MINNEAPOLIS — The Twins know what lies in front of them. They have a chance to win the American League Central for the first time since 2010. They have a chance to win 100 for just the second time in club history. They have a chance to set a Major League record for home runs hit in a season while reaching the playoffs.
“The most important thing right now is to stay healthy,” righthander Jose Berrios said, “and do our thing.”
There’s a lot this team can achieve as they come out of the All-Star break with three games in Cleveland. And they will be as healthy as they have been in a month, as Eddie Rosario and Jake Odorizzi are due off the injured list. They also have a favorable schedule down the stretch, with 26 of their final 38 games against the White Sox, Tigers and Royals.
But I feel a few more things have to go right for the Twins if they are to claim the division. He’s a list of five subjects worth monitoring as the All-Star break ends and the Twins enter the heat of a pennant race.
1. Jorge Polanco: In 2017, Polanco had a .596 OPS before the All-Star break, .870 after the break. In 2018, he served an 80-game suspension for PED use then posted a .782 OPS after the game—batting .310 in September. This year, he’s batting .312 with a .882 on base percentage coming out of the break. He has never maintained his offense through an entire season, and the Twins chances improve if he continues his All-Star season at the plate. Or, does his .339 batting average on balls in play suggests he’s living large?
2. Outfield stays intact: Polanco leads the team in fangraphs WAR at 3.0. Max Kepler is second at 2.9. Byron Buxton is third among position players at 2.4. And Eddie Rosario is second on the team with 20 home runs. This group needs to be on the field as much as possible the rest of the way, particularly Buxton. Scouts in Kansas City, during the Twins last visit there, agreed that the team operates on another level when Buxton is in the lineup. Range. Good to Excellent arms. Kepler is on pace for 38 home runs, 100 RBI and 100 runs scored. Good grief.
3. Trevor May: I didn’t feel this way a week ago, but after talking with him about how he’s been grinding through mechanical adjustments, he looms as a big factor the rest of the way. “I’ve been changing a couple things about myself that have been frustrating at times during the year, but they are paying off in big ways every day,” said May, who is trying to use his hips more to take stress off his arm. “I can see it and I’m excited. I’m still going be patient with the process.” May hit 98 on the gun during his last outing before the break.
4. Micheal Pineda: With Pineda throwing the ball as well as he has all year—he has a 2.83 ERA over his last five outings—will the Twins be able to keep him in the rotation? This is his first year following Tommy John surgery, so it makes sense for them to watch his innings and restrict him some. Would that be easier to do working him out the bullpen? Probably. But can they afford to remove him from the rotation in August or September while in a playoff scramble?
5. Cheap Pohlads?. There are a group of fans who continue to feel that the Twins are going to screw this up because owner Jim Pohlad won’t make a big move to help the cause. Whether its a fair conclusion or an unrealistic expectation for a mid-market team is an ongoing debate. (If Twins fans are mad, how about Cleveland fans? The Indians won the division last year but cut payroll). Some are pointing to the Twins not signing Craig Kimbrel (with the 12-something ERA) or Dallas Keuchel (with the 4.5K-rate per nine innings, as the latest example of cheapness. I wouldn’t go there. There are people in the league who believe that Kimbrel no longer is an elite reliever, and Keuchel is the not the pitcher he was a few years ago. The reality is that the Twins could use more bullpen help or one more starter. And they have been engaged in talks with teams about landing both types of pitchers. It would be a shocker if they don’t pull off a deal before the July 31 deadline. They have the prospects to make any trade happen—and still hold on to their best ones. They are in line to win the division, not in a fight for the wild card, so this is about fortifyinmg the pitching staff for a potential October run. The wait is on to see if Falvine can execute such a deal and show that the club is willing to take the next step.