Perspective Proving Important for Twins Success
Image courtesy of © David Banks-USA TODAY SportsThrough May the Twins had compiled an MLB best 38-18 record. Over the course of a full season that’s a 110-win pace which would be the franchise record (102 in 1965) by nearly double-digits. To expect the continuation of that level of dominance over 162 games seemed like a longshot. What it did do however, was set up strong positioning for the stretch run.
Since June 1st the Twins have played to just a 32-25 record. Obviously, that isn’t the torrid pace that the first three months of the season saw, but that still plays out to a 91-win pace. In 2018, 91 wins would’ve won two different divisions and have been worth of a postseason berth. It’s also representative of a 13-game improvement year over year for Minnesota. If at their worst the Twins play at a 91-win clip this season, I’d imagine Rocco Baldelli would take that any day of the week.
So, as things have cooled for the big-league club, let’s get out in front of some common misconceptions.
Beating Good Teams
All season long there’s been plenty made regarding the Twins record against teams over .500. While this is somewhat of a silly practice given the volatility of records for teams hovering around that midpoint, it’s worth noting Minnesota has held their own against the best. Baldelli’s club has played six different teams that are at least 16 games over .500 (NYY, HOU, CLE, TB, ATL, and OAK). They own a 20-19 record against those clubs who have a combined winning percentage of .604. That winning percentage would be fifth best in baseball, and Minnesota is beating them at over a .500 clip.
In any sport, the goal is to hold serve with the best teams while cleaning up against the lackluster competition. Minnesota has done exactly that and has far more opportunity to expand on the latter as the calendar closes out the year. 9 games remain with Cleveland (four of which take place this week) and then just 11 games remain with clubs north of the .500 mark (MIL, TEX, BOS, and WAS).
Starting Rotation Issues
A point of discontent among fans since the season began, the Twins pitching staff has performed largely above expectations. Martin Perez isn’t close to the pitcher he started the year as, but you can’t discredit what he gave Minnesota from the get-go. Michael Pineda was scoffed at plenty early on, but he’s been one of the best and most consistent arms in baseball during 2019. This grouping isn’t bolstered just by early season performance either. Only eight different pitchers have made starts for Minnesota, the fewest in baseball, and the Twins rotation still has the seventh best fWAR since June 1st.
Pineda and Jose Berrios both have ERA’s south of 3.20 since June 1st, and Kyle Gibson is performing well with a 3.97 mark. Throwing out his nine-run blowup against the Yankees, Jake Odorizzi owns a 3.18 ERA in his last 4 turns and was the ERA leader early in the season. Wanting a starter at the deadline was a fair hope for the front office and fans alike, but with only Marcus Stroman as a realistic option, opportunity was hardly missed by passing on guys like Mike Leake, Tanner Roark, and Jordan Lyles.
The Competition is Stiff
There’s no denying that Minnesota should be eyeing up their postseason prospects at this point. They’ll need to finish out the slate strong, but they’re trending towards a berth and a division title. Despite losing two of three at home to Atlanta, run differentials suggest Minnesota may be the superior team. There were clunker pitching performances in the set, but it’s clear the clubs are evenly matched throughout their 25-man rosters.
It’s not just the Twins looking for answers either. New York has the best record in the American League, and second in baseball. Since June 1st their rotation ranks 26th in baseball. Atlanta leads the NL East by a healthy six game margin, but they have just the 14th best rotation in baseball during that same time period. Neither team made starting acquisitions at the deadline, and Atlanta even parted with an option. You’re going to run into good teams during the postseason, but each one of them will have warts.
Peaking in May
After going gangbusters to open 2019 and distance themselves from a disappointing 2018 season, Minnesota has been consistently tied to their start. Getting out of the gates that fast makes it understandable to reference that point, but a mediocre stretch doesn’t trump Minnesota still making their mark.
Since July 1st the Twins have a 17-13 record, which is a 92-win pace. That would’ve won four of six divisions a season ago and getting into the postseason is the only regular season goal. Record doesn’t matter once you’re there, and the opponent doesn’t care how you’ve arrived in the other dugout. We can break the season into chunks from an evaluation standpoint, but 162 games exist to legitimize trends over a significant period.
At the end of the day, there’re a few takeaways here. First and foremost, this Twins team is very, very good. They absolutely have deficiencies but so does every team in baseball. Even the Zack Greinke-bolstered Houston Astros have a World Series probability of less than 30%. In a sport where five or seven games can be so closely contested, calling anything a wrap before the final pitch seems foolish.
Since 2010 the Twins have looked like a lost franchise chasing a competitive window without much luck. Now they are not only well positioned to make waves in 2019, but for multiple years beyond. Reacting to contests without the context of a new game tomorrow or the opportunity that lies ahead is shortsighted. Smart money says there’s lots more winning to come, and the level we soak that in should only further the experience.
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