Twins at 50

Fifty games is less than a third of a baseball season, yet it seems a milestone that the record-keepers are noting; so it presents a good opportunity to assess, nay gloat, in the Twins’ remarkable start to 2019. They have the best record in the majors, albeit only a half-game ahead of the Yankees, and lead their division by an astounding 9 games, which speaks equally to the ineptitude of the AL Central. Their 101 home runs sets a record pace, by a lot, but the most amazing number, mathematically at least, is their 300 runs scored. That computes, exactly, to an even 6 runs a game!
The instinctive tendency is to say, they can’t keep this up. Yes, every team and every player goes through slumps over the course of a season, and the Twins have been unusually injury-free. But countering both these inevitabilities is the way the Twins’ success has been achieved, with contributions coming almost equally across-the-board. There has been no Aaron Judge or Miguel Cabrera powering the attack. Everyone in the lineup has hit his share of home runs, even Jason Castro. It is a safe bet that eight players will end up with more than 20 homers and none will reach 40.
Similarly, there is no one position player whose loss would be devastating. This is largely because the three bench players – Marwin Gonzalez, Willians Astudillo and Ehire Adrianza – can play multiple positions and have already done so with great effectiveness, including catcher.
What’s fun is seeing who powers the offense in each game. Sometimes it will be the franchise cornerstones, Polanco and Rosario. Next game it will be the free-agent newbies, Cron and Schoop. Then Max Kepler will get hot or Adrianza will surprise. Finally, there are the former saviors-to-be, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, who finally appear on track to contributing more hits than strikeouts. There is no let-up in this lineup, especially once Mitch Garver returns to replace Castro behind the plate.
The excitement about the home runs has partially obscured another, perhaps more important, strength of the team: its pitching, especially its starters. Odorizzi, Berrios, Perez and Gibson give the Twins a chance to win every game they start, and Pineda may yet reach the same level. The bullpen is considered the one Twins weak spot, but with one blowout game after another and the starters going 6 or 7 innings every time, they haven’t been fully tested. So far, Blake Parker has been a serviceable closer and Taylor Rogers an unhittable setup man. Magill, Morin and May have all shown power arms, while Ryne Harper has been devilishly effective. How much more do you need? If Tyler Duffey can finally capitalize on his array of quality pitches, manager Baldelli should recognize that he doesn’t need to carry 13 pitchers, as he’s done much of the year, giving him room to keep his valuable bench once DH Nelson Cruz comes off the IL.
I see only two clouds on the horizon. When a surprise team is labeled a “team of destiny,” it is usually because they come from behind and keep finding ways to win close games. So far, when the Twins fall behind after the 5th inning, they usually lose. I don’t think they’ve had a walk-off win all year. It would be nice to see some of those, to give them confidence even when they don’t open up a six-run lead. Second, they still can’t seem to beat the Yankees, and if they get to the postseason, you know that’s who they will have to play. The Astros are tough, but Odorizzi’s 1-0 win over Verlander gives me hope in that matchup. Against the Yankees, that hasn’t happened. Yet.

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