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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 04 April 2011

Twins fans are nothing if not loyal.

Some may be negative or cynical, but all Twins fans look forward to each spring, regardless how many lost seasons they've endured. Generating excitement for the season is the one goal of the baseball offseason, and it's always carried out to perfection. Especially in Minnesota.

Last year, the Twins capitalized on the bottled-up anticipation, opening their season with a 5-2 record and getting an early jump on their competition. It was a perfect way to lead up to Target Field's first game, and showed that the offense was just as fired up as the fans were. Minnesota didn't hit at the same level they did for the rest of the season, but enjoyed a significantly better runs scored-to-allowed ratio.

Opening weeks may not shed much light on the outcome of the season to follow -- the World Series-winning Twins of '91 went 2-5 in their first seven games -- but it's an excellent opportunity for the team to springboard into the daily grind of the regular season. Though statistically insignificant, those first seven games occur at a time when raw emotion is rampant; success or failure will dictate the prevailing mood of the season to come.

In 2011, the Twins aren't exactly spreading the joys of optimism.

Four games have been played, and Minneosta sits at the bottom of the American League Central with a 1-3 record and a horrifying 11-26 runs scored-to-allowed ratio. Just 19 hits have been recorded by Twins hitters, roughly half the pace of the 2010 team. Patience hasn't been a virtue these last four days, either, as the 3-to-1 strikeout/walk ratio would make even Mark Reynolds blush.

In fact, these last four games have given the Twins a legitimate chance to claim the worst opening week performance in the last 20 years. Here is a public Google document with the relevent data. As the table shows, the Twins' runs scored-to-allow ratio in the first seven games has been better than the following season just six times over the last two decades. They have hit more frequently just eight times. Clealry, Minnesota teams are prone to slow starts.

Studying seven-game samples is an excellent way to learn nothing, however, and these results hardly correlate to a a season's outcome. Even so, it's an interesting trend to note, and may explain the rationale of that pessimistic Twins fan who lives two doors down.

The Twins rarely make good first impressions, but have consistently found ways to overcome the early defecits to advance to the top of their division. The poor performance this week may not be inspiring, but it holds little predictive value.

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Written by Matt McCabe | 04 April 2011

This post is from Matt McCabe, a sports writer for the St. James Plainsdealer and an occasional contributer to TwinsTarget.com. Below is a conversation he had with another Twins fan, D.L. Bergeman. Though I don't agree with everything printed below, it does provide an interesting take on two Twins' fans opinions. Thanks for this, Matt!

Dear Twins fans:

I, Matt McCabe, do send my sincerest apologies for my role in teasing and neglecting you, the reader. When last we spoke it was Halloween, 2010. Hosni Mubarak was President of Egypt. Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler were simply has-been recording artists. Charlie Sheen was a sane, productive member of society. And the Minnesota Twins had as many questions as answers regarding the 2011 roster.

Seemingly all that has changed, Twins fans. Or has it?

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 03 April 2011

It didn't come without tense moments, but the Twins got the job done.

Minnesota fielded their B-lineup today, but the absense of Joe Mauer and Jim Thome didn't stop the Twins from collecting their first win of the season this afternoon with a 4-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.

The slim victory wasn't without tense moments, and Twins fans were given their first edge-of-seat experience since last October. Joe Nathan loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth, but managed to escape with his first save since October 3, 2009.

Nathan struggled to keep a two-run lead safe, but his pitches seemed to get crisper as the inning progressed. Having been sidelined for over a year, Nathan is allowed some transition and recovery time, though Matt Capps is waiting in the wings to take over the 9th inning duties. It may have been a good idea to start Nathan with some low-leverage innings to help him get his feet back under him, but Gardenhire decided to make his first regular season outing in 18 months a memorable one.

Missed in the late-inning dramatics was Nick Blackburn's solid start. After last year's trainwreck of a season, he is hardly deserving of the third spot in the rotation, and Gardenhire has been oft-criticized for selecting him over Kevin Slowey, but Blackburn deserves praise for his strong showing Sunday afternoon.

Blackburn maintained a 5.42 ERA in 2010, with an average of just under four strikeouts per nine innings of work, the lowest rate among pitchers with at least 160 innings of work. With a mid-season demotion to Triple-A permanentely marring his resume, Blackburn isn't exactly a fan favorite. When moving Slowey to the bullpen was Gardy's solution to the over-crowded rotation, disdain for Blackburn only increased.

The lack of support, however, only makes Blackburn's strong start today more sweet.

In five and two-thirds innings, Blackburn scattered six hits and allowed just one earned run. A throwing error from Tsuyoshi Nishioka caused another Blue Jay run to cross the plate, but Blackburn isn't held responsible for the nervous play of his new teammate.

Roughly half of Blackburn's pitches were fastballs, and the right-hander mixed in some curves and changeups to keep batters guessing. Blackburn was confident in his pitches this afternoon, which is leaps and bounds ahead of where he was last season. He hasn't transformed into a different pitcher -- his strikeout rate was still extremely low -- but if Blackburn can work deep into games and provide some inning-eating, perhaps Twins fans will come to appreciate him.

Other Notes

-  Nishioka is struggling in his first season as an MLB second baseman, but that's to be expected. The Japanese native has been playing nervously, making fielding errors and taking poor swings in the batter's box. I've noticed a few over-exaggerated cuts from Nishioka, who is clearly trying to homer in every at-bat. Sooner or later Nishioka will relax and realize MLB isn't much different from NBP, and that his value lies in his ability to scatter line drives across all fields. Defensively, Nishioka has dealt with some communication problems with shortstop Alexi Casilla. As the season progresses, and Nishioka's English improves along with his rapport with Casilla, this will surely fix itself.

- Is Gardenhire contractually obligated to give Mauer Sundays off? It would certainly seem so. Mauer wasn't even given the opportunity to pinch-hit in the 9th inning of today's close contest, and it's clear that Gardenhire intends to use the defending Most Valuable Player as sparingly as possible in these early months.

- Span is about the only thing working offensively so far this season. The center-fielder went 5-for-11 in the three-game set against Toronto, and his ninth-inning home run provided the Twins with an insurance run. Span, one season removed from a five-year, $16.5 million extension, struggled through a disappointing 2010 season. Hitting just .264/.331/.348 from the top position in Minnesota's batting order, Span gave the Twins neither consistency or pop. If the left-hander could could tack on another 30 or 40 points to his on-base percentage, Minnesota will have many more opportunities to score in 2011.

Coming up

The first two games of this Toronto season were atrocious, as everyone knows. But the Twins aren't strangers to opening-week struggles. I'll have some hard data on this phenomenon for your consumption tomorrow.

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 16 March 2011

What better way to liven up a monotonous spring than be participating in an NCAA Tournament Bracket Challenge?

http://twinstarget.mayhem.cbssports.com/

For vast riches (hardly) and worldwide fame (probably not), be sure to enter your picks into this custom CBS Sportsline group. The details and prizes are given after the jump...

Click here to find out more!

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 10 March 2011

Daniel Shoptaw of C70 At the Bat recently asked me to give my thoughts on some Minnesota Twins topics. You can find my answers below, but be sure to visit his website to read the takes of two other Twins bloggers!

Click here to read the rest...

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 07 March 2011

Last week we looked at how social media has changed the process and methodology of how baseball is covered. We'll wrap up this short series today by taking a look at a few ethical dilemmas social media and Web 2.0 have created, and how newspapers are searching for the next proven revenue model.

 newspapers online(image courtesy sarahsbangor.wordpress.com)

How much restriction to put up with?

Ever since reporters stopped sharing train rides to games with players, there has been friction between baseball organizations and the media that cover them. Media groups desire the straight truth along with as much access as possible, while the team has an inherent tendency to resist giving away any information that would paint them in an unfavorable light. 

Legally, baseball teams have every right to revoke a reporter's access to a press booth or restrict the amount of material a newspaper posts online. Even if the stadium is publicly-funded, a baseball game is a private event. The right to free press doesn't apply in the case of baseball coverage; the only feasible negotiating power sports journalists have is a collective boycott of the sport.

Click here to read more... 

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 28 February 2011

twitter on laptop
(image courtesy geekwithlaptop.com)

How social media has revolutionized baseball coverage 

Be it reading books, shopping for clothes, or communicating with friends, technological advances of the past few years have revolutionized the way we perform the most simple of tasks.

Nothing has changed more drastically over the last couple of years than the coverage of major league baseball.

Click here to continue reading...

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