Twins have shown promise, look to make headway post All-Star break
MINNEAPOLIS -- Quietly and understandably with zero fanfare, the Minnesota Twins recently seemed to find the reset button on their long, lost season.Closing out the first half with 12 wins in their final 20 games, they averaged 6.7 runs a game wh...
MINNEAPOLIS - Quietly and understandably with zero fanfare, the Minnesota Twins recently seemed to find the reset button on their long, lost season.
Closing out the first half with 12 wins in their final 20 games, they averaged 6.7 runs a game while bashing 32 home runs and managed to slip past both the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds in the overall major league standings.
Set to start the second half tonight at Target Field against the Cleveland Indians, the Twins (32-56) are coming up fast on other second-division American League clubs. Passing the Tampa Bay Rays, Los Angeles Angels and Oakland A’s would drop the Twins out of the top five in the 2017 June draft, but they don’t seem to have much interest in tanking.
“You talk about some of the things we want to establish as far as mindset, and I guess you could say goals, somewhat, about what we still could accomplish here in the second half,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “I don’t know about ‘clean slate,’ or ‘starting over.’ You can go from this point forward, but you can’t really just eliminate what’s happened.”
What’s already happened has been well-documented, from an 0-9 start to the failed experiment that sent Miguel Sano to right field to the offensive struggles of since-demoted South Korean slugger Byung Ho Park. Along the way there was a raft of injuries, including season-ending shoulder surgeries for closer Glen Perkins and veteran starter Phil Hughes.
Winners of seven of their past nine games, including a pair of series victories over the AL-leading Texas Rangers, the Twins should enter the second half refreshed and armed with renewed focus.
“I used to think about as a hitter when I was going through a rough time: ‘OK, what did I do from June 11 to Oct. 1?’ as opposed to, ‘What I did from April 1 to June 11?’” Molitor said. “You can choose to have a starting point to include a sample size of the remainder of the season, but at the end everyone is going to say you won ‘X’ amount of games.
“So, yeah, you’d want to say, ‘Let’s have a good second half,’ but somewhere it’s got to be included what we did collectively as a whole.”
Here are five ways the Twins can have a successful second half:
Keep the kids rolling
Things turned around quickly for Max Kepler after a costly misplay in right field led to a 10-2 loss on June 15 in Anaheim, Calif. The German-raised outfielder entered the break with eight homers and a .483 slugging percentage that ranked third among AL rookies.
Center fielder Byron Buxton hasn’t enjoyed sustained success yet at the plate, but he was showing signs before banging his right knee into the wall twice in a week. Still just 22, Buxton should return to the lineup this weekend.
Soon prized right-hander Jose Berrios should be recalled from Triple-A Rochester, where he enjoyed a dominant run in June. Four early season starts netted a 10.20 earned-run average, but the Twins expect to see the real Berrios next time around.
Flip the (right) veterans
Last-place teams are supposed to deal for prospects at the Aug. 1 deadline, but which veterans should the Twins make available?
Journeyman reliever Brandon Kintzler and surging catcher Kurt Suzuki, a pending free agent, make the most sense to move. With Sano entrenched at third base, Trevor Plouffe would probably be on the move, as well, if not for a cracked rib on his left side that could keep him out for the rest of the month.
All-star infielder Eduardo Nunez, veteran lefty reliever Fernando Abad, outfielder Robbie Grossman and a trio of starting pitchers - Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco and Tommy Milone - figure to see their names in trade rumors over the next two-plus weeks, as well.
Closer casting call
Set to turn 34 next March, Perkins will be coming off major shoulder surgery and facing an uphill battle as he enters the final guaranteed year of his contract.
With Kevin Jepsen already cut loose, and Kintzler potentially on the move, the Twins should use the final two-plus months to evaluate younger closing options.
Among those already on the staff, that means right-handers Trevor May, Ryan Pressly and Michael Tonkin could get a look in the ninth inning. Hard-throwing J.T. Chargois, despite failing to retire any of the three batters he faced at the All-Star Futures Game, should be summoned soon from Triple-A for another big-league audition.
Get more answers
Who is the real Eddie Rosario? The one who starred in all facets despite free-swinging ways as a rookie in 2014? Or the unreliable, pressing player that returned this season, only to get sent down in mid-May?
Rosario has mostly looked like his former self since his return at the start of July, but the Twins need to find out for sure if the talented young outfielder is part of their plan moving forward.
The same goes for Kennys Vargas, named AL Player of the Week after slugging a ridiculous 1.294 in his first six games back. Can he be the designated hitter next year? And if so, what does that mean for Park, still fighting through a slump and a painful right wrist with the Red Wings?
Can the Twins count on starter Kyle Gibson as he enters the arbitration system for the first time this offseason? Can rookie lefty Taylor Rogers handle the primary situational role from that side of the bullpen?
Tighten things up
All that bashing at the plate has glossed over some of the Twins’ recent mistakes, but Molitor isn’t fooled. He still needs to see his young Twins start playing more crisp, airtight games before he can head into the offseason with some lasting optimism.
“Even some of the games we’ve won, we haven’t played great,” Molitor said. “Some of those little things we’re doing in games, we’ve overcome in some of these wins; but they’re the kind of things that have caused us to lose games.”
In the span of a single inning last Friday, for instance, Nunez popped up a sacrifice bunt no one had suggested and Rosario was caught stealing on a pitch-out when no one asked him to run.
“We’re going to keep trying to clean up as many things as we can,” Molitor said, “and minimize some of those mistakes that just kind of jump out at you when they happen.”