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  • Twins Playing Over Their Heads, But That's OK

    On Tuesday night, the Twins stole another one away.

    You'd have a hard time arguing they outplayed the Rangers, who outhit them 9-6 and had a one-run lead entering the ninth before Joakim Soria uncharacteristically blew a save (his first of the year, in fact) and took the loss when he misplayed a nubber back to the mound with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth.

    Hey, a win's a win.

    That's been a good mantra for the Twins, who find themselves within a game of .500 as the end of May approaches, despite the fact that they haven't really played all that well.

    Offensively, they rank ninth out of 15 American Leagues teams in runs per game, and 11th in OPS. Their team ERA is the worst in baseball.

    Despite all that, this team is keeping it interesting. After Tuesday's thriller, they are now 6-2 in one-run games in the month of May. They have heftily outplayed their Pythagorean W/L, which registers at 21-28.

    Not exactly a sustainable recipe for success, but it doesn't need to be. The Twins have been succeeding in spite of a lot of correctable problems, so there's plenty of reason to expect improvement over the next four months.

    Let's flesh out a few of those reasons:

    1) Jason Kubel will be replaced.

    Harsh, I know. But are you aware just how bad Kubel has been since the first two weeks of the season?

    Since April 13, when his red-hot start basically came to an end, the veteran's slash line is .187/.293/.206. Yes that's a .206 slugging percentage over a period of seven weeks from a player who was brought in almost solely for his ability to hit.

    The Twins seem to have a blind spot for Kubel, as they've evidently never doubted his enduring offensive aptitude despite the poor numbers in 2013, but even they can't run away from these blatant struggles. He's been given 163 plate appearances up to this point but has sat out two of the last three games and is amidst an 0-for-14 slump.

    It would have been great to see this one work out, but the Twins are going to cut bait on Kubel. Maybe as soon as Wednesday, when he is due a 60-day roster bonus of $150,000. He'll be replaced on the roster by a more capable bat (maybe Triple-A performer Deibinson Romero) while his at-bats will go toward guys like Oswaldo Arcia, who appears to be back on track after last night.

    Photo by Jesse Johnson, USA TODAY Sports

    2) Center field also has to get better.

    Now that he's given up switch-hitting, Aaron Hicks is either going to improve substantially or get replaced. The Twins are pretty clearly running out of patience with him and it's not hard to see why; Hicks' .585 OPS is worse than all but nine qualified big-leaguers, and is almost identical to last year's paltry mark.

    The Twins have gotten worse production in center than any MLB team outside of Boston. They lack viable replacements for Hicks, which is part of the problem, but eventually they're bound to find an upgrade somewhere if he can't get it going.

    That said, I'm hopeful the big change leads to a resurgence. Hicks is not this bad.

    3) Pitching help is on the way.

    As mentioned above, Minnesota's pitching staff has the highest ERA in the majors, in large part because as a team they are averaging only 6.1 strikeouts per nine innings. That's the lowest rate in baseball, and if it holds this will be the fourth straight year of the Twins being the most contact-heavy staff in the game.

    But maybe it won't hold.

    Down in Triple-A, both Alex Meyer and Trevor May are turning heads with their bat-missing stuff. The Rochester teammates rank first and fifth in the International League in K/9 rate, respectively. Swapping one of those guys in at some point for, say, Kevin Correia -- whose ERA hasn't been below 6 since mid-April -- could change the look of this rotation considerably.

    4) Joe Mauer, guys.

    This has been a frustrating year for Mauer. He's trying to learn a new position, he's been getting squeezed by umpires like never before, and now he's battling a back issue that is apparently more serious than we were led to believe.

    But at the end of the day, this guy is still one of the best hitters in the sport, and if he can get healthy he's going to find a way to be a positive offensive contributor. He has done that this year to some extent -- a .364 OBP isn't exactly a liability in the two-hole -- but we can't pretend that his power output has been acceptable for a first baseman.

    Mauer's OPS is currently lower than any mark he's finished with in his entire career, even in that miserable 2011 campaign. Maybe something's really wrong with him, but I'd rather presume that it's just a slow start and he'll make up for it with the big second half we know he's capable of.

    Tuesday night's walk-off victory means that you can get half off your online order from PapaJohns.com on Wednesday. Just use the promo code 'TWINSWIN'!
    Comments 41 Comments
    1. DocBauer's Avatar
      DocBauer -
      Playing above their heads? Yes. Perhaps. At least at times.

      Kubel and Colabello provided a huge lift for the first month. An unexpected lift, and compensated for early injuries to Willingham and Arcia. Now they are back, Colabello down, and Kubel gone soon. Wonder if he will accept an assignment to Rochester with the idea of trying to find a little more magic left for a late season call up? Regardless, Fuld will take his spot soon. If not, probably Romero, who I said in ST not to fall asleep on.

      So many great posts here, I'd love to just copy and paste to make the perfect commentary. Lol

      This team IS interesting, and fun to watch most days simply because unlike so much of the time the past 3 years, they are actually competitive and in games. Winning and a chance to win is a good thing!

      The bad is obvious, starting with injuries in the OF. Mauer not yet hitting like Mauer. Correia and Pelfrey regressing and not pitching like last season or expectations, Hicks' struggles, the SS situation. Nolasco being inconsistent so far.

      The good is actually pretty darn good. Dozier improving and proving himself. Plouffe is really starting to grow up. Pinto is the real deal, just needs Gardy to put him in the lineup 80% of the time and C a little more as the season goes along. Suzuki, healthy, a change of scenery, playing about every day, even with expected regression, is doing a great and clutch job. Escobar, finally getting his chance, is proving he's a solid ball player. Despite struggles, Hicks is still better than last year, is maintaining a surprising OB, and with work and a change to only batting RH, might be worth watching over the rest of the season. Santana is really intriguing! No doubt the kid has things to work on, but he's been a spark and breath of fresh air who actually seems to have an idea at the plate, doesn't appear lost, and is anything but intimidated. Hope nobody reminds him he's a rookie and isn't supposed to be playing like this. And playing is a key, like Punto, he needs to play.

      Hughes is throwing the best of his career. I'm not sure we should be surprised, but what a great story. Gibson has been good, occasionally excellent. A few growing pains sure, but that's to be expected. Deduno is back where he belongs, has looked solid, and will probably be even better as he stretches out. Nolasco has shown flashes, won tonight, and betting he begins to turn the corner really soon.

      With injuries and some disappointments and inconsistencies, the team has still been decent and playing .500 ball. Not saying we're going to make a playoff run, but with Arcia and Willingham back, SS settling down, four solid to good starters, Mauer hopefully clicking the way Mauer does hopefully soon, Dozier, the youngsters growing up...yes...this is an interesting team to watch.

      Health, a couple moves that still need to be made, this team has a very good chance of finishing above .500 in my opinion.
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