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The Twins’ 2/27 of the Season Report
- Updated: April 17, 2017
If the baseball season were shrunk down to a single baseball game, the Twins would have two outs in the first inning right now. In other words, there is still a very long way to go before the end. But hey, as the Twins showed on Saturday, a good first inning can go a long way toward success. Let’s look at how each part of the team has fared through the first twelve games, and what we can (possibly) expect for the next 150.
By far the most surprising story of the season at this point is the success of the starting rotation. Ervin Santana has been an ace, topped off with his one hit performance on Saturday. As it stands now, this could be the third time a Johan Santana wins a Cy Young for the Twins, even if this one legally changed his name in 2003. Santana has had three phenomenal starts, and has only allowed one run on five hits over 22 innings.
Right behind Santana is Hector Santiago. He has given up more hits, more runs, and pitched fewer innings than his teammate, but he still has an ERA below 1.50. The Twins haven’t had a one-two punch like this since 2006 when the other Santana and a pre-Tommy John Francisco Liriano were striking out batters left and right. This current tandem is not as flashy but is just as effective. It would be silly to expect this to continue all season, but this early promise suggests that they will both be solid starters all season long.
Behind them in the rotation are Kyle Gibson, Phil Hughes, and Adalberto Mejia. Gibson has had 1.8 good starts in his two trips to the mound, Hughes has had two good outings, and Mejia was basically non-existent in his first, but very good in his second. The Twins have not had aces at the top of their rotation in years, and they haven’t had a serviceable rotation from top to bottom since they last made the playoffs. That shows you how important a starting rotation is, and suggests that if this unit is for real, then the Twins may also be for real.
Five Twins relievers have combined for 20 1/3 innings without allowing a run. That includes closer Brandon Kintzler and long man Tyler Duffey, possibly the two most important guys in the bullpen right now. Last season it felt like no lead was ever safe for this team, but this year is different. Over the weekend, the bullpen did take two losses – both by Ryan Pressley in close games. This is unfortunate, but is by no means indicative of the relief corps as a whole. They are striking out batters about once per inning, as a bullpen should, and are limiting their walks to about one every two innings. On the whole, this bullpen has kept rallies to a minimum, handled leads, and stopped deficits from growing larger.
On the whole, the pitching staff has the lowest ERA, the lowest on base percentage allowed, and is tied for the fewest walks across the Majors. Even if they aren’t striking guys out as well as other teams, they are doing a great job keeping people off the bases which is the first step in stopping the other teams from scoring.
It’s too early in the season to know if someone is a great defender because there generally have not been enough chances for all of them to show off their skills. That being said, the current leader in the Majors for outs made outside of their expected fielding zone is Byron Buxton. He may not be hitting much, but he is making sure that balls most teams would expect to fall for a hit are actually becoming outs. He’s done it fourteen times, which means he’s doing it slightly more than once each game. Jorge Polanco has made twelve such plays and Dozier has made seven. The three most important positions for defending balls in play are performing well for the Twins when it comes to exceptional plays. Dozier and Polanco have unfortunately missed a few that they were expected to get, but that’s not terribly uncommon.
As a team, the Twins are tied for second with the most out of zone plays made and are sixth when it comes to making plays on balls hit to them and away from them. So even though the biggest weakness of the pitching staff is their lack of strikeouts, the defense looks like they will continue to make up for those struggles.
With bats in their hands, the Twins have been pretty good this season. They are not hitting for an especially high average, but they have the sixth best on base percentage in the Majors thanks to the highest walk rate in the league. One out of every eight Twins’ plate appearances this season has ended in a walk. If the Twins are that patient, and are getting that many guys on base without swinging the bat, they are going to score a lot of runs – especially since they have been one of the best baserunning teams so far this year.
BsR is a stat that essentially says how good player or team is at running the bases by stealing, taking extra bases, and avoiding double plays with speed. At the moment, Minnesota is tied for the second best BsR. A lot of that is due to Brian Dozier, who is tied for the individual league lead, thanks largely to his five stolen bases. (BsR does not include inside-the-park home runs, but Dozier hit the first of the 2017 season on Sunday.)
One great example of this speed generating runs was in Buxton’s trip around the bases on Thursday. He bunted for a hit, stole second, then advanced to third on pitch in the dirt that most players would not be able to advance on. Buxton essentially got a triple for free. That’s just one example of how this Twins team can benefit from speed, even if they aren’t hitting the ball especially well.
Of course, one guy, Miguel Sanó, is hitting the ball very well. He’s hitting to all fields and netting a lot of extra base hits. I’ve written about this before, but it won’t be long until Sanó is one of the most feared hitters in the game and one of the most dangerous guys to see at bat when runners are on base. And he’s going to have guys on base if Robbie Grossman stays toward the top of the league in on base percentage.
The Twins start the third twenty-seventh of their season tonight against Cleveland. Even though they are 5-7 so far this year, the reigning AL champions are by far the best team the Twins will have faced this year. Their pitching staff is dangerous and will be a challenge for the team that has enjoyed some big innings so far this season. That’s also going to put some extra stress on the pitching staff to limit the dangerous Cleveland offense and keep the team in the game. With Gibson, Hughes, and Mejia going in the first three games and Santana going in the finale, it’s extra important that the back end of the rotation stays solid, since Santana and Santiago can’t pitch every game. The same goes for the Twins’ bullpen as they are squaring off with Cleveland relievers who carried their team to Game Seven of the World Series last year. In short, this series may let us know if the Twins are for real. I hope they are.