Ten Second-Half Storylines
by, 07-11-2012 at 06:16 PM (1234 Views)
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?