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Twins continue to rebound after shaky start to season

Twins continue to rebound after shaky start to season

Twins continue to rebound after shaky start to season
MINNEAPOLIS -- After a disappointing 2011 campaign that saw them finish with the worst record in the American League, the Twins set their sights on bouncing back in 2012.

But they had a hard time distancing themselves from last year's struggles early in the season, as they finished April with a 6-16 record, and had the worst record in baseball (10-26) by May 15.

Since then, however, they've played better -- they have a 26-23 record since May 16 -- but it's been an uphill climb since that slow start.

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Club breakdowns
First-half highlights

"We dug ourselves a huge hole," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "Granted, we played a tough schedule. But we didn't play very good baseball. Unfortunately, we fell a sizable margin behind, and it's been a game of catch-up the entire first half."

So despite their recent success, the Twins find themselves 13 games under .500 at 36-49, and are 11 games behind the first-place White Sox in the American League Central.

"We've not been consistent enough all the way around," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It's a team sport, a team game. One area can definitely hurt you, but ultimately it's a team, and our team has not put together enough good streaks and had too many bad streaks."

The biggest issue has been the starting rotation, as Twins starters have combined for a 5.68 ERA, which ranks as the second-worst mark in the Majors.

They've dealt with a rash of injuries to starting pitchers, as Scott Baker was lost for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, while Carl Pavano, Nick Blackburn and P.J. Walters have all seen time on the disabled list.

But the group has also been ineffective, outside of rookie left-hander Scott Diamond, who has been the lone bright spot in the rotation. The Twins have just 30 quality starts in 85 games, and Diamond has nine of them.

First-half awards
MVP: Joe Mauer
Mauer is the club's lone All-Star representative, and is tied for fourth in the American League in batting average and first in on-base percentage.
Cy Young: Scott Diamond
The lefty has been a pleasant surprise with a staff-leading seven wins and a 2.62 ERA in 12 starts.
Rookie: Scott Diamond
Diamond had a 5.08 ERA in 39 innings last year so he still qualifies as a rookie, and has turned it around in a big way this year.
Top reliever: Glen Perkins
Perkins has been impressive yet again with a 3.11 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 37 2/3 innings..
The Twins have tried their best to patch together a rotation, but it's led to using an AL-high 11 starters this season.

"It's been an issue," Ryan said. "We've had a lot of guys go through that rotation. It's been a struggle getting quality starts. We're not asking too much here. We're just asking for some quality starts and some guys have but unfortunately we've fallen so far behind.

"We're playing better, no doubt. We're playing better baseball and hopefully we'll continue the whole second half."

The offense has been the key to the club's resurgence, as the Twins struggled to score runs early in the year. But with the turnaround, the Twins rank fifth in the AL in runs scored with 234, dating back to May 16.

Key offseason pickup Josh Willingham has been a constant source of power with 19 homers, and the outfielder leads the club with 60 RBIs.

Third baseman Trevor Plouffe has also been a revelation with 19 homers, including 11 in the month of June. First baseman Justin Morneau has struggled at times, as evidenced by his .246 average, but has been able to stay on the field this season, with 65 games under his belt after playing in just 85 games last year. Morneau has 11 home runs this season.

And catcher Joe Mauer has also returned to form after an injury-plagued '11 season, as he ranks tied for fourth in the AL with a .326 batting average. His .416 on-base percentage leads the AL.

"Obviously, I just wasn't in the clubhouse a lot last year," Mauer said. "I was trying to work my way back, a lot of rehab and being down in Florida working out, you know, just a different feel. Guys aren't giving up. They're going out there battling every inning, every out. That's how we've played around here for a long time, and ... at times last year, that wasn't the case."

Players to watch in second half
Joe Mauer
Can Mauer continue his strong start to the year and win a fourth batting title?
Justin Morneau
Morneau has managed to stay on the field this year but hasn't hit for average, so can he turn it around?
Trevor Plouffe
Plouffe has emerged as a power threat since taking over at third in mid-May but can he keep it up?

The bullpen has been perhaps the most impressive unit for Minnesota, as Twins relievers have posted a respectable 3.64 ERA, despite throwing the third-most innings in the Majors with 302.

"The bullpen has done a wonderful job of holding this thing together," Ryan said. "You can't fault them. They've done a nice job coming in, and sometimes it's been in the fourth and fifth inning. It's not been just one inning. So as a group, they've done a nice job of at least keeping us in striking distance in a lot of games."

Even with their bright spots, the Twins know they have their hands full in the second half, considering their slow start, but are at least encouraged by the way they've been playing heading into the break.

"We've been playing pretty good recently against some pretty good teams," Morneau said. "We've been in every game and in every series. I think there's some belief here that this team is capable of winning and getting back to .500. And from there, anything can happen. There's still belief this season is not over."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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