What's Gotten Into The Minnesota Twins?
I'm going to try to explain what's going on with the Minnesota Twins. I'm not sure I'm going to be able to do it, so please, be gentle.
After their victory Wednesday against the Pirates, the Twins have now won four of their last five, going 13-5 in the month of May with a +20 run differential. Their overall record of 23-17 has them in third place in the American League Central, just three games behind division leader Kansas City and half a game behind Detroit.
It's been a while since Minnesota mattered in the AL Central. Their last season over .500 was in 2010, when they won 94 games and repeated as division champs. From 2002-2010, the Twins made the playoffs in six out of those nine seasons. But until they won 70 games last year, the team hadn't been able to crack 70 in the three seasons before that. And no one predicted things to change much before the season started.
So what gives? Is this thing real, or are the Twinkies going to tumble back to earth at some point?
The Twins have been outstanding at home so far this year, 14-6 on the young season. They're hitting a league-high .287 at home, their .334 on-base percentage (OBP) is tied for fourth, and their .436 slugging percentage is surprisingly third. Their weighted runs created (wRC+) of 112 is tied for third, their weighted on-base average (wOBA) of .334 is third, and their 111 runs scored at home is tops in the league.
They've also been aided by a league high .335 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) at Target Field, but that could largely be the result of a line drive rate (LD%) of 23.1% that is tied for third. Lots of line drives usually means more hits.
The Twins are scoring lots of runs at home, and while the pitching staff's home ERA of 3.86 is only 11th best in the league, the bats are covering for the moment.
Red Hot May Hitters
Three hitters in particular have been particularly hot this month. Second baseman Brian Dozier came into Wednesday night with a wRC+ of 192, fourth-best in the American League. His slash line for the month is .318/.403/.667 with 5 home runs, 10 RBI and 14 runs scored. Outfielder Torii Hunter has discovered the fountain of youth -- he has the league's 10th highest wRC+ of 178 this month, posting a slash of .344/.394/.609 with 5 homers, 14 RBI and 15 runs scored.
And third baseman Trevor Plouffe has really come on in May, with a wRC+ of 155, 22nd-best in the AL this month, hitting .291/.371/.545 with 3 home runs. Infielder Eduardo Escobar (.320/.340/.480, wRC+ 126) has also been terrific.
As a team, they've hit a league-high .280 this month, with a .330 OBP (sixth), and a .445 SLG (second). Their 17 home runs are tied for 7th, and they've scored an AL-best 93 runs so far this month.
The Pitching, Uh-Oh
While the hitting had been pretty good this month, the pitching has not been as good (AL rank in parentheses below).
|Starters||3.91 (7)||4.04 (9)||13.1 (15)||5.5 (2)||0.78 (4)|
|Relievers||4.01 (11)||3.90 (8)||18.6 (13)||6.5 (1)||1.04 (9)|
Here's the good news. Neither the Twins starters or relievers are walking anyone this month. And that will pretty much wrap it up for the good news.
The starters have been a bit better than the relievers this month, although neither has been in the top tier of the American League. And when you look at their strikeout percentage, both the starters and relievers are having great difficulty striking guys out.
That's a dangerous way to live, and probably makes this recent string of hot play unsustainable over the long run. Ricky Nolasco is the only starter who is striking out close to a batter per inning (8.57), while Kyle Gibson, Trevor May, Mike Pelfrey and Phil Hughes are all far below league average in the "K" department.
Hughes has had a particularly disappointing season, with a 4.76 ERA and a 4.60 FIP so far, coming off a season in which he posted a 3.52 ERA but had a terrific FIP of 2.65, good for an fWAR of 5.7, among the highest of all American League starters last year.
All signs point to this Minnesota staff eventually hurting the team more than helping it.
Minnesota simply doesn't have the horses to compete with powers like the Royals and Tigers, and even the White Sox and Indians appear to have more talent on paper than the Twins.
Of course, the Twins have surprised in the past and, who know, perhaps new manager Paul Molitor is some kind of magician. He's definitely got the team off to a good start this year, and has fans in Minnesota excited about their baseball team for the first time in a while.
Excited, if not cautious.