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Article: Twins Minor League Report (5/25): Vargas Powers...

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Time to shuffle the deck

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Reasons the Twins Offense Will Turn it Around

Nick Nelson made me think today, and it hurt. In a Twitter discussion, the point was made that the Twins are 10th in the AL in runs scored per game. Prior to Wednesday’s game against Toronto, the Twins had been struggling significantly with what was supposed to be an explosive offense. Here’s some data to put that into context along with MLB rankings for each category.
Image courtesy of © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Attached Image: Screenshot 2018-05-03 at 6.09.03 PM.png
Minnesota is also second in the majors, leaving an average of 4.2 runners in scoring position per game. Scoring position. Per game! Not only has the Twins offense suffered overall (particularly their power numbers), they have struggled to drive home runners at a frankly unsustainable rate. This has to get better, right? Here’s some evidence that it will.

Top of the Order
Joe Mauer has had a strong start to the season. He is currently getting on base at a .439 clip, good for seventh in MLB. At the top of the lineup, Brian Dozier is trending in the opposite direction. Dozier sat on Wednesday after managing a .203/.250/.250 line in his last 15 games. Justin Morneau (who has been excellent in the booth during the Toronto series) made mention of Dozier losing the reliance on his legs. Dozier has often been a streaky hitter for the Twins, prone to mediocre first halves and explosive barrages of home runs after the All-Star break. The Twins should consider letting Mauer lead off and Dozier hit second when he gets back on track.

Unexpected Excellence
John Olson, of the excellent Twins Daily ‘Four Six Three’ blog pointed out today that unexpectedly, Max Kepler and Eduardo Escobar have been in scintillating form at the plate for the Twins. Leading the team with a .919 and .918 OPS respectively. It’s difficult to fathom where the Twins would be without their two most consistent offensive contributors so far.

As of Wednesday night, Kepler has managed an impressive .300/.364/.556 line with a BB% of just over 9%, while cutting his K% in half from 20.1% to 10.1% and increasing his ISO from .182 in 2017 to .256 in 2018, a remarkable start for a player Keith Law tipped to break out in 2018. What is perhaps most impressive about Kepler’s performance is his improvement against lefties. In his first 20 PA Kepler has managed a .316/.350/.632 line, compared to .152/.213/.240 effort in 2017. While this probably isn’t sustainable, it’s clear he’s made an adjustment.

Escobar is an equally remarkable story. A throw-away in a trade that was deemed of little value to the Twins when Francisco Liriano was traded to the White Sox, Escobar has transformed from future utility infielder, to Minnesota’s version of Eric Gordon, 6th man of the year. In Escobar’s first full season with the Twins (2014), he managed a .275/.315/.406 line with 6 HR. So far in 2018, Escobar has put up a .299/.344/.575 effort with 4 HR, off the back of a 21 HR season in 2017. Escobar is a free agent at the end of 2018. While the majority of Twins free agency talk has centered around its young core, locking up Escobar, an increasingly key offensive contributor and overwhelmingly liked clubhouse presence, should be a priority for the front office.

Heating Up
After slow starts. Eddie Rosario and Logan Morrison are heating up. Morrison is .286/.400/.476 in his last seven games. Rosario had an outstanding home stand in what was a rough six game stretch for the Twins. In his last seven games, Rosario has caught fire, hitting .360/.385/.800! With three home runs. Worryingly for Rosario, he is regressing in some of his plate discipline peripherals from 2017. Through the first month of the season, Rosario is swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone, making significantly less contact on pitches outside the zone (62% in 2018 compared with 72% in 2017), and has a career high 16.3% SwStr% (career low 11.9% in 2017). Rosario will never be selective, but thus far, has given up too many strikes too readily.

Injury Question Marks
The health of Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton is undoubtedly a major issue for the Twins in attempting to turn around their slow start. Predictably, the narrative around Sano has re-shifted to his weight. I’m not here to engage in that. The overriding outcome for Sano in recent months (including the end of 2017) is he has been unable to stay on the field consistently. Despite his historic strikeout totals, the Twins lineup is more potent with him in it.

Buxton’s departure from the Twins offense has been interesting. It’s provoked narratives around the Twins ‘lacking spark’. I’m not sure how much spark the Twins have had from a .476 OPS so far in 2018. While not slipping to the depths of his initial 2017 slump, Buxton has not caught fire (or even warmed up) yet. Where he is irreplaceably missed is on defense, where the combination of his single-handed propping up of the outfield and the cascade of mediocrity replacing it is evident. The discrepency is magnified by Robbie Grossman lumbering around in right field, awkwardly misplaying hops and fly balls alike.

Bench Depth
Much was made of Jorge Polanco’s half-season suspension and its impact on the Twins season. Perhaps the most noticeable effect is the lack of bench depth. With Escobar occupying an everyday role, Ryan LaMarre and Gregorio Petit are now the Twins go-to bench depth for outfield and infield respectively. As a super-utility bench bat, Escobar had an fWAR of 1.7 in 2017. LaMarre and Petit will become more and more noticeable, the longer they are pressed into service for the Twins.

The Twins are beginning a four-game set against the White Sox at the end of the week. Several writers have commented on how well Minnesota should perform against the Sox, Detroit and Kansas City, with over 50 games remaining against the three in 2018. Chicago, like Minnesota, has had one of the worst pitching staffs in MLB this season. If there’s a series for the offense to get on track, it’s here.

It’s also worth noting that the second half of 2017 was truly outstanding. The Twins experienced breakout and extremely high quality offensive performances from half the lineup at once, most notably Buxton, Polanco, Rosario and Dozier. While the first month of 2018 has been defined by consistently poor execution throughout the team, should we be surprised to see some regression for an offense which was firing on all cylinders for the last few months of last season?

What are your thoughts on the Twins offense so far in 2018? What are the bright spots? Who do you think will turn it around? Who do you think will continue to struggle?

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16 Comments

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diehardtwinsfan
May 04 2018 06:27 AM

It would be nice to see the entire team firing on all cylinders. It seems as though when something good starts to happen, something somewhere else implodes. 

 

I do think they can snap out of this... slumps happen. But it needs to happen sooner than later. 

I have much more hope that the offense can start clicking than the pitching.That said, more runs scored should have the pitching at least psychologically.The troubling thing that I see with the bats is the number of poor AB's that are put up, especially in key spots.As long as that continues, I don't see this offense clicking with any sort of consistency.  

 

While I believe that the last month is more than a slump, things should at least get better.It's more of a matter of how much better in my view.

    • Twins33, Danchat and Doctor Wu like this
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Tommygun921
May 04 2018 06:58 AM
The Twins will snap out of this crap. But it's going to o be to late to make the playoffs...IMO. They need a non politically correct leader that will smash water coolers and throw their uniforms all over the field. Lamarre has been decent when in the lineup so I don't know why it's made out to be a bad thing. But as it's looked so far it doesn't matter how many runs they score as the bullpen gives up 1 more than that.
    • Tomj14 likes this

"They need a non politically correct leader that will smash water coolers and throw their uniforms all over the field"

 

Preferably the opponents uniforms. But that's the idea and that is not Molitor. Molitor and (yes) Joe Mauer are the faces of the laid back demeanor of the whole team. Its fine to get excited when Kepler hits a walk off but the day to day determination to win simply isn't there. They treat every AB the same..whatever happens happens no matter the game situation. Blow a 5-1 lead and lose in extras? No biggie, another game tomorrow and maybe we'll get lucky. That seems to be the attitude and they are just counting the season down already. St Louis should be fun for a change. They have a nice arch and I think its on the same river as Minneapolis is.

 

I have much more hope that the offense can start clicking than the pitching.That said, more runs scored should have the pitching at least psychologically.The troubling thing that I see with the bats is the number of poor AB's that are put up, especially in key spots.As long as that continues, I don't see this offense clicking with any sort of consistency. 

I have to agree with most of that. I'm much more worried about the pitching staff at this point. I think the hitting will pick up, maybe not by a significant amount, but it can't stay this bad, can it? And how about some more home runs!

I'm not sure if Molly knows how to construct a lineup. The whole fact that Dozier keeps batting leadoff because....... It would help if Buxton was playing, and could also run, and hit above the Mendoza line. We lack his speed (when he gets on base). But, please, STOP batting Dozier leadoff. Mauer is fine in the number 2 spot, and Kepler has adjusted to the #3 spot. Now the question is...Morrison or Escobar at cleanup. It would seem idea to have Morison, but Escobar, given the chance., is proving to be a powerful weapon. And then we keep pushing Eddie further down the lineup.

 

The bench. Garver is out playing Castro right now and should be catching Berrios and Romero ALL THE TIME, since both are the future of the Twins, as well as Castro. LaMarre and Petit may be flash in the pans, but you run with them. Im sorry, dragging out Robbie Grossman, having him bat leadoff (five at bats a game) isn't working. LaMarre is hungry. He may be the second-coming of a Jason Tyner for hitting singles, but he is hitting.

 

But the lineup is a shambles, partly obvious because runners aren't being advanced (except by passed balls) or coming home. 

 

Not sure the philosophy here.

 

Almost the same with the bullpen. You can't keep trotting out the same relief pitchers. You have to be able to use all your guns in close games. If they can't give you the pitching you need, then jettison them for someone else.

 

Of face the reality...you are one of the non-competing teams this year.

 

And then ask the questions why and how did we get here.

 

The answer? Bad front office moves, poor field management, wrong mix of players.

 

I have to agree with most of that. I'm much more worried about the pitching staff at this point. I think the hitting will pick up, maybe not by a significant amount, but it can't stay this bad, can it? And how about some more home runs!

My biggest question besides the pitching is the defense.Can the offense pick it up enough to cover the atrocious defense to go with terrible pitching?I don't think they can even if they're firing on all cylinders.My only hope is that the pitching gets better simply because they know they don't have to shut out the opponent.It would certainly make them more watchable though.

 

That defense though, eesh.  

    • Danchat and LA VIkes Fan like this

When you have a projected lineup that is set up to be top 5 in the AL, expectations are high.Take Polanco, Buxton and now Sano out of it and the ceiling for the lineup drops considerably.Yes, Buxton and Sano struggled early (as usual), but we also know that the current version of the lineup is likely not capable of much more than they are getting.Biggest problem lately is the inability to add on from about the 5th on.

I am looking for any reason for optimism. Just not finding evidence of any.

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LA VIkes Fan
May 04 2018 01:01 PM

This pitching staff isn't going to get or look any better if the defense doesn't improve. Grossman has cost us two games in the field by not making plays. Escobar can't play short on an everyday basis and is less than stellar at third. Dozier seems ot have lost at least a step (maybe 2) at 2B all of a sudden. Garver can hit but he's tilla bit of a butcher behind the plate. I'm an optimist by nature but it's hard to see how the team gets better if the defense doesn't markedly improve and it's hard to see how that happens with the guys we have. 

 

There are a couple of things we can do in the short term. LaMarre can play OF but can't hit. Well, Grossman can't play OF and now he can't hit so LaMarre should play until Buxton comes back. It may be time for Dozier to sit for a while or at least move down in the order. Maybe Mauer can lead off.He has the OPS to justify that, although not the foot speed. Garver should play more and we can only hope that his defense improves. Other than that, there isn't a lot we can do.  

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OldTimeTwinkie
May 04 2018 01:09 PM
to be an elite team you've got to have depth that is quality Major League. Our payroll provides minimum 4AAAA players. Escobar gives us that but he now is a starter. We have no outfielders that are of that quality to replace injuries that are inevitable or days off for rest. Nunez and Escobar would have been what's needed plus a 4th starting outfielder/dh that is right handed.
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tarheeltwinsfan
May 04 2018 01:22 PM

There's nowhere to go but up.

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yarnivek1972
May 04 2018 01:28 PM
Fantastic. Now how about an article detailing how likely it is that the pitching staff improves from being ranked 27th in MLB?

Kinda more important IMO.

The issue here is that even if the offense turns it around, our defense and pitching are still a dumpster fire and you can't make a playoff push without real good pitching.

 

I think the sad truth of the matter is we're either looking at continuing our stretch of being a bad team or we're likely going to need to do a full rebuild. If Buxton and Sano aren't going to be the pillars of our team that we build around, then we're going to need to trade them. And probably anyone not named Berrios who is worth anything at the trade deadline or in the offseason. You can't build a championship team around guys who can't stay healthy and can't consistently produce. And as much as it pains me, Sano and Buxton haven't done either. Its been quite clear that we lack the ability to develop any significant amount of quality pitching, we're not going to be signing Clayton Kershaw in the offseason,  and signing middling FAs isn't working. So, I don't really see any way we're going to be getting those good pitchers necessary for a playoff push without selling big time. Also, Molitor needs to be gone and should've been gone long ago.

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Kelly Vance
May 05 2018 11:23 AM

One month into the season and the white flags already go up? Look, we've had injuries to two of our best young players and our #1 starter and you don't replace 3 position player starters (including Polanco in this) and a #1 SP on a young team without a hiccup. Meanwhile, the funk set in and we played bad defense. That needs to get fixed, pronto. And it won't get fixed playing Grossman in right and Kep in center. Rather play LaMarre in center and leave Keps where he is comfortable.

 

Starters and relievers need to stop walking batters and stop hanging curves and leaving fast balls floating over the middle. Lynn showed up out of shape it seems. Based on his history, he will get better. Odor has been mostly respectable. . Gibson looks improved and Berrios is solid, but had a bad stretch (for him) which he will put behind him. If Erv comes back soon I hope it doesn't mean Romero goes down. I want to see if the kid can put together a good stretch. 

But I'm not waving any white flags. This team has a bunch of streak hitters on it and if they get hot, they could easily run off a ten game winning streak. They were only about 5 games back last I checked and it is only Cinco. There are signs of a resurgence. LoMo is starting to hit and looks like Dozier's slump could be over. But it is true, there is much room for improvement.

I would like to see Buck hit enough to justify a leadoff spot. Mauer, Dozier, Keps, etc would be better if they had speed on base ahead of them. I like Rosario's swing a lot better than some of you. 

So I'm hanging in and not hanging my head. There is a lot of season left

 

One month into the season and the white flags already go up? Look, we've had injuries to two of our best young players and our #1 starter and you don't replace 3 position player starters (including Polanco in this) and a #1 SP on a young team without a hiccup. Meanwhile, the funk set in and we played bad defense. That needs to get fixed, pronto. And it won't get fixed playing Grossman in right and Kep in center. Rather play LaMarre in center and leave Keps where he is comfortable.

Starters and relievers need to stop walking batters and stop hanging curves and leaving fast balls floating over the middle. Lynn showed up out of shape it seems. Based on his history, he will get better. Odor has been mostly respectable. . Gibson looks improved and Berrios is solid, but had a bad stretch (for him) which he will put behind him. If Erv comes back soon I hope it doesn't mean Romero goes down. I want to see if the kid can put together a good stretch.
But I'm not waving any white flags. This team has a bunch of streak hitters on it and if they get hot, they could easily run off a ten game winning streak. They were only about 5 games back last I checked and it is only Cinco. There are signs of a resurgence. LoMo is starting to hit and looks like Dozier's slump could be over. But it is true, there is much room for improvement.
I would like to see Buck hit enough to justify a leadoff spot. Mauer, Dozier, Keps, etc would be better if they had speed on base ahead of them. I like Rosario's swing a lot better than some of you.
So I'm hanging in and not hanging my head. There is a lot of season left


Santana isn't eligible to come off the DL until May 27th, and considering he's only thrown off a mound once (exclusively fastballs and changeups, no sliders), I'll be surprised if he's ready by then. That gives Romero a minimum 4 more starts.
    • Kelly Vance likes this

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