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It’s not how you start—or is it?

Just how important are April victories?

Chicago White Sox v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Baseball is a long season—well, when not interrupted by global pandemics or labor disputes. But I digress. For the most part, the grueling 6-month, 162-game campaign engenders an atmosphere of patience. Often, the goal is simply to remain in contention long enough to set up a stretch run—”slow and steady wins the race” and all that.

But as great baseball philosopher Yogi Berra once noted: “sometimes it gets late early”.

Yogi Berra with Stack of Baseballs
Although, according to the man himself: “I didn’t say half the things I said”

Truth be told, I’ve always been a bit perturbed by the laissez-faire attitude surrounding April baseball. I mean, those games count as much as any others in the standings, right? To try and find some clarity on this issue, I looked back at Twins seasons from 2001 to see if a correlation existed between April performance and that of the overall season.

For the most part, April success equaled overall quality—and vice versa. In 15 of those campaigns, the change in winning percentage was less—often significantly so—than .100 either direction.

Some of the outliers included...

  • 2001: .750 April; .525 overall. After an absolutely gang-busters opening salvo, Tom Kelly’s last squad under-achieved their way to a barely-above-.500 finish.
  • 2003: .462 April; .556 overall. Perhaps hungover from the ‘02 divisional dominance and deep playoff run, the ‘03 bunch stumbled out of Opening Day. Fortunately, the midseason acquisition of Shannon Stewart rocketed them to a second straight AL Central title.
7/17/03- Twins vs oakland at the Metrodome — Shannon Stewart bats during the first inning and is thrown out at first base as he plays his first game as a Minnesota Twin taking the role of designated hitter. Stewart came to the Twins in a trade for Bobb
  • 2005: .652 April; .512 overall. Looking to build on their back-to-back-to-back division titles, the ‘05 unit looked unstoppable—initially. But when the bats went cold—and never caught fire again—the team slogged to barely break even and missed the playoffs entirely.
  • 2006: .375 April; .593 overall. There’s a reason why ‘06 was so magical in Twins Territory. After putting up the exact same .375 April WP as the ‘21 Twins, the Piranhas were almost quite literally unbeatable the rest of the way, ultimately chasing down—and surpassing—the Tigers on the season’s final day.
  • 2012: .273 April; .407 overall. The ‘12 Twins were never going to be a world-beating squad. But their dismal April (the worst post-’01) sunk them into an unassailable crevice. It’s a wonder they even got to .400 on the season.
Kansas City Royals v Minnesota Twins
Not even Gardy’s passionate pleas could elevate 2012’s April.
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
  • 2018: .375 April; .481 overall. This was a wild one. After starting ‘18 a respectable 8-5, the Twins went 1-10 to close out the opening month. Molitor’s last bunch continued fighting for him, though, as they battled back to a near break-even point.

What’s the overall lesson to be learned here? While the outlier seasons are more memorable because of all the drama they produce, the fact of the matter is that most of the time the season ends roughly the way it begins—for better or for worse.

So, the next time you hear your favorite announcer/pundit commenting on a hot start “falling back to earth” or an ice-cold (often literally in these parts) beginning “easily overcome”, know that neither of those things are usually true. To quote the late, great Dennis Green: