Minnesota Twins: What to Expect from the Second Half

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 17: (L-R) Jorge Polanco
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 17: (L-R) Jorge Polanco /

The Minnesota Twins had a surprising first half to 2017. Will the Twins be able to keep that pace as they open the second half of the season?

The Minnesota Twins begin the second half of their 2017 season Friday night. The Twins come out of the All-Star break with a 45-43 record. That leaves them within striking distance of a playoff spot, 2.5 games back in the AL Central of a Cleveland Indians team who appears to have found their World Series stride again. The Twins are also just 1 game back of a Wild Card spot and the reward of a one-game playoff.

The first half was full of some great moments. Winning baseball headlines them all. Sending Miguel Sano, Ervin Santana, and Brandon Kintzler to the All-Star game was another exciting event for a team rebounding from a 100 loss season. Jose Berrios has emerged alongside Santana to form an exciting 1-2 front of the rotation. The Twins have also performed very well defensively, led by the outfield trio of Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, and Max Kepler.

While the first half has been exciting, there remain several questions about the Twins’ ability to continue and compete through the remainder of the season. Most suspect as of the moment is the pitching staff. Taking a look at their schedule, it looks as though some of those questions could be answered quickly.

The Schedule

There is no easing back into game action for this team. They play the American League leading Houston Astros right out of the gates. A club that embarrassed the Twins earlier this season, an embarrassment that was highlighted by a 16-8 loss on Memorial Day, which featured an 11-run eighth inning that erased an 8-2 Twins lead.

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The test doesn’t end there, as the Twins then face Aaron Judge and the New York Yankees. The Yankees’ power bats will be able to test the Twins’ pitching on the national stage as they face off on ESPN Tuesday, July 18th. To round out the month of July the team also faces the Detroit Tigers, the National League leading Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Oakland Athletics. Also, a series of note, the Twins will play their annual home and home 4 game series against the first place Milwaukee Brewers August 7-10.

As the Twins try to reclaim first place in the AL Central they will have the opportunity to play the Indians 6 more times. As for the rest of the division, they will face the Tigers 13 times, Royals 7 times, and White Sox 8 times. Those games against the White Sox also include a doubleheader in Chicago August 21st.

Trade Deadline

As July unfolds, those early tests against the Astros and Yankees will bring further clarity to any potential action at the trade deadline. Division Rival White Sox have already made a big move as they traded Jose Quintana to the Chicago Cubs. Eliminating a potential “controllable starter” the Twins have been rumored to covet.

Along with starting pitcher, other areas the Twins could be looking to improve at the deadline is bullpen and a right-handed bat. Pitching is an obvious need as the team is 14th out of 15 AL teams in team ERA and 13th in team WHIP. The right-handed bat would help the team sit players like Rosario, Kepler, and even Joe Mauer against left-handed starters who the team is batting .237 against.

Without a surge out of the break, it currently looks like the Twins are much more likely to stick with what they have than make a significant trade at the deadline. In fact, it may be more likely that the team would potentially try and trade an asset to build for the next several seasons. After seeing what the White Sox got for Quintana, team executives have to be wondering what they might get for Santana or even Kintzler.

Are there Reinforcements in the Minors?

Another direction the Twins can look to improve is to call up guys from the minor leagues. We have already seen Zach Granite get a promotion after he was tearing up AAA all season. Some other names to keep an eye on that could have an impact down the stretch are pitchers Stephen Gonsalves and Fernando Romero.

Both pitchers are having excellent seasons at AA Chattanooga. There is a concern with Romero’s past injuries and whether he will be held to some sort of pitch count. A pitch limit would impact his ability to pitch deep enough into the season to help the Twins down the stretch. For a full scouting report on Romero, go check out what Benjamin Chase wrote about him earlier this week.

Gonsalves and Romero would likely be called up to assume a role in the starting rotation. Some names to keep an eye on for a bullpen spot would be John Curtiss and Luke Bard. Both are putting up solid numbers and could be turned to if there is no trade made to improve the bullpen.

Competing for a Playoff Spot

The Indians and Royals are the Twins’ two competitors for the division title, and we already touched on the number of head-to-head match ups they have left. Those match ups will be key and hold the biggest impact on the race for the AL Central crown. As these AL Central foes battle each other in the standings, another division figures to impact the race heavily as well, the AL East.

Coming out of the break the Tampa Bay Rays and Yankees hold down the wild card spots ahead of the Twins. AL Central and AL East teams will continue to play each other often through the second half. Twins’ fans may find themselves rooting for the Boston Red Sox in the second half. The Twins have finished their season series with the Red Sox, but the team from Boston plays all four of the teams the Twins are competing with for playoff spots often until the season’s end.

Next: Interview with John Sickels

The second half will provide answers to many questions. Will the Twins be part of the trade deadline deals? Will Sano hit 40 home runs and receive significant MVP votes? Has Buxton finally figured out the leg kick or no leg kick soap opera? Most importantly, are the Minnesota Twins contenders. The answers will come soon.