Determined Twins aim for strong finish down stretch

Determined Twins aim for strong finish down stretch

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins didn't do much to erase the memory of a disappointing 2011 campaign by starting out this season with a 10-26 record.

But since then, they have quietly been playing solid baseball by going 39-36 in their past 75 games since May 16.

Minnesota's offense has more than carried the load, as the Twins rank second in the Majors in runs (379) behind the Angels over that span.

So while the Twins dug themselves into a huge hole because of their slow start, they're still poised to play the role of spoilers down the stretch, as the club has been hot recently, winning nine of its past 13 games.

"You want to win games, so if you're spoilers, you're spoilers, but we're playing to win," left-hander Brian Duensing said. "We're not just going to lay down and give the rest of the season up."

It's a different feel than last season, when the Twins limped to the end by winning just 13 games over the final two months of the season to finish with the worst record in the American League at 63-99.

Minnesota dealt with several injuries to key players last season such as Denard Span, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, but they're all healthy and productive this year.

It's led to a resurgence of the offense, along with the key offseason additions of Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit and Jamey Carroll and the emergence of players such as Trevor Plouffe and Ben Revere, whose career-high 21-game hit streak ended on Wednesday.

The Twins are intent on finishing this season strong despite their slow start, even if they will enter Friday trailing the White Sox by double digits in the AL Central standings.

"It doesn't matter what our record is," said Morneau, who has 15 homers and an .805 OPS in 88 games after playing in just 69 games due to injuries last season. "We're still battling every day we're out there. I think it's a tribute to our guys and our manager. That's what you're supposed to do. It's good to not just say whatever our record is. It doesn't matter. We're out there every day to try to battle back."

As Morneau noted, manager Ron Gardenhire has helped guide the Twins over their recent hot stretch, and he's done it despite a lack of quality starting pitching. His club's starters have a 4.94 ERA over those 75 games, which ranks as the 25th-best mark in baseball.

Minnesota has dealt with injuries to pitchers like Carl Pavano and P.J. Walters, has traded Francisco Liriano to the rival White Sox and has also seen rotation stalwart Nick Blackburn struggle.

The Twins have instead counted on the surprising Scott Diamond as their staff ace and leaned on non-roster players such as Cole De Vries and Samuel Deduno.

So it really has been the offense and the bullpen that have picked up the slack, and it's helped that the Twins have served as spoilers against teams like the Indians and Red Sox in recent weeks.

"It's been working out," said co-closer Glen Perkins, who has been a bright spot in the bullpen along with fellow co-closer Jared Burton. "It's exciting. Like we've been saying all along, we dug a hole and we're climbing out. We still have a lot of work to go and a lot of games to play. It's good to see us fighting."

It's been something Gardenhire has enjoyed watching, considering the way last season ended. But he also knows that the poor start has been tough to overcome despite their better play of late.

"If you start looking at it with the hole we had, we've been playing pretty good baseball for a good while here, and we're still 13 games under .500," Gardenhire said. "It doesn't feel like it. We feel like we're better than that, but we're not. That's what our record says. So the goal is to keep winning series and get back to .500."

Even if it's out of contention, the hope is now that Minnesota can finish the season strong and have something to build on for 2013.

The Twins still lack starting-pitching depth, but if they continue to play well, there's a better chance that general manager Terry Ryan won't have to blow up the roster and rebuild.

"We had a real tough month of April, but I think the team you've seen since May is more of an indication of what this team is capable of compared to the first month," Morneau said. "We had a lot of guys coming back and struggling. We were just trying to grind through things. It was tough, and we're just trying to grind it out and win ballgames. It's all we can do."

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.