To find concrete evidence of the Twins' improvement from last year, all one has to do is look at their record to this point compared with last year's.
With a 5-3 comeback win Thursday against the American League East-leading Red Sox at Fenway Park, the Twins' record heading into a weekend series against the Orioles sits at 16-15. Through 31 games last year, Minnesota was 8-23.
"We at least have a semblance of a pitching rotation instead of trying to figure out who is going to start here and there," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We have a rotation that's healthy. We didn't have that last year starting with the beginning of the year. We were ad-libbing from the get-go. So guys are healthier. This club is different."
This weekend, Minnesota will be up against a team that has experienced a similar renaissance over the past few years. After enduring 14 consecutive seasons of sub-.500 ball, the Orioles surprised the American League and advanced to the ALDS by way of the expanded Wild Card last year. The O's have the best record in baseball (62-34) since July 29 of last year.
The success has continued into this season. Baltimore, now in a three-way tie atop the AL East with Boston and New York, is coming off a series victory against Kansas City. The Orioles have won four of five.
Neither team's early-season slate has been easy, either. The Orioles have already faced off against the powerful Angels and the surprising Royals this month, and the Twins went .500 on their recent 10-game road stretch that stopped through Detroit, Cleveland and Boston.
"We've handled ourselves really well against some really good ones like Detroit, Baltimore, Texas," Gardenhire said. "That's a fearsome threesome, and then these guys right here [the Red Sox] have taken off and are playing the living fire out of the ball with a good pitching staff and a good offense. So we have some really good baseball teams."
Minnesota will be challenged Friday by Orioles right-hander Jason Hammel, who has been successful on the road in the early goings. He has won all five of his starts away from Camden Yards, helping to account for his 5-1 record this year. He has won his last three, most recently getting plenty of run support in an 8-4 victory over the Angels.
"One thing I've learned over the years is that if you grind it out with a good-hitting ballclub, you're going to have the chance to come out with a 'W,'" said Hammel, who rebounded in his last start after a 37-pitch first inning led to three Angels runs. "That's what these guys do for me."
Hammel will square off against Mike Pelfrey, who is coming off his best outing of the season. He turned in his first quality start in six tries, holding the Indians to one run on four hits with a season-high seven strikeouts.
Orioles: Johnson making headway
Jim Johnson entered the 2012 season with only 21 career saves, but he already stands in a position this year to move into second place all-time on the Orioles' list. After racking up 51 last season, Johnson has 13 this year, and he needs just 21 more to pass Tippy Martinez (105) and Stu Miller (100).
Orioles Hall of Famer Gregg Olson holds the record with 160 career saves.
• Nate McLouth has already stolen 11 bases this season. His career-high is 23, with the Pirates in 2008.
Twins: Good glovework
Gardenhire points to the Twins' defense as a main reason Minnesota has remained competitive in the AL this season.
"We have some young kids who are still learning but are contributing," Gardenhire said. "And we're catching the ball. That's probably the biggest thing we're doing right now."
The Twins have made just 14 errors this season -- the seventh-fewest in baseball as of the conclusion of Thursday night's game.
• The teams' first meeting this year came early in the season, from April 5-7. The Twins took two out of three in the series but were outscored by the Orioles, 17-15.
• Joe Mauer is one double away from tying Torii Hunter (259) for sixth on the Twins' all-time list. Mauer has six doubles in his last five games.
• The Orioles have won three of their last four games, and all of the victories have come despite being outhit by their opponents. Those three games are the three times it has happened to the O's this year.