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Twins hope to end eight-year Opening Day drought

Minnesota Twins players get ready for practice a day before the season opener at Target Field in Minneapolis, April 2, 2017. Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press1 / 2
Minnesota Twins manager Paul Molitor watches as the team practices a day before the season opener at Target Field in Minneapolis, April 2, 2017. Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press2 / 2

MINNEAPOLIS—On the eve of Opening Day, Brian Dozier, the lone bright spot on a 103-loss Twins team a year ago, admitted that extra attention will be paid to the way this remarkably similar team begins the 2017 season Monday afternoon when they host the Kansas City Royals.

Part of that is because the Twins buried themselves and foreshadowed a grueling season a year ago when they opened with nine losses their first nine games on their way to the worst record in Major League Baseball.

But part of it, too, is because of Opening Day struggles that have kept the Twins from a positive start to the season every year since 2008, failing to win their first game eight years in a row.

"I think it's essential to get off to a good start," Dozier said. "Everybody is in first place right now. That's the optimism that we have for this season. Regardless of the start that we get off to, we're confident that we're going to be a pretty good team."

In manager Paul Molitor's two seasons at the helm, one of the few consistencies has been early season struggles.

A year ago, a 0-9 start arrived because a lineup not too different from the one expected Monday struggled.

Two years ago, the Twins opened 2-6 because of poor pitching, before a surprising summer surge helped them finish with 83 wins.

"As much as last year sticks in the craw of some of our people, it doesn't guarantee that you can go out there and say, 'Lightning is not going to strike twice,'" Molitor said. "We have to have the mindset from day one of how important games are early. They all count. I think we're better prepared this year as far as potentially being able to handle the ups and downs that the game brings either personally or as a team.

"Because you have to fight through those things. When it's the middle of the season and you've established yourself and what kind of team you're going to be, you can handle those a little bit better. But right out of the shoot, especially with young players, it's a little more challenging. We've worked a lot (in spring training) not only on the fundamentals of the game, but also on the mindset and the confidence that you have to bring regardless of yesterday's outcome. I think those things will help us eliminate some of those longer droughts where we had trouble putting wins on the board."

The Twins haven't won on Opening Day since a 2008 victory when Livan Hernandez threw seven strong innings, Joe Nathan earned the save, and Justin Morneau hit cleanup in front 49,596 fans at the Metrodome.

In the eight Opening Day games since, the Twins have been outscored a combined 45-16. They've lost both their season opener and home opener the last five years.

Even in his first few months with the Twins, chief baseball officer Derek Falvey has heard about the early season struggles that have plagued this team.

"I think it's something that no one has run from," Falvey said. "They all know it and they've talked about it. But the reality is if you start thinking two, three, four games ahead, you lose sight of what you can control which is that night's game. I'm confident our guys will put the effort in that they need to every night and play loose and have fun and enjoy playing baseball. They'll be in a good position to put that in the rear view mirror."

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