Minnesota Twins Ups and Downs on the Comeback Trail

Aug 25, 2015; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Minnesota Twins designated hitter Miguel Sano (22) is congratulated in the dugout after he he hit a 3-run home run against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 25, 2015; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Minnesota Twins designated hitter Miguel Sano (22) is congratulated in the dugout after he he hit a 3-run home run against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Minnesota Twins Are Trending Up, But It’s Too Little, Too Late

They say we know what a team is by the middle of June, the contenders and pretenders have shown themselves by then.

In the Minnesota Twins’ case, they had no idea who they were then, and the rest of the league has no idea who this team is now.

On June 25th, the Twins were sitting at 23-51, 20.5 games behind the Cleveland Indians and 17 games behind the second Wild Card team, the Toronto Blue Jays.

In 74 games, the Minnesota Twins had scored 295 runs and given up 413, a run differential of -118. In the 37 games since – exactly half the number on June 25th – the Twins have scored 218 runs and allowed 164, a plus differential of 54 runs.

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In number averages, the Twins are scoring nearly two runs per game more (5.89 to 3.99) and allowing over a run less (4.43 vs 5.58) every game. No surprise then, that the Twins have nearly as many wins since June 25th (22-15) in half as many opportunities!

Only Detroit and Toronto (13 & 14 losses, respectively), have better records in the AL since that date.

The 218 runs the Minnesota Twins have scored are the most in the majors since then, 22 runs more than the L.A. Angels, who have the second-best offense in that time.

Even the Twins’ players can be as deceiving as well. Brian Dozier had more hits, home runs, and RBI in June than he did in the two months prior – combined.

Miguel Sano was this close to being demoted early last week – he had struck out 14 times in six games, and then Tampa Bay happened.

Sano went 6-for-13 in the series, with three home runs and five RBI. Yes, he struck out five times in three games, but finally his productivity outweighed his flailing swings.

The Minnesota Twins acquitted themselves nicely against top-notch pitchers in Cleveland, and fellow cellar-dwellers Tampa for the week, going 5-2 in yet another winning week. The series win was the Twins’ seventh since June 25th.

They have gone 7-2-1 in series (plus a win in a makeup game) play, versus 5-16-1 in series play before that date.

DOWN/UP: Miguel Sano. Before the Tampa series, I had already sketched out this column thinking he, not Byron Buxton, would be the corresponding move once Trevor Plouffe finished his rehab assignment.

And it all didn’t center on his sudden lack of power, and increased proclivity to whiff.

No, it was that, plus his need to work on his defense – something he could do on a daily basis at AAA Rochester. With the addition of Jorge Polanco, and his ability to play three infield positions, Sano seemed to be the likely (and smart) choice.

Despite his resurgence in Tampa, I think it still makes sense. With Plouffe and Polanco, third base becomes nearly the logjam that 1B/DH is now that Sano needs to play there too to justify his presence.

Buxton’s defense and base-running are already major league-ready. He needs at-bats with the big club, he’s already proven he can handle minor leaguers. This could (and should) all change if Plouffe is dealt to a contender in the next three weeks.

DOWN: Tyler Duffey. Over his past 10 starts, Duffey has allowed 4+ earned runs in eight of them. He is also averaging less than 5 IP/Start, a stat that severely taxes a bullpen. He’s allowing too many runners (1.53 WHIP), and has given up as many home runs (18) as he has starts.

Yet, he somehow leads the team’s starters in wins with six, despite only five quality starts. Compare that to Ervin Santana, who has 12 quality starts, an ERA 2.6 runs lower than Duffey, yet Santana’s record is 5-9. No surprise then, that Santana’s WAR is three points higher (2.9 vs -0.9), even though his actual record is worse.

UP: The new top of the lineup. Since Eduardo Nunez was dealt away, manager Paul Molitor decided to move Brian Dozier up into the lead-off spot, with Joe Mauer hitting second, followed by Max Kepler.

This past week, those three players batted 35-for-86 (.407) with eight doubles, three triples, eight homers and 29 RBI.

Those three triples are as many as the Baltimore Orioles have as a team – for the entire season. If Kepler can continue to hit for power and production, he forces the opposition to pitch to Mauer.

With that protection last week, Mauer drove in 21% of his RBI for the season against Cleveland and Tampa Bay. After all the lineup juggling, Molitor seems to have found his new top three in the batting order.

NOTES: With most of the Minnesota Twins’ minor league teams not looking to be in the playoffs, look for catcher Mitch Garver to be one of the September call-ups.

With catching being incredibly thin in the Minnesota Twins system, Garver has had a breakout year in AA.

Most notably, he’s thrown out over 50% of runners trying to steal off the Chattanooga Lookouts. In 94 games, his slash .260 AVG / .424 SLG / .761 OPS / 11 HR / 66 RBI has him worthy of a look this Fall.

STRANGE, BUT TRUE, STAT OF THE WEEK: M&M Boys redux? Miguel and Max have both collected a multi-homer games this season (Kepler with two). Both players are just 23 years old.

Next: Another Second Half Series Win!

The last time the Minnesota Twins had two players under 24 that each had a multi-homer game in the same season was in 2004 – when Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau accomplished that feat. (Credit to the Elias Sports Bureau)