The Runner Sports

Minnesota Twins Midseason Report

First things first. Miguel Sanó is the real winner of the Home Run Derby. Aaron Judge was created in a lab equal distance from the Bronx and Bristol, Connecticut, so he has been disqualified. With that set straight, it is time to assess just where the Minnesota Twins sit at the (not mathematically correct) halfway point of the season.

Overall

The Twins are 45-43 on the season. That is good enough for second place in the American League Central, just 2.5 games behind the reigning American League Champion team from Cleveland. It may seem unbelievable that this Twins team is good, but a team that is that close to first place at this point in the season is still very much in contention for a spot in the playoffs. And when you consider that the Twins are just one game out of the top Wild Card spot, their odds of making the playoffs look even better.

Starting Pitching

Through the first half of the season, Ervin Santana has the fourth-best ERA in the American League and has thrown more complete game shutouts than anyone else in the majors. Right behind him in the rotation is José Berríos, who owns a 3.53 ERA in his 11 starts this season. Still, the Twins’ starting pitchers have combined for an ERA of 4.95, good for 27th in all of baseball. That shows you just how rough things have been for most every other pitcher on the staff. Of the 33 quality starts the Twins have been credited with this season, 19 have come from Santana or Berríos. That’s no good.

The big story about the Twins’ starting pitchers heading into the season was that they were not going to throw enough strikeouts. In a baseball landscape that is increasingly defined by strikeouts, the Twins were not going to be able to keep up. This has remained the case, as the Twins have only one more strikeout that the Texas Rangers, whose starters have the fewest in the majors. They have managed to withstand this with one of the best defenses in baseball and a decent amount of soft contact, but it still puts an extra burden on the fielders and lets opposing hitters benefit from some lucky hit placement.

But the most important thing to know about this starting rotation is that they simply have not been that good. Beyond the two best pitchers, there has been a lack of execution and an inability to stifle rallies when they arise.

Bullpen

I have mentioned it a few times in my articles that the Twins’ bullpen is bad. Well, that is backed up by the fact that they actually have a 4.61 ERA, the 26th best in the land. Now, you may be saying that a 4.61 ERA is actually better than a 4.95 ERA, and you would be correct. So, I think it may be time to say something new, and possibly risqué: The Twins’ bullpen is no longer the worst facet of the team.

The end of the first half did see some improvement. Brandon Kintzler weathered a brief storm to get back to All-Star quality pitching. And he has been joined at the top of the relief corps by Taylor Rogers, who actually holds a better ERA and strikeout rate than the closer. Likewise, Alan Busenitz and Trevor Hildenberger (the latter of which has the second best eyebrows of any Trevor in the Twins organization) have been great in their brief tenures on the team. Likewise, Phil Hughes has made four appearances as a reliever since returning from the disabled list, and has only given up two runs in 5 1/3 innings.

We are not going to mention the statistics of one Chris Gimenez.

So there is still a lot of work to do as a 4.61 ERA would suggest, but things are at least looking better.

Defense

Really good. Especially Byron Buxton.

Offense

Unlike the cellar-dwelling pitching, the lineup has been at least pretty good. The 18th most runs scored, 19th best average, 21st most total bases, 13th best on-base percentage, and the 9th most steals are some of the key numbers you’ll see when looking at their stats. They have the fourth most walks in the league which has been the only thing that has worked for the team consistently all season.

But a middle of the pack offense is fine if they can make the most of it. The team has had its share of big innings, and has enough quick guys on the team that fewer baserunners can carry more weight by stealing bases and taking extra bases on weak arms. Without these elements, the Twins would probably be much further behind Cleveland.

Moving Forward

The numbers listed above make one thing clear: the Twins are pretty lucky to be where they are. There is no real reason a team with one of the worst pitching staffs and one of the most average offenses should be right on the edge of the playoff picture. But alas, the Twins are there, and I am not complaining.

To make sure the Twins make the most of the good fortune they have had so far, they will need a few things to fall their way. First, they need to get the offense better than serviceable. Not a groundbreaking idea, but an important one. The recent rise of Byron Buxton, he’s hitting .379 so far in July, is one of the key elements of making that happen. Joe Mauer will need to stay where he is, and Sanó will need to stay where he has been for the majority of the season.

But perhaps the biggest area for improvement is Brian Dozier. Dozier has always been a late bloomer, and his second half last year was one of the best in Twins history. If he can do anything close to the 24 homers and .291 average he had in the last half of 2016, the Twins are going to have a much better chance of making the postseason.

The offense, on the whole, will also need to get better at doing the little things. Situational hitting like groundouts to advance runners and sacrifice flies in key spots make a huge difference, and the ability to draw so many walks shows they have the pitch selection skills to be good situational hitters. The raw stats do not need to get better if the results behind them are.

The second key thing is to pitch better. Shocking, I know. The bottom of the league is nowhere to be when trying to make the playoffs. If the bullpen can build around the momentum of Kintzler, Rogers, Busenitz, Hildenberger, and Hughes, and get Tyler Duffey back on track, then it will be, get this, good. How about that?

The starters will have to do their part as well. Hector Santiago needs to get healthy and be the pitcher he was in the first five weeks or so of the season. Santana and Berríos cannot afford to get any worse than they have been. And both Adalberto Mejía and Kyle Gibson will need be the starters they have been in their handful of good starts way more often.

The longer the starters pitch, the better the bullpen feels on a daily basis. And the better a good bullpen feels, the better your team does.

The last thing the team needs to do is add some talent. The addition of Bartolo Colón was the first step in that direction, but the Twins have also been rumored to be interested in pitchers like Sonny Gray, Gerrit Cole, and Dan Straily. All are good, though none of them are exactly aces at this point. Still, with only two reliable starters in the rotation, a third would significantly reduce the number of holes that would appear in the last 74 games. I still think another great bullpen arm, as complimentary as I have been of that group, would be a great way to make sure the end of the game is in good hands.

Additionally, a reliable bat in the lineup would be huge. There are no places in the lineup that really need an improvement, but an outfield or catcher that could add some flexibility to the lineup would greatly improve the quality of hitters the Twins send out there each day. It is not clear if any of these exist, so pitching still remains the best option.

Most importantly, the Twins need to keep the positive attitude they have had all year long. There is no doubt that this team has a different feel and better demeanor than so many of the recent losing teams have had. It’s intangible, and possibly meaningless, but if the Twins keep having fun, then maybe pitching toward the bottom of the majors and hitting toward the middle are enough to make the playoffs.

Charlie Gillmer

Charlie Gillmer

Charlie Gillmer is a lifelong Twins fan who spends most nights dreaming of learning a knuckleball and pitching them to a World Series victory.
Charlie Gillmer

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