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Updated: April 9th, 2012 10:55pm
Zulgad: Familiar feeling? Winless Twins dismiss comparisons to 2011

Zulgad: Familiar feeling? Winless Twins dismiss comparisons to 2011

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS - Considering the regular season in Major League Baseball lasts five-plus months and consists of 162 games, it's frightening to say a team really could use a day off only four games into its schedule.

But in the case of the Minnesota Twins that would be absolutely correct.

The Twins lost their home opener, 5-1, Monday to the Los Angeles Angels to drop to 0-4 on the season. Despite the best attempts by everyone in the clubhouse to convince you otherwise, it's hard not to think the Twins have picked up where they left off last season when they dropped 99 games.

"Yeah, we want to win a ballgame," said manager Ron Gardenhire, whose team has been outscored by a combined 20-6 so far and will be idle Tuesday. "You don't want to put yourself in a big hole. It's frustrating, because we came out of spring training feeling good and playing good, and we haven't played up to that.

"So we need to win a ballgame. But it's not the end of the world right now. You can go on a five- or six-game winning streak and you're back above .500, so the game can turn real quick. But right now we want to win a baseball game."

The fan base would appreciate that.

The struggles of the Twins, Vikings and Wild -- not to mention the poor fortune the Timberwolves had when Ricky Rubio went down with a torn ACL in March - have left local sports fans with little to no patience.

The announced sellout crowd of 39,414 at Target Field on Monday directed its angst first at starter Nick Blackburn after he gave up two runs in the first inning. Blackburn then settled down and pitched well, but the offense continued to provide little punch as the Twins lost their first home opener since 2009.

Players kept their cool afterward, saying all the right things about it being early and about this being a new season in which several new faces (Jamey Carroll, Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit among others) have replaced former clubhouse staples such as Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan.

"It doesn't have that feel," reliever Glen Perkins said when asked about 2012 being reminiscent of 2011. "We've got our guys here and our guys are healthy. I think that where we were in August and September as a team was a pretty dark place. I don't think we are there this year. The guys that are in the lineup now weren't in the lineup last year in August or September. I think they'll click."

Perkins might be right but that doesn't guarantee that all areas of the Twins game will click at the same time this season. As Twins players attempted to offer assurances that things were different despite the slow start, it was difficult to tell if they were trying to convince reporters or themselves of this.

If you think fans don't want to go through a repeat of last season's debacle, imagine how much those in the clubhouse feel about the prospect of another dreadful year?

But do they have the ability to stop it?

"It's going to be tough, but at the same time we've got a bunch of new guys in here that have heard about last year and didn't experience it," Blackburn said. "That's going to help us carry through, for one, but also I think the fact that everybody that was part of the reason why we had such a bad season last year, the majority of them were hurt. And now those guys are healthy again.

"Once we get things rolling, I mean, it's such a fresh season. There's still possibly nerves, or still people trying to do too much to try to prove last year was a fluke. Once we just settle in and start doing our jobs and worrying about what we can control, I honestly think we'll be fine."

Perhaps the Twins can use Tuesday to regroup. Blackburn is right in that it's far too early to write off the season, but anyone who isn't a bit concerned by this type of start also could leave themselves open to repeating a very painful and recent history.

"I think everybody wants to have a good start (no matter) what happened last year," said Joe Mauer, who started at first base for the second consecutive day on Monday. "I think we've done a good job of keeping it last year. I know it's always brought up, but we lost the first four games of the year. (We) can't do anything about it except go out there and try to win the next four or just get back on track."

Honestly, one win would be a good start for the Twins. So would scoring more than one or two runs in a game. The issue is that things aren't going to get much easier for the Twins for the foreseeable future.

On Wednesday, they will face Angels righthander Jered Weaver, who won 18 games last season. On Thursday, they will close the three-game series against righty Dan Haren, who won 16 games in 2011.

This came after the Twins lost to Angels starter C.J. Wilson on Monday. Wilson only received a five-year, $77.5 million contract from Los Angeles this offseason to be its fourth starter.

"I'm glad to have him over here," said Angels outfielder and former Twin Torii Hunter, who went 2-for-4 with an RBI on Monday. "He's the fourth starter, which is weird, but that's how good our other three starters before him are. I'm just glad to have him a part of the rotation. I don't think I've been a part of a rotation like this ever in my career. I'm excited because that's No. 1. Pitching and defense."

Denard Span, who replaced Hunter as the Twins center fielder, certainly knows this to be true. But one has the feeling he wouldn't care how the Twins won a game these days, just as long as they won one.

Perhaps then, if only for a day, he wouldn't have to reminded about how the 2012 season is beginning just the way 2011 ended.

"To start the season 0 and 4, it's definitely not encouraging and optimistic for the fans," Span said. "But we're just trying to take it one day at a time, and we're confident in here. We had a good spring training. We put forth a lot of hard work. Like I said, we're confident that we'll get on the right track pretty soon."

And what if that doesn't happen? 

Right now, Span and his teammates can't be blamed for having no interest in considering that as a possibility. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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