October 2018- The entire Minnesota Twins organization is watching the Postseason from their couches once again. One year removed from a Wild Card loss, eight years from their last division series appearance and sixteen years from their last time in the ALCS. To make matters worse, the face of the franchise, Joe Mauer, decided it was time to hang up his cleats. After finishing 19 games back of the second wild card spot, the 2018 off-season certainly entailed a few needs to be addressed.
Baseball fans usually look at two paths for a team that finishes six games under .500: Sell the farm to start competing, or sell your established players to rebuild, and head in a new direction. But the twins approached the 2018 off-season in a different way, stick with what you’ve got but make a few overlooked signings.
Although the Twins were linked and seen as a dark horse to sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, Derek Falvey (President of Baseball Operations) and Thad Levine (GM) ultimately chose a few mid-level signings over a large one. Their additions included second-baseman Jonathan Schoop, DH Nelson Cruz, LHP Martin Perez, utility-man Marwin Gonzalez, and RHP Blake Parker. The were also able to capitalize by claiming 1B/DH C.J. Cron off of waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays. The only players they lost were RHP Ervin Santana, OF Robbie Grossman, 1B/OF Logan Morrison, and INF Logan Forsythe. Their signings notably outweighed their losses, which has fueled a hot start and a quick turnaround from last year’s losing season.
But, what have these moves translated to through 70 games?
Although the pitching has vastly improved, the hitters and run support have been the main push for one of the Twins hottest starts in their franchise’s history — reaching 30 wins in the fewest games played since 2001.
The Twins lead the MLB with a team AVG of .275, up from .250 last season, with an impressive team slash line of .275/.342/.515 and an MLB-leading 137 long balls. The Twins are also doing well at advancing and scoring runners due to their low strikeout percentage of 20.0%, good enough for third lowest in the Majors.
With numbers like that, it’s obvious that the offense made significant strides forward. As with any other turnaround, there are a couple of players who have stepped up and taken the team on their backs.
THE LEADING HITTERS
Jorge Polanco- Polanco is in the first year of a five-year contract extension he signed this winter, expecting to play a full season after missing time last year. Polanco is close to the top of the hitting leader-boards in many categories while slashing .332/.395/.557 with nine homers, which is up from the .288/.345/.427 slash he posted in 77 games during 2018. Polanco has multiple five hit games this season as well as the Twins first cycle since 2009 (Michael Cuddyer).
Eddie Rosario- As the Twins every day cleanup hitter, Rosario has smashed a team leading 19 HR in his fifth MLB season, all with the Twins. Rosario is hitting .262 with a low strikeout rate at 14.8% in 242 plate appearances this season. Rosario is only five home runs shy of his season total for the 2018 campaign, but has 309 less plate appearances so far. Rosario’s career high for homers in a season is 27, which he accomplished in the 2017 season.
Other Notable individual hitting stats:
C.J. Cron — 15 HR, 46 RBI
Willians Astudillo — 4.1% strikeout percentage in 121 PA
Byron Buxton — 10 SB, 2.2 WAR, 6.7 Def
The Twins have a very balanced hitting attack that has led the team to a double digit game lead in the AL central. The Twins have set a new franchise record this season with 26 straight games of 3+ runs scored. Minnesota has also made history in a pretty unique way, taking just 50 games to do what the vast majority of teams couldn’t do in a full season:
As dominant as the Twins bats have been, the pitching has also been very much improved since the 2018 season. The Twins pitchers hold a 3.95 ERA which is good for seventh in the league. The team ERA for the 2018 season was 4.50, ninth worst in the league. The improvement of .55 is no small change, and the results are showing. A main reason for this improvement is the lack of walks allowed. The team has a 2.88 BB/9, which ranks fourth in the MLB. The MLB has 23 starting pitchers who have seven or more wins, four of which belong to the Twins.
THE LEADING PITCHERS
Jake Odorizzi- Odorizzi holds a 2.24 ERA which is good for fourth in the league among SP and down from 4.56 in 2018. Not to mention, Odorizzi’s ten wins this year in 14 starts already surpasses his seven wins from 2018 in 32 starts. Odorizzi has been very impressive in his second season with the Twins with an 10-2 record.
Jose Berrios- In Berrios’s fourth season, he has continued to improve. Jose has brought his ERA down in each year of his career, starting at 8.02 in 2016 in 14 starts while in 14 starts this year he has an ERA of 3.01. In those starts, Berrios has posted a 8-2 record, allowing 10 HRs and leading the team with 89.2 innings pitched on the season.
Martin Perez- Signed to a one year deal in January, the lefty has looked like a steal. Posting a 7-2 record in 12 games this season, the southpaw currently has a 3.67 ERA. After seven seasons with the Rangers, Perez is on his way to his best season, statistically, in his first year with the Twins. Perez has brought his K/9 up to 8.8 which is 2.7 strikeouts more per nine innings than his previous career high in 2014. Perez also has the fewest hits allowed per nine innings in his career, at 8.8. Perez also has an impressive Home runs allowed per nine innings with .79.
Other Notable individual pitching stats:
Kyle Gibson — seven wins, 47.8 groundball percentage (GB%)
Ryne Harper — 1.93 ERA in 28.0 innings out of the bullpen, .260 BABIP
Taylor Rogers — 29.9 K% in 30.0 innings pitched, 95.8 LOB%
The improvement of the bullpen and starting pitchers can easily be seen as the team continues to win games in the late innings, even without a true closer. After the Twins missed out on Craig Kimbrel, it is safe to assume the closer by committee will continue for the Twins, as it has been the strategy thus far.
Although the Twins lack a superstar and a face of the franchise, wins speak for themselves. Through 70 games the Twins find themselves atop the American League with a 47-23 record, and they hold a 10 game lead in the American Central. This hot start is no fluke, and the way the Twins reshaped themselves this offseason could have them atop standings for many years to come.
Featured Photo: TSN.ca