There might be no bigger surprise this season than the Minnesota Twins, who arrive Tuesday at Safeco Field for the start of a three-game series.
The Twins sit atop the American League Central Division after losing 103 games last year and finishing 35 1/2 games behind first-place Cleveland. They have also turned into road warriors.
Their 17-6 road record ranks second to Houston (22-6) among American League clubs, and the Twins hit Safeco after winning three of four last weekend against the Angels in Anaheim.
That success against the Angels came at a key point for the the Twins. They had just been annihilated at home by Houston in getting swept in a three-game series by a combined score of 40-16.
Third baseman Miguel Sano has become a potent run-producer. He is batting .303, and his 43 RBIs rank second to Mariners DH Nelson Cruz (45) among American League players. Sano also has a 1.016 OPS.
Former MVP Joe Mauer, a six-time All-Star, is still around. Not quite what he once was — a three-time batting champion — but he has a .287/.359/.416 slash (batting average/on-base percentage-slugging percentage).
The Twins and Mariners are both averaging 4.64 runs a game, which is slightly above the .459 AL average. The two pitching staffs are also evenly matched: the Mariners are 12th among AL clubs with a 4.54 ERA; the Twins are 13th at 4.60.
Yet, the Twins are 29-24, and the Mariners 28-30.
***Tuesday’s pitching matchup features two lefties: James Paxton (4-0 with a 1.26 ERA) and Minnesota’s Hector Santiago (4-5 and 4.76). The game starts at 7:10 p.m. and can be seen on Root Sports Northwest.
***This is Paxton’s second start since returning from a month-long stay on the disabled list because of a strained left forearm muscle. He pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings on May 31 in a 5-0 victory over Colorado.
***Paxton is 1-1 with a 1.54 ERA in two career starts against the Twins. He limited them to one run in seven innings last Sept. 23 in a 10-1 victory in Minneapolis.
***No Twin has more than six career plate appearances against Paxton. Sano is 2-for-3 with a triple; second baseman Brian Dozier is 1-for-6, while Mauer is 0-for-1 with two walks.
***Santiago once saw a lot of the Mariners while pitching from 2014-16 for the Angels. He is 4-3 with a 3.09 ERA in 15 games against them, including 2-1 with a 2.22 ERA in eight games at Safeco Field.
***Cruz is 5-for-18 with three homers in his career against Santiago, but Robinson Cano is just 3-for-24, and Kyle Seager is 2-for-21. Danny Valencia is 7-for-19.
***The Mariners have won seven of their last eight while outscoring opponents 57-22. That followed a 1-7 skid in which they were outscored 52-9.
***Mariners starters are 7-1 with a 3.18 ERA over the last eight games.
***Valencia is batting .348 with 21 RBIs in his last 29 games. He was drafted by the Twins in 2006 and reached the majors in 2010.
***Catcher Mike Zunino has 11 RBIs in his last four games.
***Right fielder Ben Gamel is batting .368 in his last 16 games.
It was six years ago Tuesday — June 6, 2011 — that the Mariners selected Virginia left-hander Danny Hultzen with the second overall pick in the MLB Draft.
The Mariners had been strongly linked to Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon before opting for Hultzen, who was widely viewed as the surest thing in a pitching-rich draft.
Hultzen initially validated that assessment before encountering shoulder problems in 2013. He never really recovered.
Washington took Rendon with the sixth overall pick, and he became a fixture in the Nationals’ lineup midway through the 2013 season. He is batting .288 this season with 10 homers and 35 RBIs in 52 games.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners