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Unfamiliar territory

Knight Ridder Newspapers

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Metrodome might still be unfamiliar territory to Luis Castillo, but where the Minnesota Twins sat after the franchise's ugliest month of baseball since the 1990s was too familiar for comfort.

The Twins' new second baseman was an all-star on that 2003 Florida Marlins team that played terrible for two months before shocking baseball with a four-month sprint to the playoffs and an upset World Series victory over the New York Yankees.

These Twins compared to those Marlins?

"Different league," Castillo said. "Different division."

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Start talking about historic comebacks and putrid-to-playoff turnarounds, and it might be as simple as that for these Twins.

Castillo's Marlins played in a top-heavy National League East.

And even last year's NL-champion Houston Astros, who had a 9-13 April and an even worse start into late May than the '03 Marlins (15-30), played in an NL Central Division that fell off dramatically after the first-place St. Louis Cardinals.

So where does that leave the Twins, who opened May on Monday with the second-worst record in the American League, the major leagues' worst pitching and one of baseball's least productive lineups?

Other than eight games behind the World Series-champion, $102.9 million, division-leading Chicago White Sox?

It left them needing what would be one of the most remarkable turnarounds in recent history to get to the playoffs, considering their first-month performance and the quality of the competition this year.

"I've never seen it this good," Seattle Mariners closer Eddie Guardado, a Twin from 1993-2003, said of the 12-year-old American League Central.

"It went from one of the weakest divisions to definitely one of the strongest," Seattle outfielder Matt Lawton said.

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Those comments come after the Mariners saw Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago on their early-season schedule. And they're coming from players whose team went 4-5 against those teams -- compared to the Twins' 0-9 record and 73-15 run deficit against the top three teams in the AL Central.

Without an immediate turnaround, the Twins might count themselves out of the division race by June.

"We've played well at home, and that's your bright, shining light right now," manager Ron Gardenhire said as the Twins prepared to open a seven-game homestand after going 2-7 on their second brutal road trip of the season. Their woes culminated with a 33-1, three-game lambasting in Detroit over the weekend. "Hopefully, it's a cure-all."

If so, this weekend's three-game home series against Detroit might say as much about the Twins' chances to right their early-season issues as three series against the top division rivals said about their April.

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