Twins Midseason

Few, if any, predicted that the Twins would end the first half of the 2017 season above .500, albeit by one game and falling fast; so despite my negative thoughts to come I have to rate their performance so far as a wonderful surprise. More days than not this spring I have found myself on a Twins high.
What has caused this success, however partial? Every player has had a hand, whether it’s Buxton’s great defense, Rosario going 5-for-5, Kepler’s three-home-run game, Mauer’s steady climb toward .300, on and on. Ditto for the pitching: Duffey and Rogers have frequently excelled as setup men, Kintzler is near the league lead in saves, Berrios has been a revelation as a starter. The two biggest contributors, however, and here is where the worry starts, have been Ervin Santana on the mound and Miguel Sano at the plate. They have singlehandedly willed the Twins to more victories than anyone else.
Worry, I say, because Santana, after a great April and May, has been pedestrian, at best, the entire month of June. Is his confidence gone, has his arm tired? – whatever the problem, it is hard to see him regaining his dominant form. Sano, too, has begun striking out with such regularity that you wonder if the scouts have figured him out or if he, too, has begun doubting himself. When Sano is not hitting, there is a big hole in the middle of the Twins lineup.
The other Twins hitters – and here I’m talking about Kepler, Polanco, Escobar, Dozier, Castro, Vargas – all seem to blow hot and cold. For every breakout performance, there seem to be two or three games where no one hits and the Twins manage but a run or two. I do like them all, though, and whenever I doubt their future stardoms I say to myself two words: Aaron Hicks. The Twins gave him every chance to succeed as their centerfielder, but he never really caught on. Same with the Yankees last year. This year, however, he is one of the Yankees’ best players, which makes me believe that a player with talent can figure things out and blossom late in his 20s. Rosario, Kepler and Polanco all have the tools to be stars, and with experience they might be. (Polanco’s future, however, is at second base, where I fully expect him to supplant Dozier in a year or two once one of their shortstop prospects – Royce Lewis? – is ready.) Even Buxton, still very much a work in progress, could develop.
Pitching, however, is a different story, and this will doom the Twins to being a .500 team in the near future, despite the maturation of their hitters – all of whom, I should add, are solid defenders. Berrios is already penciled in at the top of the rotation for years to come, as expected. But after him the cupboard looks bare. Santana, as noted, may already be on the down curve. Hector Santiago has been smoke and mirrors for a couple years and appears to have run out of gas. Kyle Gibson just never gets better: four good innings then implosion. The Twins haven’t even had a fifth starter much of this year, dropping down into their farm system whenever a fifth starter is needed, generally without success. This makes one wonder who there is down there being developed for the future. The most promising so far, Felix Jorge, came up directly from AA and has only thrown 5+ innings. Tyler Duffey is solid three out of four outings, and you wonder why the Twins aren’t working him back into the starting rotation instead of using him in the sixth inning. Taylor Rogers has been the lefthanded surprise of the staff, and he has now been anointed as the 8th-inning setup man. Kintzler makes me nervous – I’d prefer a strikeout artist for my closer – but he will do. The rest of the bunch – Belisle and Breslow, for sure, Pressly probably – are just space savers. When the starters can’t go six innings, the bullpen flaws are magnified, and I believe the Twins have the league’s worst relief ERA.
The Twins, thanks to their surprising start and the mediocrity of the Central Divison, won’t lose 100 games again this year; and if they can go 32-49 they won’t lose 90. Whether they can keep their spirits up once they fall far behind the Indians and maybe the Royals may be a test of how far this bunch can go in the next few years. Without pitching, however – and where is that to come from? – the ceiling remains limited.