Perhaps this won’t be a major surprise, but in the context of Minnesota Twins franchise history, we’re living in the midst of an absolute dream.
In the 59 years in which the Twins have called Minnesota home, the team has managed to have a winning record through the month of April exactly 21 times. If you’re scoring at home, that’s just 35.6 percent of the time.
It’s obviously a terrible mark, and even knowing full-well about the Twins’ roller coaster history in terms of competitiveness, managing a winning record in the opening month of the season just north of a third of the time in franchise history is still...not good.
After closing out the month of April with a 17-10 record (a .629 winning percentage), the Twins managed to notch what was arguably the second-best start in franchise history.
Since the Twins moved to Minnesota in 1961, there has been just one season with a significantly better winning percentage. The 2001 Twins began their post-contraction-threat season with a stunning 18-6 record, a .750 winning percentage.
There were a few other Twins teams with marginally better winning percentages, but that was largely due to playing significantly less games and not starting in March, as the 2019 squad did.
The 2010 and 2005 Twins both finished April with 15-8 records, which clocks in at a .652 winning percentage. The 2004 Twins were 15-7 (.681). Way back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Twins had a few squads that sniffed a similar percentage in significantly less games. For instance, the 1979 club played only 20 games but won 13 of them, a .650 winning percentage.
You’re probably wondering about the World Series clubs. Well, they weren’t so hot early, despite playing in the friendly indoor confines of the Metrodome. In 1987, the Twins started with a 12-9 record. In 1991, it was just a 9-11 start on the heels of a last-place finish in 1990. And back in 1965, when the Twins lost the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers, they started with an 8-3 record in April.
The 1969 and 1970 clubs that lost in the American League Championship Series went 13-7 and 12-6, respectively. And the 96-win 2006 club went just 9-15 in the opening month of the season while the 94-win 2004 team was 16-11 early on, good for just a .592 winning percentage.
So, we’re going to go ahead and call this the second-best March/April start in Twins history, albeit with all kinds of gentle caveats, and also recognizing that it certainly doesn’t mean a whole lot in terms of where they’ll be sitting come late September.
Let’s take a quick look at the most recent Twins squads to compete for the title of the “Best of April”.
15-8, .652 winning percentage
The 2010 Twins were the final competitive team of the Ron Gardenhire generation. It was, of course, the inaugural year of Target Field, and Twins fans had every reason to expect a strong start to the season.
Joe Mauer had just won the 2009 MVP award. The Twins had been uncharacteristically busy over the winter, signing former enemy and future Hall-of-Famer Jim Thome to hold down the designated-hitter spot and two-time All-Star Orlando Hudson to man second base. They also traded for former All-Star J.J. Hardy and re-signed free agent pitcher Carl Pavano following his acquisition prior to the 2009 trade deadline.
All that to say, the Twins were all-in. And they started hot, opening Target Field with a 6-3 record in April and going 9-5 on the road, only losing two series all month.
Of course, that team faltered slightly midseason, going just 12-15 in June. They still managed to win 92 games and the A.L. Central by six games over the Chicago White Sox, but in keeping with tradition, the Twins were swept in three games by the New York Yankees despite playing Games 1 and 2 at home.
To date, those are the only playoff games to be played at Target Field.
15-8, .652 winning percentage
The 2005 Twins were won of the more disappointing teams in recent memory.
Coming off of three consecutive A.L. Central titles, the Twins went just 83-79 and finished third in the division, behind the White Sox (99 wins and the eventual champions) and the Cleveland Indians (93 wins and no playoff berth).
But the team started the year hot nonetheless,. Believe it or not, this was Johan Santana’s first All-Star season, despite winning the Cy Young Award in 2004. He pitched to the tune of a 16-7 record and a 2.81 ERA on the season.
The Twins’ offense struggled throughout the year; Mauer’s .294 batting average was a down-year for him but easily led the team. The next-best batting average among regulars was Shannon Stewart’s .274 mark.
The Twins as a whole slashed just .259./.323/.391 on the season — worse than the career OPS of folk hero Lew Ford, who was also on the club. It’s also important to note that this was the season of Corky Miller’s 0-for-12 Twins career.
And that’s all we have to say about 2005.
15-7, .681 winning percentage
The 2004 Twins were a 92-win team starting the likes of Luis Rivas, Henry Blanco, and 35-year-old Jose Offerman for the majority of their games.
It was Joe Mauer’s rookie season, but he was injured in his second game and ultimately played in just 35 regular season games, slashing a promising .308/.369/.570 and knocking six home runs over the fence.
This was Santana’s 20-win Cy Young season, and Brad Radke and Carlos Silva provided solid-enough production as starters No. 2 and No. 3. Joe Nathan was utterly dominant in his first year as a closer, notching 44 saves and a 1.62 ERA, making the All-Star team and finishing fourth in Cy Young Award voting.
The Twins won Game 1 of the ALDS with Santana outdueling the Yankees’ Mike Mussina, but Minnesota dropped the next three games and that was that.
18-6, .750 winning percentage
The 2001 Twins team was remarkable, to say the least.
As you likely recall, the team came to spring training with the ever-present threat of contraction looming over their collective heads. It also ended up being Tom Kelly’s final year as manager before ceding his role to Gardenhire, who guided the Twins the the playoffs for the first time in 11 years the following season.
In 2001, however, it was all about a youth movement. There were zero everyday players over the age of 30, with Matt Lawton (29 years old), Corey Koskie (28), and Doug Mientkiewicz the elder statesmen.
Lawton was traded midseason for veteran starting pitcher Rick Reed, who was the only member of the rotation north of 28 years old. Radke himself was 28, and the rest of the rotation was rounded out by Joe Mays (25 years old), Eric Milton (25), and Kyle Lohse (22).
It was, as much as I hate to say it, a scrappy group, and the fact that they finished with 85 wins and only dropped the division by six games to Cleveland was nothing shy of a miracle.
17-10, .629 winning percentage
We know a few things about the 2019 Twins.
First, they have an awesome offense. Second, Jose Berrios is likely a true ace starting pitcher. Third, the rotation and bullpen are each shaky at best.
If Twins history tells us anything, it’s that their start to the 2019 season is exceedingly rare, and also that it doesn’t mean a lot in terms of their season-long outlook.
Of course, those 17 wins count, and banking them early is important and can cover for a few series losses here and there over the course of the season. But the Twins are done with Baltimore and has plenty of games left against their own division, too, so anything could still happen.
All that said, here’s hoping for the positive vibes to continue well into May and beyond...
Which Twins team had the best April?
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