Minnesota Twins: 3 Adjustments to help Turn the Team Around

Randy Dobnak of the Minnesota Twins aftertastes giving up a grand slam to Akil Baddoo of the Detroit Tigers. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
Randy Dobnak of the Minnesota Twins aftertastes giving up a grand slam to Akil Baddoo of the Detroit Tigers. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images) /

It’s not a secret that the Minnesota Twins aren’t exactly off to the start they had hoped for. After Friday’s loss to the Angels, the Twins sit at 6-8, and are tied for last place in the AL Central. Naturally, there’s still a lot of season left, so there’s plenty of time for the team to turn things around. Here are three things that the Twins will need to fix in order to do so.

Minnesota Twins: Fix Those Bullpen Blues

This one is pretty easy, and also pretty obvious to any Twins fan so far. The bullpen has not been great, by any stretch of the imagination. Newcomer Alex Colomé has blown as many saves as he’s recorded so far (2 apiece). In fact, he’s already allowed double the amount of earned runs as he did all of last season (2 ER in 22 & 1/3 innings in 2020, 4 ER in 6 & 1/3 innings this season).

He’s been getting hit hard, too. Colomé has an expected ERA of 8.66, nearly three full points higher than is actual ERA. Out of 22 batted balls off the righthander, five of them have been barreled up, a rate of 22.7%. The league-average mark is 6.4%. His hard-hit rate is also nothing to write home about, as a 59.1% figure is well above the league average of 35.1% (Stats from Baseball Savant).

Randy Dobnak, fresh off his contract extension, has really struggled as well. After failing to crack the rotation, Dobnak was placed in the bullpen in a long-relief role. Unfortunately, those outings have been really long, as he has labored heavily several times.

Dobnak has allowed 11 earned runs in 8 & 1/3 innings this season. This includes two outings with five runs allowed already. He took the loss on Friday, blowing a 6th-inning lead after giving up three consecutive singles to start the inning. Three of the first four batters reached in the 7th, finally chasing him from the game.

Dobnak’s improved slider hasn’t been much help to this point. After a great showing in the spring, batters have started the season by hitting .333 off the slider. After recording a run value of -6 with the slider in 2020 (-2.1 per 100), he’s posted a run value of 2 (4.2 per 100) this season.

The idea was for the slider to help play up the effectiveness on his sinker, and that hasn’t exactly worked either. Dobnak has allowed an average of .375 off the sinker, with a .625 slugging percentage, and a hard-hit rate of 62.5% (Baseball Savant).

Those two aren’t alone in their struggles. After starting the year with 4 & 1/3 scoreless innings, Caleb Thielbar has allowed 4 runs in his last 2 & 2/3. Hansel Robles has followed a similar path, surrendering 3 runs in 2/3 of an inning on Thursday, after not allowing an ER in his first 5 outings.

It’s especially frustrating for the team when you consider how great the starting rotation has been. Through the first 14 games, the rotation has combined for a 2.86 ERA, led by Michael Pineda, who has allowed just 2 runs in 18 innings and boasts a strikeout rate of 25.4%, which would be his highest in a season since 2016.

Despite this success, they haven’t been picked up by their bullpen. The Twins have blown a lead in six different games this season. And they’ve only played 14 games. Yikes. The ‘pen is good enough to turn it around, and it’s too early to be in panic mode yet. However, this is still something that needs to improve, sooner rather than later.

Minnesota Twins: Stay Healthy

I know, I know. This is a key for any baseball team that has ever existed at any point. However, it’s still relevant for the Twins at this point. And I don’t just mean health in terms of injuries, either. In case you somehow didn’t notice, the final two games of the series with the Angels was cancelled due to COVID cases within the Twins organization.

Since Wednesday, three players have tested positive for COVID-19 (Kyle Garlick, Andrelton Simmons, and an unnamed player). An unnamed staff member also tested positive. Naturally, this isn’t necessarily the fault of the team. Garlick reportedly already received the vaccine, as did many other Twins players, but it takes time for the effects to set in, and in that span, cases spread.

Ultimately, as long as everyone recovers without any side effects, this could even be beneficial for the team. It’s not like the Twins were setting the world on fire coming into Saturday, with 6 losses in their previous 7 games. A few days off could give the team some time to regroup, and regain focus.

Besides the COVID front, Byron Buxton has been dealing with a hamstring issue, and hasn’t been in a game since Tuesday. He was set to return Saturday, until the final two games in Anaheim were postponed. Fellow outfielder Brent Rooker is currently on the IL, as well. Neither injury is necessarily major, but with Buxton, things like this are always a concern.

Buxton has been one of the best hitters in baseball this season, recording an unbelievable OPS+ of 356 through 9 games. Injuries have always been an issue for him, however. He’s really come into his own as a hitter the past few seasons, and it isn’t out of the question to think that he can contend for MVP over a full season. Health will be a huge factor throughout this season.

Minnesota Twins: Get Miguel Sanó (& Others) Going

Okay, yes, the Minnesota Twins are 8th in the league in runs per game. All things considered, the offense has been pretty good. Despite struggling a bit with runners in scoring position over a 5-game stretch from April 10 to April 14 (.071 avg with RISP in that span), the team has still been solid in those situations overall.

A .250 mark with RISP on the year is just slightly below the team’s overall average of .252 so far. But the offense can really make that next step if players like Miguel Sanó can start hitting soon. Sanó is slashing just .116/.321/.256 in 14 games, with 2 homers and a .577 OPS. He isn’t the only Twins hitter scuffling, however.

Jorge Polanco hasn’t been producing much, either. He has just 9 hits in 54 at-bats, with an OPS+ of only 38. While he isn’t exactly swinging and missing all the time (whiff rate in the 92nd percentile), he isn’t making very much hard contact. Polanco has barreled up only 1 ball this year, for a rate of 2.3%. He struggled with this last season, as well, posting a barrel rate of 2.8%.

In addition to Sanó and Polanco, the catching tandem of Ryan Jeffers and Mitch Garver aren’t exactly turning heads. The duo has combined to hit .196 so far this year, with a pair of home runs (both by Garver).

Jeffers, who played a lot down the stretch last season, has especially struggled to hit. He has struck out in over half of his at-bats, and his .190 average is actually better than his expected BA (.119). His expected slugging percentage is also a dreadful .150 (Baseball Savant). Jeffers started both postseason games for the Twins last season, but has taken a backseat to Garver so far this season.

Overall, the Minnesota Twins’ offense has been very good this year. Buxton, who we’ve discussed, is absolutely crushing the ball, and the ageless Nelson Cruz has hit 4 homers with an OPS+ of 229. They’ve lead the way for a solid offensive start, but once players like Sanó, Polanco, and (to a lesser extent) Garver/Jeffers start hitting like they are capable of, this offense has the potential to become the best in the AL, and possibly the best in baseball.