Over the past nine years, the Minnesota Twins have dominated the American League Central. They have won six division titles in that span (seven if you count their tie for first in 2008), since Ron Gardenhire was named manager. Although they have not necessarily had the most talent, they play hard—and they scrap for every win possible.

Unfortunately, in that span, they have only six playoff victories. Four of them were in 2002 and their last playoff victory was in 2004. Regardless of their disappointments, the Twins have been resilient. They keep coming back for more. Their desperation for playoff victories is reminiscent of a child actor not named Neil Patrick Harris trying to hold on to Hollywood. No matter how hard they work, the big bad industry continues to shut them down.

Last year, however, they moved outside. With Target Field came a new swagger. They won 94 games and they looked poised to take down the Yankees. They had this new, beautiful stadium and they had home-field advantage over the Bronx Bombers. Unfortunately, the Yankees embarrassed the Twins, coming from behind twice at Target Field, then dismantling them at Yankee Stadium.

This year, though, was going to be the Twins year. Still, they are off to terrible start. They have lost each of their first three series—and they are sitting in last place in a division they have won six times. So, there are two main questions the Twins must answer. What is the cause for their poor start? Also, is there a legitimate cause for concern in the Twin Cities?

The Twins take pride in doing the little things right. Clutch hitting, good pitching and solid fielding will win you baseball games. Nevertheless, the Twins have been completely unable to do two of those things.

The hitting has been terrible.

Slumps happen. To have a collective batting average of .214, however, is an embarrassment to the game of baseball.

In hitter’s counts (3-1, 2-0), the team is a combined 2-19. Tsuyoshi Nishiokia and Delmon Young singles shouldn’t be all hitter’s counts accumulate to. The team is relatively patient, but when they do get ahead, they need to capitalize on it. Until they start getting hits when they are ahead in counts, the hitting woes will continue.

When teams struggle, they need their veterans to carry them through. Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau and Young have a combined four extra base hits. Four. Not each. Four total. That can’t happen for guys that are staples in the middle of the order. Jason Kubel and Jim Thome have played relatively well, but without the other three producing, the Twins will be in for a long, unsuccessful summer.

Sometimes, slumps can be overcome. Doesn’t good pitching out-do good hitting anyway? Well, the Twins have been unable to pitch well either.

Outside of Nick Blackburn, who has been lights out, the Twins pitching staff is in shambles. Every other starter’s ERA is over five. Francisco Liriano can’t throw a strike (eight walks in 9.1 innings)), Carl Pavano can barely keep the ball in the park (three home runs in 12 innings) and Scott Baker has been pretty brutal on both accounts (six walks and four home runs in 11 innings). When three of your starters consistently give up runs, it doesn’t matter how the team is hitting.

The bullpen has been a little brighter, but it hasn’t been that much better.

Although Jose Mijares and Joe Nathan have pitched well—and the rest of the crew has been slightly promising. Even though Jeff Manship and Dusty Hughes have been shelled, Kevin Slowey and Matt Capps have been decent.

If the pitching, especially the starters, doesn’t improve, it won’t matter how well the Twins hit; they will continue to lose games.

Another problem for the Twins is their inability to win on the road (and against certain opponents). They have a 114-130 record away from home in the last three seasons (including the playoff against the White Sox). Even though they’ve been tremendous at the Metrodome and Target Field, they need to start winning on the road to be considered a legitimate contender. Last year, they took a step in the right direction and finished above .500 (41-40), but they have returned to their losing ways on the road (2-4).

Regardless of winning or losing on the road, the Twins can’t beat the Yankees. They have only won six games in their last 26 chances and the Yankees seem bored with defeating them. The Twins had an impressive comeback win over the Bombers last Tuesday, but they followed that up by blowing an early lead on Thursday. Every time they take a step forward, they seem to take two steps back. Until they beat the Yankees, the Twins will struggle making it to the World Series.

So, is there reason to panic? No, not yet. While the early-season struggles could turn into problems, right now, the Twins have nothing to seriously worry about. They are a veteran squad that knows how to win. Gardenhire is a proven winner (in the regular season, at least) and he will right this ship by the end of the month (especially with the easy schedule they have upcoming).

Obviously, no panic should be pressed in April, but the Twins need to be aware of their issues, and they need to take the appropriate steps to correct it.

Cuddyer, Morneau and Young need to get their swing back and the offense will start working again.

Liriano and Pavano need to start throwing strikes and the pitching will start to look better.

If they figure these things out, then maybe (just maybe!), the Twins will put themselves in position to face the Yankees in the playoffs. And maybe, after all these tribulations, they will conquer the Evil Empire once and for all.

Then again, we probably shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves.

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