The Minnesota Twins began the 2015 baseball season by getting swept three straight games in Detroit by the Tigers. Just seven games into the season, the Twins were 1- 6, and six games out of first place. They had sunk right to the bottom of the standings, where pretty much every prediction had them finishing the season.
For the Twins, it was nothing new. They haven't been relevant in the American league's central division since 2010. After claiming six division titles in nine seasons, from 2002- 2010, the Twins have finished in last place three times, and in fourth place once, losing at least 92 games in each of the past four seasons.
Once the Twins returned to Minnesota for their home opener, things began to stabilize. They beat the Kansas City Royals, now defending American league champions, two games out of three, then did the same to the Cleveland Indians. They split six games on a road trip through Kansas City and Seattle, then returned home to face Detroit, this time in Minnesota. The Tigers took two of the three games in the twin cities, but when the Tigers left, so, apparently did the Twins' problems.
After taking four straight from the Chicago White Sox, the Twins took three out of four at home from the Oakland A's and two of three from the Indians in Cleveland. Now, they revisit Detroit, having won nine of their last eleven games. They now hold a record of 18- 14 for the season, and are within 2-1/2 games of first place. Over the past two weeks, the Twins easily lead the major leagues with 93 runs scored, and a team batting line of .311 .362 .468 for an OPS of .830. They have held opponents to just 48 runs, with a team ERA of 3.23.
Over the past two weeks, the Twins' five primary starting pitchers have a record of 9- 1, although not one of them has a strikeout rate higher than Trevor May's 5.65 per nine innings. While they haven't been striking out many batters, they don't walk many, either, with just 2.33 BB per nine innings. In that span, the Twins' starters have allowed just six home runs in 81 innings.
Individually, left hander Kyle Gibson has made two consecutive scoreless starts, lasting six and eight innings. For the season, Gibson has a strikeout ratio of just 2.72/ 9, whiffing just eleven hitters in 36 innings. Gibson is the extreme example of a pitching staff that has done nothing to stand out, but has kept opponents off the board in his last few starts.
Offensively, the Twins have several hot hitters, led by Torii Hunter. The former Tiger, and long time Twin has hit .365 .400 .654/ 1.054 in his last twelve games. Brian Dozier, Kennys Vargas, and Trevor Plouffe are all slugging above .500 in that span, and former MVP, Joe Mauer, has been an on base machine, as he usually is.
Over the past two weeks, the Twins have a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .367, led by Hunter's .429. The Tigers led the American league with a .319 BABIP last season. Needless to say, balls have been falling in for the Twins recently. Twins' pitchers have allowed a BABIP of .288 in that span.
Minnesota was not an easy team for the Tigers in 2014, despite finishing 20 games behind them in the standings. The Twins took the season series, ten games to nine. The Tigers won the season series against all of the other teams in the central division. This season, against teams other than Detroit, the Twins are 17- 8.
In searching for an explanation for the Twins recent surge in their quest for relevance, what stands out is a group of hitters who have suddenly gotten very hot at the plate. That, and Torii Hunter has brought them good luck.