To back that claim up, Gardenhire simply needs to point to his new right fielder. While Michael Cuddyer was by no means a weak spot for the Twins last season, his replacement, Josh Willingham, has wasted no time writing his name into the Twins' record books.
With his ninth-inning single on Saturday, Willingham joined Twins legend Kirby Puckett as the only players in franchise history to record at least one hit in each of the club's first 15 games of a season.
"You never know until the season starts, but we liked him when he was against us," Gardenhire said of Willingham. "I don't really try to set expectations on how you start a season or whatever, but it's been fun to watch up to this point. He's a strong young man, and he puts a lot of really good swings out there and has come up with a lot of big hits for us."
In Sunday's rubber match with the Rays, the Twins will be relying on one of their mainstays over the years, Francisco Liriano, to lead them to a series victory.
Liriano is off to a rough start in his attempt to rebound from a 5.09 ERA in 2011, as he has already allowed 15 earned runs in just 11 1/3 innings over his three starts. He's walked more batters (nine) than he's struck out (eight), and opponents are hitting .407 off the southpaw. His ERA entering the game is 11.91.
Countering Liriano will be Jeff Niemann, who's also looking for his first victory, though he hasn't struggled nearly as much. Niemann is off to an 0-2 start despite not allowing more than three earned runs in either of his starts.
Whether the Twins finish out the series with a victory, or Willingham moves past Puckett for sole possession of the club record Sunday, Gardenhire knows one thing for certain -- this club is different.
"The expectations are there, I know that," Gardenhire said before Saturday's loss. "Every time we step on the field, we feel like we have a chance. You have to go that way. Last year, we went through an awful lot, but when we wrote a lineup out, we thought we had a chance to win it that day.
"It didn't work out very many times for us, obviously, but this is a different group. A lot of different people. There's a good atmosphere."
Twins: Morneau set to return to field
After sitting out Friday's game and serving as the club's designated hitter on Saturday, Justin Morneau is expected to start at first base Sunday. Morneau was held out of the lineup on Friday after fouling a ball off his right foot Thursday night.
"It's not perfect, but it's better. He'll get through it," Gardenhire said before Saturday's game. "All I know is he came in and said, 'I'm good to go. Let's do it.' He came out and worked early."
Morneau went 1-for-3 with a walk and a double in Saturday's loss.
Rays: Upton notches first RBIs
One night after making his first start of the season, B.J. Upton crossed a couple more firsts off his list on Saturday.
Upton recorded his first hit of the season in the second inning, then broke a scoreless tie in the sixth with his first RBIs on the year. With the bases loaded, Upton singled up the middle, plating the go-ahead run. He was credited with two RBIs on the play, as the third runner scored due to an error.
"This is where I wanted to be the whole time," Upton said before his debut Thursday night. "Unfortunately, I had to do what I had to do to get back. But now that's all behind me. I'm ready to chip in any way I can to help this team win."
Denard Span is 8-for-18 (.444) in his career against Niemann. Danny Valencia, on the other hand, is hitless in eight at-bats against the right-hander, striking out three times.