New Stars Arise in the Minnesota Twins Lineup

Twins Hitters by OPS per month

I thought a lighter post was in order after a long post trying to make sense of rent control so I turned to baseball. The Minnesota Twins haven’t collapsed like many predicted. Buoyed by the meteoric rise of rookie slugger Miguel Sano, the team has stayed in the Wild Card race just 1.5 games behind the Texas Rangers for the second spot.

Meanwhile some veterans hitters have slumped, none more than hobbling 40-year-old outfield Torii Hunter, who has hit just .161 since July 1. Twins beat writer Mike Berardino has an interesting theory than Hunter injured his hip on June 30th in Cincinnati. My theory is simpler: Hunter is old as balls. We cannot pin all of the Twins’ offensive anemia—the team ranks 29th in OBP and 22nd in OPS—on Hunter. As you can see above, Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe saw their offensive production trail off in August.

Hunter, Dozier and Plouffe carried the team through its winningest month, May, each posting OPS above .950. However, the team’s recent successes have a lot to do with Sano and shortstop Eduardo Escobar, who had a .952 OPS in August. The team has finally seen the solid starting shortstop right before their eyes in Escobar, and wisely, if belatedly, started giving him regular playing time.

The Twins lineup is stronger with Escobar at his natural position at short every day. The question is what else can be done to optimize the lineup and do something about our sinking team OBP, which is a paltry .303 and worst in the American League. Benching Hunter is the easiest solution, making all the more sense with Aaron Hicks returned from the 15-day DL today. Hicks had a monster 1.001 OPS July while Hunter nosedived.

Hicks, Rosario and Buxton would provide Twins their ultimate defensive outfield, all lightning quick with cannons for arms. It’d be fun to watch. Unfortunately, Buxton has not performed well at the plate and might soon find himself on the bench. Personally, I think Buxton talent is too great to give up on and we should ride out his offensive woes. But if the Twins do bench him, they should call up Max Kepler, who’s had a monster year for the Chattanooga Lookouts with a 1.000+ OPS. Kepler would provide them a high OBP guy and a solid defender.

Joe Mauer has sort of been a rock this year. Never spectacular but consistently posting his steady .711 OPS. Even his weakest month, May, saw him post an astronomical average with runners in scoring position (RISP) and his best monthly RBI total of 17.

Catcher Kurt Suzuki had been a drag on the team for much of the year, posting a terrible June and July. Recently though, Suzuki has looked better offensively posting his best month in August. That’s good, because backup catcher has been an even sorrier affair with Chris Hermann a complete mess at the plate.

Nunez has had surprising offensive success this year with a .745 OPS, but Nunez has the persistent problem of being a below average defender wherever we put him. He’d make a solid pinch-hitting option off the bench along with Kennys Vargas who had good re-debut yesterday drawing two walks and hitting a single.

Given their league worst .303 OBP, the Twins have relied on timely hitting and pitching. The team’s average with RISP has been fourth best in the majors at .280 with a fourth best OPS of .799. In the first half, timely pitching came largely via closer Glen Perkins. Perkins converted every save opportunity leading up to the All Star break, but neck problems derailed him and now back spasms have sidelined him. Free agent pickup Kevin Jepsen has filled in admirably as closer and hasn’t blown a save yet in his absence, knock on wood.

Starting pitching has been sporadic, but vastly improved over last year. Starters have managed a 4.22 ERA good for 15th best in the majors.

Mike Pelfrey has had a bounce back year; the ball literally bounces around a lot with him on the mound given the .294 average he allows to batters. Pelfrey has been lucky, wriggling out of all too frequent jams often enough to allow him to post a 3.85 ERA and keep his job.

Tommy Milone has posted a 3.60 ERA; Kyle Gibson has hurled his way to a 3.84 ERA, and rookie Tyler Duffey has looked promising in 5 starts, posting a 4.56 ERA despite being thrown to the wolves, err carnivorous Blue Jays in his first start. Duffey’s filled in for injured Phil Hughes who regressed to his career norm this year with a 4.49 ERA with a whooping 28 home runs allowed before going on the DL with a bad back. Finally, Ervin Santana has limped to a 5.40 ERA after missing the whole first half serving a 80 day suspension.

Santana had been pitching so poorly that his starting job looked in jeopardy. But in his last start, Santana dazzled with 10 strikeouts in 7 shutout innings and probably bought himself some time to get his shit together. Unfortunately, Terry Ryan has ruled out calling up star prospect Jose Berrios from the minors despite his utter dominance and unparalleled upside compared to our other mediocre staff devoid of top of the rotation talent. Twinkietown tried to defend that decision, saying keeping Berrios in the minors helps the team defend some other promising prospects from being pilfered in the Rule 5 draft. Fair enough, but if Berrios doesn’t make the club next year, something more idiotic and bizarre is going on.

In the meantime, we find ourselves with five mid to back of the rotation guys on our pitching staff, plus one stashed in the bullpen (May), one stashed on the DL (Hughes) and one stashed almost perpetually on the 60-day DL (Nolasco). That’s eight mid to back of the rotation starters and no ace. Welcomes to the Minnesota Twins, people.

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