Minnesota Twins Ups and Downs After Week 4

Aug 29, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier (2) commits an error in the eighth inning against the Houston Astros at Target Field. The Houston Astros beat the Minnesota Twins 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 29, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier (2) commits an error in the eighth inning against the Houston Astros at Target Field. The Houston Astros beat the Minnesota Twins 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports /

Minnesota Twins Trends After One Month: Need May 2015 Repeat

After one month last year, Twins’ fans were frustrated. There was promise with a new coaching staff, and the Twins’ cupboard in the minors would soon open to the likes of Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, and Byron Buxton. But the Twins started off 0-3, getting blasted by the Detroit Tigers in a three game sweep in which it took 24.1 innings to score their first run, a Twins franchise record for futility to open a season.

Then came May. A 20-7 record had the Twins surging into Summer sporting a 30-19 record, and all seemed right with the world. Oddly, as successful as last season seemed, May was the only winning month for Minnesota all season. They would finish the year above .500, but it was all on the strength of that highly successful month of May. This week’s 2-4 record leaves the Twins at 7-18, 10.5 games back of the leader Chicago, and 4.5 behind their closest competition, the Cleveland Indians.

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The year before Kansas City made two straight appearances in the World Series, they had a season in which they sported winning records in 5 out of the 6 months. Maybe we were too optimistic on a Twins season that featured just one. Maybe so, but another month of May like last year could help propel the current team out of their doldrums, and put fans in the seats come Summertime.

As it is, Minnesota is on track to have lower than 2 million fans through the turnstiles, something that hasn’t happened since 2004, a year after the Twins reached the ALCS. Even with all the promising newcomers, with Jose Berrios making his major league debut, Minnesota will need to start winning games soon and inch closer to .500 record-wise, to capture the fickle Minnesota fan-base’s attention.

UP: Joe Mauer. The past two seasons were Mauer’s worst. He blamed the poor showing on concussion symptoms that he said have now cleared up. He made that assertion in the off-season, and this year’s numbers have backed that up. Mauer has reached base in all 25 games this year (his last game in 2015 he did not reach base, so there were no carry-over games to add to the streak), and his hitting numbers reflect those of his MVP season in 2009.

DOWN: Situational hitting. Even productive outs are missing. Too many of the younger hitters like Miguel Sano and Oswaldo Arcia, are over-swinging, trying to do too much early in games. Those at-bats are resulting in strikeouts (team is 4th in ML with 220), or pop-outs. Both hitters admitted to cutting down their swings when hitting game-winning hits in consecutive games over Cleveland this past week, but the whole team needs to learn to do so even in earlier innings.

Sunday’s game could easily gone the other way if earlier at-bats against Mike Pelfrey had produced productive outs, or a hit. In the third inning, Mauer singled, and Sano hit a ground-rule double. Back to back strikeouts and a ground-out led to another inning with zero runs scored. An inning where even a fly ball to the outfield, instead of a strikeout, would have led to a run.

UP: Hitting with runners in scoring position (RISP). Even with poor situational hitting, the Twins have actually improved since their atrocious .079 RISP start in their winless start to the season. Through Sunday’s game with Detroit, the Twins are now 44/198 w/RISP for a team .222 avg. Compared to those 44 hits, Minnesota has 59 strikeouts w/RISP. Byung-ho Park, the team leader in home runs with six, got his first hit today w/RISP, leaving him 1 for 17 (.059) in 2016.

DOWN: Brian Dozier. Twin lead-off hitter last year and All-Star representative, is hitting 3-25 (.120) when leading off an inning (or ballgame). Conversely, the other Twins who have batted lead-off multiple games, Eduardo Nunez and Danny Santana are hitting .389 and .385 respectively in such situations. Manager Paul Molitor would be wise to give those two batters more chances at the top of the order moving forward.

UP: Byung-ho Park. Park is leading the Twins in HRs (6), XBH (10), and is averaging a home run every 11.5 at-bats. He’s batting .232 on the year, and .357 when he’s batting with the bases empty. Obviously, teams are pitching around him more when runners are on, but if Park can raise his runners-on average (.107) closer to his overall batting average, the RBI’s will follow.

DOWN: Starters. Four of the six starters who have pitched more than one game are averaging only 5 innings per start. Phil Hughes has 4 quality starts in 5 total starts, and Ricky Nolasco leads the team by pitching an average 6.2 innings/start. All these short starts lead to an over-taxed bullpen, and leaving 8th-inning setup men coming in earlier leading to pitching coach Neil Allen wondering who will get the important outs later on. Once the starting rotation gets set after injuries are healed, and the front office decides what to do with Berrios and Duffey, the starters will have to consistently pitch to and into the 7th inning, if the Twins are to mount a seasonal comeback in the standings.

UP: Sano in the field. Miguel Sano started games this past week at third base, handling multiple difficult plays, including the charging bare-hander. He even made a highlight-reel diving catch in right field against Miguel Cabrera. Once Trevor Plouffe comes off the disabled list, it will be interesting if the Twins will continue to allow Sano to occasionally play 3B.

SAD, BUT TRUE STAT OF THE YEAR: The Twins are winless against teams with winning records, and just 1-10 on the road. Minnesota plays its next 6 games on the road, with three against Houston (8-17) and three versus the Chicago White Sox (18-8). Jose Berrios hopes to get the Twins back on the winning side tomorrow night in his second major league start. He faces last year’s AL CY Young award winner, Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel has won an Astros franchise-record 17 straight decisions at Minute Maid Park. In his 22 home starts, the Astros are 20-2.