Twins can take plenty of positives from NYC

The Minnesota Twins headed to the Big Apple at the beginning of the week as winners of just two games through their first three series this year. Minnesota was coming off a three-game sweep at the hands of arguably the best team in this early season, the Texas Rangers.

It was early, but the Twins were searching for answers.

While manager Ron Gardenhire’s club lost Thursday’s finale against New York, 7-6, at Yankee Stadium to split the four-game series, Minnesota could take plenty of positives away from a place that had been a house of horrors in recent memory.

In fact, this week’s series split — more specifically, Tuesday and Wednesday’s wins — was the first time since 2001 that Minnesota won more than one game at Yankee Stadium in one season. (For reference, the Twins’ lineup that series consisted of the likes of Matt Lawton, Luis Rivas and Doug Mientkiewicz.)

There were plenty of things to like about how Minnesota played over the course of the series. Prior to Monday, the Twins had scored three or more runs just twice in the first nine games. They achieved that run total in all four games against New York, including six or more runs in three of the four games. Minnesota also homered in each of the four games, including two in Wednesday’s 6-5 win.

The defense has shown signs of holding steady as well, particularly Minnesota’s middle infielders. Shortstop Jamey Carroll and second baseman Alexi Casilla were solid all series, turning in a number of highlight-reel plays while also converting five double plays in the series. Gardenhire had lamented earlier in the season about his team’s inability to turn double plays, but that wasn’t an issue this week in the Bronx. With a pitching staff that pitches to contact and relies on its defense, it’s important that the Twins shore up the defense — and they did so against the Yankees.

While many of Minnesota’s position players had success offensively in New York, the series was a good sign for Twins designated hitter/first baseman Justin Morneau. While Morneau was hitless in Thursday’s finale, he had two home runs and three RBI on Wednesday, which came one day after he homered in Tuesday’s 7-3 win. Morneau missed much of the past two seasons due to a concussion and other ailments, but his performance at Yankee Stadium might be an indication that he’s inching his way back to form.

Josh Willingham, acquired by the Twins in the offseason, continued to swing a hot bat in New York. He recorded hits in all four games, extending his hitting streak to 13 games to begin the season. It took until the seventh inning Thursday for Willingham to get a hit, but the streak lives on to face the Rays.

Another new addition, Ryan Doumit, had a productive few games in New York as well, including Thursday’s loss. He hit his first homer as a Twin and had four RBI — he had driven in just one run in eight games prior to Thursday.

“The guy can hit. The guy has a track record of hitting,” Gardenhire said. “It was a good night for him. Unfortunately, we lost the ball game.”

One glaring problem throughout all four games for the Twins, however, was the starting pitching, and Thursday was a prime example. Right-hander Anthony Swarzak was handed a 4-0 lead in the first inning but gave up six runs on eight hits in just 2 2/3 innings. Swarzak lasted just one-third of an inning longer than Francisco Liriano did two days earlier, as Liriano gave up five runs on seven hits and four walks in 2 1/3 innings Tuesday. Carl Pavano was the only Twins starter to go more than five innings against the Yankees, as he started the series with a seven-inning performance Monday.

As a result, Minnesota’s bullpen was taxed this series, which should make it interesting when the Twins head to Tampa Bay for a three-game series with the Rays this weekend. In Thursday’s loss, Minnesota used three relievers — two for two-plus innings — for the third day in a row.

“We ended up using an awful lot of bullpen again,” Gardenhire said. “We’re going to have to work our way through some of those things.”

Yet as rough as it was for the Twins’ starters this series, the offense proved that it can score runs to help out the pitching staff. Minnesota now faces a Rays squad that has allowed 70 runs in 13 games this season — second-most in the American League behind the Twins. There could be a lot of offense this weekend at Tropicana Field.

So while Minnesota had the chance to earn that elusive series victory against the Yankees after taking a 2-1 series lead, the Twins can’t feel terrible about what took place in the Bronx this week. After starting the year 0-3, Minnesota is now 4-9 entering this weekend’s series.

That record certainly could be better, but things could also be a lot worse right now for Gardenhire’s club. They’ll take a split with the Bronx Bombers. After all, it only happens once every decade.

Robby Incmikoski contributed to this report.

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