The Twins have hovered around .500 most of the season, but Ron Gardenhire says it's not good enough.
By TYLER MASONFS North
During Minnesota's recent home stand,
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was asked about his team not being able to get over the hump of the .500 mark. For the most part this season, Minnesota has hovered around a .500 record, give or take a few games in either direction.
The Twins have yet to go more than two games over .500, and Monday's 5-1 loss to Atlanta dropped Minnesota to a season-low five games under .500. Given the way the last two seasons finished, playing .500 baseball might not seem like such a bad thing for the Twins.
Gardenhire made it clear, however, that he has expected more from his team throughout the first 40 games.
"We want to win," Gardenhire said. "We want to win baseball games and win series. Our goals are to win series. When you do that, then you start moving above .500. That's definitely not a goal of ours to stay .500. That's a defeatist attitude, and I'm not into that."
A year ago, Minnesota lost 96 games and had the worst starting rotation in the American League. The year before, injuries played a big part in a 99-loss season for Minnesota, the first time in a long time that Twins fans endured a year like that.
Now after back-to-back 90-loss seasons, finishing the year .500 would appear to be a big step forward.
As the Twins near the two-month mark of the season, they have work to do to even get to that point. After two more games in Atlanta, Minnesota heads to face the Detroit Tigers for four games before a two-game trip to Milwaukee.
But Gardenhire's players have reiterated that simply getting to .500 is not the goal.
"Obviously it's better than where we were last year, but nobody in here is satisfied with where we're at," said Twins catcher Joe Mauer. "Just try to keep getting better and win series. It's still early enough that we've just got to keep playing."
With Monday's loss to the Braves, Minnesota is now 18-23 and in last place in the American League Central. The Twins are seven games behind the surprising Cleveland Indians, who are in first place with a record of 26-17. If Minnesota were simply to be at .500 at this point, it would be 4.5 games out of first place.
Despite the Twins' recent skid — Monday's loss was their sixth in a row — the 2013 season has felt different than the past two years. Starting pitching remains a concern, but Minnesota's starters have made an improvement from last year. On top of that, the Twins have stayed relatively injury-free. Mauer and Justin Morneau are healthy and producing; Mauer is batting .333 while Morneau's average is up to .304 with a team-high 29 RBI.
"You have Joe and Morny who are hitting as well as they are, that's definitely productive for us," said veteran infielder Jamey Carroll, in his second season with the Twins. "Obviously we've had some good starting pitching. That helps. You see that this year we're not as often fighting to try to score some runs after some runs were scored early. That makes a difference."
The Twins' starting pitchers aren't going as deep into games as Gardenhire would have liked. Such was the case Monday when right-hander Kevin Correia lasted just four innings. The starting rotation's ERA is a combined 5.32. Clearly, there's still plenty of work to do. But Minnesota's bullpen has been solid (a 3.24 ERA, 10th in all of baseball), and the Twins' 180 runs and .247 average both rank in the middle of the pack among all MLB teams.
Rarely have the Twins been blown out through the first 40 games. There have been a few clunkers along the way, but Minnesota has remained competitive more often than not.
That's an attitude that wasn't often found in 2011 and 2012, when the Twins would fall behind early and seemingly never have a chance.
"I think we've always had good guys in here," Mauer said. "I think our pitching is improved, which has helped. We're not where we want to be at, I guess, but we think we can be better."
The Twins' current six-game losing streak is their longest of the year. Minnesota hasn't been able to put together more than a five-game winning streak, which came back in mid-April. Since then, the Twins have won more than two in a row just once.
Minnesota will need to win a few series on the road to creep back closer to the .500 mark. But the Twins won't be happy to just stop there.
"We're not by any means satisfied with being .500," said reliever Brian Duensing. "All it takes is one or two big runs and the next thing you know we're right there. Anything can happen, obviously. It's baseball. Obviously we're all still positive. We all have confidence in each other and we know that we can win baseball games and we can score runs. We've just got to put it all together."