rotation was not very good in the first month of the year. Take away Gibson’s 3-2 record and 4.34 ERA in April and the rest of the starters were 4-8 with a 6.55 ERA. The two holdovers from last year’s rotation, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey, have ERAs of 7.33 and 7.32, respectively, and are a combined 0-5. Newcomers Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco haven’t been much better, with Hughes’ 5.14 ERA second among the team’s starters behind Gibson. It’s only one month, but Minnesota needs its starting pitching to improve — and to get deeper into games than the rotation did in April.
Looking back: As manager Ron Gardenhire said Thursday, going .500 is never the goal. But considering where the Twins have been the past three seasons — 96 or more losses each year since 2011 — playing .500 baseball feels like a big step forward.
Minnesota has been competitive in just about every game and has won four series so far this year and has not had a problem scoring runs. The starting pitching, however, has not been as good as people expected after the Twins signed free agents Hughes and Nolasco this offseason. All things considered, though, playing .500 baseball and sitting just 2 1/2 games out of first place after one month sure beats how Minnesota had played over the last three years.
Looking ahead: Minnesota’s schedule was tough in April as the Twins faced five teams that made the postseason in 2013. Things remain tough through the early part of May, as Minnesota finishes off with the Dodgers on Thursday before hosting the Baltimore Orioles. The Twins then embark on an AL Central road trip to Cleveland and Detroit and return home to host the defending World Series champs, the Boston Red Sox. Robinson Cano and his new team, the Seattle Mariners, also visit Target Field during that homestand. For fans who are willing to travel, Minnesota has perhaps one of the best road trips imaginable as the Twins head to San Diego and San Francisco for two games each, with off days surrounding the games against the Padres.