• Ten Second-Half Storylines

    Last night I posted an article musing about what it might take for the Twins to get back into the AL Central race in the second half. It was mostly the stuff of pipe dreams, naturally, since the club would need to play .650-plus baseball and leapfrog four teams, requiring an historically unprecedented turnaround. Nevertheless, it was a fun escape from the painful realities of a lost season. (At least for those who were willing to play along.)

    Even accepting those realities, there will be plenty of intriguing storylines for fans to follow in the final months of this 2012 season. Here are a few:

    1) Joe Mauer chases another batting title.

    With a .326 average that ranks him fourth in the AL, Mauer is in line to make a run at his fourth career batting title. Signs are pointing in a positive direction now, as he's hit .377 since the start of June, but can he stay healthy and productive through the end of September? If so, it will have a hugely positive impact on his future outlook.

    2) Ben Revere too?

    Don't look now, but Revere is hitting .316 and he's only a few weeks of regular ABs away from qualifying for the batting title. Having both him and Mauer in the mix would be a lot of fun for Twins fans.

    3) Justin Morneau searches for his previous form.

    The first baseman remains under contract for next season and would be tough to trade. If he can show some signs of life against lefties (which he has seemingly started to do as of late) it would create hope that he might have another big campaign left in him next year.

    4) Can Scott Diamond keep shining?

    There was a temptation to pass off Diamond's early success as a fluke, but with each outstanding start he turns in, that stance grows more difficult to hold. Clearly he's not a good bet to maintain a sub-3 ERA in the long-term, but if the southpaw keeps pitching well it's possible he could be viewed as the club's No. 2 starter entering next season. (Whether that's a good or bad thing is debatable.)

    5) Trades, trades, trades.

    Most likely the Twins will be selling off assets come late July. In fact, given the number of deals we've seen this team complete after the non-waiver deadline in recent years, we may well see some trading in August. Who will be moved? And what kind of hauls will Terry Ryan be able to bring back?

    6) Prospects on the rise.

    Several of the organization's top prospects will find themselves in the spotlight here in the final months. Will Byron Buxton show impressive signs in his pro debut? How many homers can Miguel Sano who's currently at 18 pile up? Can Aaron Hicks continue his turnaround in New Britain (his OPS is up over .800)? Will Joe Benson banish his nightmarish first half from memory and get back in position to compete for an MLB outfield job next year? Can recovering Kyle Gibson pitch his way back to the big-leagues for a September call-up?

    7) Trevor Plouffe's long ball total.

    If the slugging third baseman stays healthy and maintains his first-half home run rate, he'll finish with around 40 bombs. If he's able to reach that figure, Plouffe will become the only Twin to do so other than Harmon Killebrew. That's weird to type. (Of course, Josh Willingham also has a shot at 40 homers but that's just not nearly as weird to think about.)

    8) Spoiling the Sox.

    Even if the Twins can't fight their way back into contention, they'll still have plenty of chances to help derail the rival White Sox, who currently sit in first place. Minnesota and Chicago have 12 match-ups remaining plenty of chances to foil the plans of these bitter rivals.

    9) Dozier's development.

    As I've written in the past, the Twins badly need Dozier to establish himself as a serviceable major-league starter, because their short-term depth in the middle infield is brutal. He's actually been better lately, with a .321 average in July, but his plate discipline and defense remain suspect and absolutely must improve.

    10) Francisco Liriano's impact on the race.

    It seems highly unlikely he'll be doing it here, but Liriano will probably be a factor in the AL postseason picture. Contenders are sure to take a significant interest, considering his 3.63 ERA and dazzling strikeout rate since the start of May, and the Twins have little reason not to deal the impending free agent. Acquiring him will be a major risk/reward proposition for any team with championship aspirations, but I'll enjoy watching the situation unfold from the outside.

    What storylines will you be tracking in the second half?
    This article was originally published in blog: Ten Second-Half Storylines started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 15 Comments
    1. jorgenswest's Avatar
      jorgenswest -
      11) Health

      Do the Twins enter the offseason confident in the health of Mauer, Morneau and Span? Last offseason these were big question marks and may have been a factor in how they developed the roster. This winter's planning will be easier if the concussions, wrist and leg problems are a year behind them. To a lesser extent, Doumit is also managing his way through a rare healthy season.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Great list, Nick!! EAch of these is great! Excellent work!
    1. BD57's Avatar
      BD57 -
      If Diamond turns out to be a 3.50 ERA innings eater, we have a "good" #2.

      What we don't want is to start next year with our #1 being a 4.00+ ERA, 4 SO/9 "innings eater."
    1. YourHouseIsMyHouse's Avatar
      YourHouseIsMyHouse -
      Quote Originally Posted by jorgenswest View Post
      11) Health

      Do the Twins enter the offseason confident in the health of Mauer, Morneau and Span? Last offseason these were big question marks and may have been a factor in how they developed the roster. This winter's planning will be easier if the concussions, wrist and leg problems are a year behind them. To a lesser extent, Doumit is also managing his way through a rare healthy season.
      Matt Capps, Carl Pavano, and P.J. Walters rehab concerns included.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      Bonus: The Cole De Vries train. Does De Vries have a chance to continue putting up quality starts when so many people think his stuff just isn't that good? A nuthin' fastball, a big, slow overhand curve, a little this a little that. How does he do it? Can he keep doing it?

      What if he does? If Cole De Vries wins more games than any other starter, will the Twins still send him down to AAA?

      Bonus #2: Can Drew Butera throw a knuckle ball?
    1. frightwig's Avatar
      frightwig -
      I'm still skeptical about Diamond, because of his low K/9 and my doubts that he can sustain the low walk rate he's posted so far. Right now, his performance has been absolutely the best case scenario for a pitcher of his type, but he's walking a fine line. What's the track record of pitchers who start out at 26 with a low strikeout rate, already depending on exceptionally fine control and a high groundball percentage to be successful? I wouldn't expect many of them to have a good, long career.

      If Diamond's walk rate regresses to around 3.0, and his strikeout rate slips just a bit, and maybe he starts allowing some more flyballs, suddenly he's Nick Blackburn, or Carlos Silva after his miracle year. Maybe he has one more strong season in him. Maybe he'll be at least a decent back-end starter for 2-3 years. But I just hope Terry Ryan doesn't go signing him to any longterm contract.
    1. Han Joelo's Avatar
      Han Joelo -
      Either I've missed it or everybody has been holding their collective breath, but frightwig's above comment on Diamond seems long overdue. I'm being a little ironic, but I've been surprised one of the resident stat analysts (or Gleeman) hasn't burst my bubble sooner on Diamond. Shine on Scott, shine on.

      Nick, for some reason I am so optimistic about this team that I am hoping they trade for Felix Hernandez. May not make enough of a difference this year, but it just might re-ignite team and fan confidence going into next year.
    1. LimestoneBaggy's Avatar
      LimestoneBaggy -
      Bonus #2: Can Drew Butera throw a knuckle ball?
      Someone call Phil and R.A., and give this kid a rosin bag.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      About Brian Dozier...

      "He's actually been better lately, with a .321 average in July, but his plate discipline and defense remain suspect and absolutely must improve."

      Wait what? He batted .321 in July, but his plate discipline is suspect? What must a man do to allay these suspicions?

      Even if a guy jumps up and down waving the bat wildly, if he bats .321 he's doing pretty well. And his defense...seldom do we see rookies come up with a completely polished defensive game. They tend to be erratic, but along with the silly goofs, the good ones make exciting plays, as Dozier's been doing.

      Dozier appears to be a cross between a young Nick Punto and a young Dustin Pedroia. The more Pedroia the better, of course, but even if he's more of a Punto, that's still a pretty good ball player. Clearly Dozier's got more pop than Punto, so I'm looking forward to seeing some very good ball from this guy.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      So 8 games in July and we make Pedroia comps? Yowza.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by jimbo92107 View Post
      Even if a guy jumps up and down waving the bat wildly, if he bats .321 he's doing pretty well.
      Actually hitting .321 over 28 at-bats doesn't mean much at all. And when the solid average is attached to shoddy plate discipline (6/1 K/BB) and little power (1 XBH) it becomes less encouraging.

      Dozier's calling card in the minors was a solid plate approach, and until that manifests in the majors I'll remain wary of his offensive ability.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      Actually hitting .321 over 28 at-bats doesn't mean much at all.
      I'd go as far to say it doesn't mean anything at all. Drew Butera has done that in 28 AB stretches.

      Dozier has been playing better but until he does it for two months, I'm skeptical (and overall, I'm a Dozier supporter).
    1. Paul's Avatar
      Paul -
      My dream. Danny starts tearin up AAA and pushes Plouffe back to another try at SS where he sticks. And Dozier becomes the "Punto" referenced above.
    1. cr9617's Avatar
      cr9617 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Paul View Post
      My dream. Danny starts tearin up AAA and pushes Plouffe back to another try at SS where he sticks. And Dozier becomes the "Punto" referenced above.
      Keep dreaming...
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Even in this dread scenario, I have a tough time believing Dozier woudln't take over at 2nd... Not quite sure why people suddenly don't like him. Everyone was lining up to make him a starter in spring training. He's a rookie who is going to take his lumps. Even the highest regarded rookies typically have problems.
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