Last season the Twins won their ninth game on May 11, by which point they had lost 23 and were nine games out of first place in the American League Central.
Minnesota is off to a much stronger start in 2013, sitting at 9-8 and only a half-game out of first after splitting a doubleheader against the Marlins on Tuesday. That puts the club in solid position as it welcomes the Rangers to Target Field on Thursday for the start of a four-game series, and manager Ron Gardenhire is giving credit to the starting rotation.
"It's just a belief that you have a chance when your starting pitcher takes the mound," he said. "Last year, we had so many injuries, and honestly the first few weeks we didn't even know who was starting and that wasn't easy. It was a tough situation. And it goes through the clubhouse because of uncertainty and not knowing who is pitching. So it happens and it creeps into your mind. But this year, we know who will be taking the ball. And we're healthier."
One Twins starter who has not excelled thus far is right-hander Vance Worley, who will take the ball against Rangers rookie Nick Tepesch on Thursday.
Worley's ERA soared to 10.50 after a disastrous one-inning outing against the Mets on April 12, but he rebounded against the White Sox on Saturday, allowing one run on five hits in seven innings, with a season-high seven strikeouts.
"I was able to command both sides of the plate today, and everything broke the way I wanted it to," Worley said afterward. "Better results."
Tepesch left his last start, Saturday against the Mariners, after 1 2/3 scoreless innings when a line drive off the bat of Jesus Montero scraped his right arm just above the wrist. His exit was a precautionary measure, and he threw 45 pitches in a bullpen session on Monday without a problem.
In 14 2/3 innings, the 24-year-old righty has a 3.07 ERA with 13 strikeouts and three walks. He had retired five of the six Mariners hitters he faced before Montero's liner.
"I felt good, I felt strong, I felt comfortable. I felt my stuff was good that night," Tepesch said. "Anytime you feel like that, you try to build on it and take it into your next start."
The Rangers, who have taken five of their past six, will be trying to continue last season's performance at Target Field. They swept a three-game series after losing nine of 10 there in 2010-11.
"It's a day to day thing; it all depends on how you play that day," manager Ron Washington said. "Last year, we played pretty good. Ron Gardenhire is always going to have his team ready. Last year he was trying to figure out what kind of team he had. He's figured it out. They're back to playing Minnesota baseball and they're also pitching well."
Rangers: Baker hurt on highlight catch
Jeff Baker was forced to leave Tuesday's game against the Angels in the first inning after making a tremendous catch in left field. Baker came up limping after he slid into the corner to snare a long drive hit by Josh Hamilton. He suffered a bruised right knee, but X-rays were negative, and the club expects him back sometime this weekend.
"It feels better," Baker said on Wednesday. "It's still a little stiff and swollen up. But once the swelling goes down and if I can get it to where it doesn't affect me or my swing, I should be out there soon."
Regular left fielder David Murphy, a lefty swinger who was getting the day off against Angels lefty Jason Vargas, replaced him and also started on Wednesday against southpaw Michael Roth. Baker is 5-for-15 with a home run this season and was making his second start in left field and fifth overall, all against lefties.
• Right fielder Nelson Cruz homered for the fourth time in his past seven games on Wednesday after going deep once in his first 14 contests. He has three homers and 10 RBIs since Sunday.
Twins: Rested bullpen getting job done
The Twins have been getting more than the usual share of off-days this season, thanks in part to the bad weather that has forced the postponement of four games since last Sunday. Even with Tuesday's doubleheader, Minnesota will enter Thursday having played eight games in 14 days.
One effect is a bullpen that Gardenhire has not needed to tax. That could be one reason Twins relievers rank near the top of the league in ERA.
"It's definitely a rest thing. We've had plenty of rest with all the snowouts and rainouts. So they're definitely rested, and some are maybe even too rested," Gardenhire said. "But I think coming out of Spring Training we were kinda seeing how we'd work this through and who was throwing best. But as we got going, we've got more comfortable putting guys in roles. And our guys have been throwing the ball decent, getting some big outs for us, and we haven't had to kill them or overwork them. And that helps also because we've been able to keep them in their roles."
• The Rangers won eight of the teams' 10 meetings last season.
• Baker, Lance Berkman and Geovany Soto are the only Rangers who have faced Worley, and they have combined for only 11 plate appearances against him.