Since I have written off the Twins twice already, I owe them a positive notice at the traditional midsummer break, which finds them with the third best record in the entire American League. Regardless of what transpires the rest of the year, I applaud them from turning a projected wasted year into a season of captivating baseball. For many reasons, the Twins have been fun to watch.
1. The starting rotation is amazingly better than last year’s. I’ll bet the Twins pitchers have recorded more “quality starts” by mid-July than they logged all last season. That means that, win or lose, the Twins are in almost every game. There is no Chris Sale or David Price ace, but Tommy Milone and Kyle Gibson have been solid, limiting the opposition to a run here, a run there, nothing more. Phil Hughes hasn’t been the number one starter he was last year, but both he and Mike Pelfrey are good for six innings more often than not. Trevor May has shown the potential to pair with Gibson for years to come, while his replacement, Ervin Santana, has the look of a competent pitcher in his two starts, one good, one bad.
2. Rookies have been a surprise. Principally, this means Eddie Rosario, who was called up as an injury replacement and has shown no sign of ever leaving. He hits lefties and righties and uses all fields and is a wonderful defensive upgrade from Oswaldo Arcia, who started the year in left. It’s too soon to declare Miguel Sano as established, but he sure looks comfortable and has shown the power the Twins sorely lacked. Both he and Byron Buxton were projected as late-season callups once the race was over, but both vaulted up much sooner from Double-A. In Buxton’s case, it may be premature: he looked lost against breaking pitches before he was injured and he was thrown out both times he tried to steal; but his athleticism is obvious and there is hope he can still develop as a hitter (see the following).
3. Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe have gone from mediocre hole-pluggers to legitimate Major League regulars, the kind we saw on teams in the ’50s. Both have solidified the Twins’ infield defense and, pending Sano’s emergence, represent what passes for power on the Twins. Dozier’s walk-off homer against Detroit, when the Twins came back from 6-1 down in the ninth, just may have given his team the confidence it needs to contend this year. It certainly sparked them to wins against the Tigers the next two days, turning around the psychology of that important matchup.
4. Everyone is chipping in. The Twins are just as likely to get runs from the bottom of the lineup as the middle. Eduardo Escobar, Eduardo Nunez, Rosario and even the formerly forlorn Aaron Hicks have all contributed to the offense. Other days it is Torii Hunter, Dozier and Plouffe. Joe Mauer is having another terrible year and leads the league in warning-track outs, but somehow is the team’s statistical leader in hitting with runners in scoring position.
5. Torii Hunter has given the team a personality. We don’t get to see them dancing in the locker room after wins, but we do see the three outfielders’ synchronized leap at game’s end and you get the feeling that everybody gets along and is having fun playing the game.
A lot could go wrong in the second half. Dozier and Plouffe, who are irreplaceable, could go into prolonged slumps. Opposing pitchers could discover a flaw in Sano’s swing. Hunter will turn 40. Once any of the pitchers starts to get pummeled, they could all lose confidence. Perkins has been perfect in save opportunities, but he is hardly unhittable. And just as the Royals have lost Alex Gordon and the Tigers Miguel Cabrera, someone could get hurt, exposing the Twins’ lack of depth. But I’ll take my chances; there are enough good story lines to follow and whatever the Twins do, I’ll be watching.