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Updated: May 22nd, 2014 1:06pm
Zulgad: Why I'm afraid to believe in the Twins' early success

Zulgad: Why I'm afraid to believe in the Twins' early success

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

The Twins are two games over .500, in second place in the American League Central and have won eight of their past 11 games.

Phil Hughes hasn't walked a batter in more than a month and is 5-0 with a 1.60 earned-run average in his past six starts. Glen Perkins leads the AL with 14 saves. Trevor Plouffe finally seems to have figured it out at the plate.

And, yet, despite these positive signs, I still can't get excited. Check that, the reality is I'm afraid to get excited.

That's what happens when you go 63-99, 66-96 and 66-96 in back-to-back seasons. I have to see far more of this before I allow myself to become a believer.

This won't affect my regular attendance at Target Field, but going to the ballpark hasn't been an issue since the Twins moved into their baseball palace in 2010.

However, there is a significant difference between investing in the product and making an investment in a team. The former is easy to do. The latter is far more difficult.

So what will it take to make me believe that manager Ron Gardenhire has a team that can remain competitive into the summer months? We're not talking about making the playoffs, by the way, we're simply speaking of a team that looks competent on the field and is fun to watch.

It begins with starting pitching and extends well beyond Hughes. The Twins' current rotation features Ricky Nolasco, Hughes, Kyle Gibson, Kevin Correia and Samuel Deduno.

Nolasco, Hughes and Gibson need to be sure things, but Correia and Deduno deserve to have no promises made to them. Mike Pelfrey should be treated the same way upon his return from the disabled list.

Correia looked better in his start Tuesday but a poor fifth inning against a bad San Diego lineup nearly proved to be his undoing. He still has a 6.52 ERA, second-worst to Pelfrey's 7.99 ERA.

The Twins have Alex Meyer at Triple-A Rochester and there will come a point this season that he is more deserving of a spot in the big-league rotation than Correia, Deduno or Pelfrey.

Would the Twins be willing to go out and acquire a starter in July to shore up the rotation? The organization could go a long way toward proving it's not business as usual by doing so.

The lineup could be a glass-half-full or half-empty proposition depending on how you look at it.

Plouffe, whose 29 runs batted in trail Chris Colabello by one for the team lead, must be able to maintain the professional approach he is taking during the majority of his at-bats. This is especially true because there is no everyday option behind him at third base for this season.

Even if you think Brian Dozier has shown enough consistency to be considered an upper-echelon second baseman, do you really believe catcher Kurt Suzuki (.303/.371/.424) will continue at his current pace?

First baseman Joe Mauer (.283/.373/.349) should heat up as the summer nears, assuming his back woes aren't a long-term problem. Outfielders Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia appear to be nearing a return from Rochester, but both must prove they can remain on the field and that's no given.

Outfielders Jason Kubel and Chris Parmelee can contribute in specific roles and the good thing is their use could be scaled back with the return of Willingham and Arcia. Shortstop Danny Santana can provide excitement and is another guy that can contribute if used wisely.

Josmil Pinto, whose six home runs are second to Dozier's 11, takes a professional approach at the plate that should lead to him getting more at-bats as the season goes on, whether it's as a catcher or designated hitter.

The biggest problem in the lineup might be in center field. Aaron Hicks has spent two years struggling at the plate and needs to spend time at Triple-A. The Twins certainly realize this but they need to act on it.

The switch-hitting Hicks, who is batting .196, already might be in the minors but Sam Fuld continues to deal with concussion-like symptoms and it's unclear when he'll return.

If Fuld continues to be sidelined, the Twins will need to find an option other than Hicks in the middle of the outfield. This would be doing everyone, including Hicks, a favor for the long-term

In the short term at least the Twins are playing a brand of baseball that is fun to watch. If that continues until July 1, I will be willing to buy into the fact this is something to get excited about.

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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