Minnesota Twins still confident, despite June swoon

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The elbow pad. The shin guard. The batting gloves.

Enraged over a called third strike, Torii Hunter had already hurled almost all of his accessories when he ripped off his white pinstriped Minnesota Twins jersey and heaved that onto the field, too.

This was the picture of frustration, at the end of a rough few days for Hunter and the Twins. Their surprise 20-7 mark in May that sent them into first place in the American League Central has begun to unravel with this 3-7 record to start June.

The swoon hasn't lasted long enough yet to truly test this team's resolve, though. The season is still too young for stress to set in. The Twins, after all, lost an average of 96 games over the last four years. They were outscored 45-16 while losing six of their first seven games to start 2015.

Finishing 1-5 on a home-stand was hardly a major setback for a team that's been trying to rediscover a winning way for most of this decade.

''I don't have any particular issue when you go through periods like this,'' manager Paul Molitor said. ''It's unfortunate it came at a time when the games seemed to be, at least externally, a lot bigger. It's just kind of the nature of how your season's going, to have ebbs and flows.''

In his address to the players after the 7-2 loss on Wednesday to Kansas City that left the Twins two games behind the Royals in the division standings, Molitor reminded them of the date.

''You don't determine the fate of your season in June. That just never happens, one way or another,'' Molitor said. ''So there's a lot of baseball to play. We'll take the day off and we'll regroup and hopefully come back and get back on track.''

From Hunter's buoyant leadership to Molitor's steady guidance, these Twins have clearly developed a stronger team chemistry and sense of confidence this year. The postgame dance parties that Hunter initiated following wins at Target Field, complete with fog machines, laser lights and the star of the day busting a move in the middle of the clubhouse, would have been uncharacteristic of any of their recent teams.

Even if their roster doesn't prove to be good enough over the balance of the summer to stay in the chase for a spot in the postseason, the intangible improvements alone ought to translate to a more competitive club down the stretch.

''Coming out of the gate we were realistic. I think we knew that we were going to have to kind of get off to a good start and then weather those bad times,'' right-hander Phil Hughes said. ''I think we've done those things remarkably well. Anytime we've lost a couple tough games, it seems like we bounce back and have done a good job of putting those things behind us.''

Closer Glen Perkins and second baseman Brian Dozier are the only obvious All-Star game candidates. Despite being in the bottom third in the majors in home runs, steals and on-base percentage, the Twins only fell out of the top third in runs this week after scoring three times in three games while being swept by the Royals.

Their pitching staff is last in the majors in strikeouts. They've been charged with the seventh-most errors in baseball, and most of the analytics used to measure defense don't favor these Twins.

Yet here they are, still 33-26 despite their recent struggles.

''There's something to be said for how we've had a relaxed attitude and had fun out there,'' Hughes said. ''I know Sabermetricians and stuff probably don't find any value in that, but if you're coming to the ballpark and you're in a good mood, you're in a good place mentally, you're just going out there and playing ball, you're not thinking too much, I think you can let those physical skills sort of take over. Whether it's played a big part in our success this year or not, I think that it's certainly a good atmosphere to come into.''

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