6 Reasons Why the Twins Will Win the AL Central
Image courtesy of © Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports1. It's Building Not Chasing
Let’s start with the basics. Minnesota isn’t coming back from anything. Sure, the lead was once 11.5 games, but the current lead doesn’t have “games back” tied to it. Rocco Baldelli’s club owns a two-game (three now, after Tuesday's action) lead over the Cleveland Indians, and that cushion still provides significant value. Minnesota and Cleveland meet six more times in September, and those matchups will obviously have the greatest direct impact on the standings.
2. Sota Pop is Alive and Well
The Twins still own one of the best offenses in baseball, and the direct competition isn’t particularly close. It was great that Carlos Santana launched a grand slam for the Indians, and Puig has hit well since coming over from Cincinnati, but the Twins have a lineup that just keeps coming. Still fourth in the majors in terms of fWAR, and pacing the field with the long ball, Minnesota’s lineup is relentless, 1-through-9. Miguel Sano has been arguably the clubs best hitter for a few weeks, Nelson Cruz is a man possessed, and hot streaks by players like Marwin Gonzalez and Jake Cave continue to supplement things nicely.
3. The Bump is Bruised Not Broken
Pitching isn’t the black hole it’s viewed as. Jose Berrios is certainly not right, and Martin Perez hasn’t been the same guy he was early in the year. Looking across the sport as a whole however, there’re warts on every team. Minnesota is still a top five staff in baseball (one off the Indians) and the 4.15 team ERA checks in eighth. The bullpen has gotten better with additions of Sam Dyson and Sergio Romo, while the emergence of Zack Littell, Lewis Thorpe, and Devin Smeltzer has been invaluable.
4. Next Man Up Still Works
Reinforcements are coming from within. Roster expansion comes in 12 days and the Twins have a handful of intriguing options. This is the last year that the active roster expands to 40 and the big-league club could take full advantage of it. The 40-man roster has just one opening, likely for Brusdar Graterol, but there’re a few current 40- man options that make sense. Nick Gordon could be sprinkled in as he’ll compete for a job in 2020, and Willians Astudillo will return. LaMonte Wade could get the run he’s missed out on, and the whole taxi squad of arms could be rewarded for their service. None of these guys should be expected to shoulder a huge load, but they can provide rest for starters down the stretch and play in some of the most meaningful games of their careers.
5. Rainbows and Butterflies on the Calendar
The schedule is cake and Minnesota gobbles that up. The rest of the way Minnesota’s opponents have a combined .457 winning percentage. Houston’s is the next closest at .476 and the Indians are third at .481. Baldelli has seen his squad do a good job against tough competition this season, but no one has played better baseball against bad opponents than the Twins. At 50-17 against sub-.500 teams the team has ripped off wins nearly 75% of the time. The next 12 games all come against the White Sox and the Tigers, while the final 13 come against the three worst teams in the division. You can’t dictate who you play, but Minnesota is set up nicely to be the favorite much of the time they take the field the rest of the way.
6. Veteran Presence Carries Weight
Despite a core of homegrown talent Minnesota has the veteran presence needed to keep the clubhouse focused. Nelson Cruz and Marwin Gonzalez have obviously had an impact on their teammates all year. The two of them combined have played over 70 postseason games with three World Series appearances and a ring. They know what it takes to win on the biggest stage, and they aren’t just here for motivational support. Minnesota signed both players to be contributors and they have certainly led by example. These two will be integral in finishing the job during the final month and using that momentum to make a mark in October.
There’s no denying that the torrid early-season pace has slowed, and the post-All Star break slate was tough. Minnesota persevered though and while their lead shrunk, they’ve built it back up. Expecting the gap to grow and maybe push five or six games by the end of the month is a pretty fair bet. The AL Central remains up for grabs, but there’s plenty of reason to believe the Twins have the pennant well within their grasp.
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