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Article: What's Wrong with the Twins? A Fizzling Core

miguel sano byron buxton
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#1 Nick Nelson

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Posted 06 June 2018 - 11:00 PM

Imagine, if you will, how different the current Twins lineup would look with a cleanup hitter slashing .306/.409/.607, and leading the way with 14 home runs.

Those were Miguel Sano's numbers a year ago today.

Wednesday night's 0-fer dropped him to .202/.273/.419 this season. He's striking out at an historic rate. He has only seven homers, despite his efforts to collect one on every swing.

Now imagine – in addition to that premier slugger – a leadoff man with a .309/.358/.538 line to go along with 12 homers and 16 steals. A Gold Glove center fielder changing games every night.

That was Byron Buxton over the final two months of 2017, when he finally appeared to figure it all out.

In the first two months of 2018, he played only 28 games and hit .156/.183/.200 with zero home runs.

You want to diagnose what's holding these lackluster Minnesota Twins down? It's more or less as simple as that.The vision for a contending team this year was framed around Buxton and Sano as foundational forces. In fact, that gaze has been set ever since 2012, when the Twins were lucky enough to draft Buxton and add him to their system alongside Sano.

From that moment, the duo was at the center of Minnesota's rebuilding blueprint.

True, there are no sure things in baseball, but it's easy enough to spot generational talents when you see them.

The year Buxton came aboard, Sano hit 28 home runs in A-ball as a teenager. Not longer after, Buck was the unanimous top prospect in baseball. These were standout studs that any organization in the same situation would build around. Their presence was vitalizing.

As Twins fans endured a half-decade of dismal baseball, the ascending superstars served as shining beacons of hope and reassurance. We watched them dominate each level of the minors. We also watched them endure their occasional setbacks, most of them common enough.

But up until this year, there's never been reason to doubt the duo's ability to sustainably power contending clubs, in the same way Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau did during the last winning cycle.

Everything was in place. Coming into this season, Sano and Buxton were both 24 years old, established as successful major-league players. One was coming off an All Star appearance, the other an MVP-caliber second half.

To be receiving very close to ZERO from a pair of players who were at the very heart of the design makes winning almost impossible. These are bad breaks that can't be absorbed. You've got to feel for Derek Falvey and Thad Levine, who have seen so much of their well constructed plan fall into place around this defective nucleus.

Vastly improved rotation and bullpen. Eddie Rosario and Eduardo Escobar playing out of their minds. A truly terrible division. Insert the versions of Buxton and Sano that we all expected – or even close, or even one or the other – into that equation, and the team is winning this division right now. Maybe handily.

But when you go from top-gear Buxton to a mere shell, and then a minor-league journeyman in Ryan LaMarre? When you go from a herculean Sano in 2017 to the total mess we've winced at through nine weeks of 2018?

We have seen where that leaves us. Six games below .500 on June 7th. Five games out of first place. A team frittering away every burst of momentum that its contributing parts can muster because the core is fizzling.

And what's most demoralizing about this state of affairs? How utterly inexplicable and remediless it feels.

Prospects bust all the time – even some that look like sure bets. You can't call Sano or Buxton busts. You just can't. They're still too young, for one, but more importantly they've both shown the ability to convincingly dominate in the majors.

These two transcendent talents continue to be haunted by issues that defy explanation. Sure, there's a healthy dose of bad luck at play for both – enduring from their injury-hampered days in the minors – but it goes beyond that.

To watch baseball players of this caliber wallow in perpetual regression... it leaves me speechless. I've got nothing. Equally devoid of answers, it would seem, is the considerable braintrust working diligently to get them on track.

Diagnosing what's wrong with the Twins is easy: it's Buxton and Sano. That's just about the long and short of it. If only diagnosing and correcting whatever afflicts them were so simple.

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#2 rghrbek

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Posted 06 June 2018 - 11:11 PM

Really well stated Nick.  I think it was assumed by most that Buck would be average or better at the plate, and we were hoping that Sano would put up average numbers for him (I think most of us were not expecting him due to replicate last years first half to his recovery and getting back into baseball shape).

 

I like me some Eddie R and Esco, but currently they are our core players...

 

We all get aroused because Eddie is electric at times at the plate and entertaining, but let's just say his game is not..well rounded.  Don't get me wrong his a big part of this team, but as you point out missing the production from what was supposed to be our biggest assets hurts and we are in trouble.

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#3 Oldgoat_MN

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Posted 06 June 2018 - 11:22 PM

Vastly improved rotation and bullpen. Eddie Rosario and Eduardo Escobar playing out of their minds. A truly terrible division. Insert the versions of Buxton and Sano that we all expected – or even close, or even one or the other – into that equation, and the team is winning this division right now. Maybe handily.

 

Sadly, this is so very true.

Funny game, baseball.

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#4 h2oface

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Posted 07 June 2018 - 12:04 AM

The Twins are 9th out of 15 teams in the AL in just about every pitching category, about the bottom third or below the mean in the MLB. It isn't just Buxton and Sano. The pitching is improved, but still hurting, and the bullpen is being abused and mismanaged by the MOY. The teams with the best records are in the top of the pitching stats by a good bit. I can't ignore that. Improved pitching, yes. But it is more than a couple of players. Every team has injuries and players out. 

 

This is a leadership and management problem. New coaches that were supposed to be saviors. Falvey and Levine's guys. How is that working out? I don't have any answers either, but this team is so very disappointing. And it isn't just Buxton and Sano (who I would immediately send to Rochester for a wake up call). Why Gordon is not called up is incredulous to me. The pundits seem a lot more credible than the homers right now.

 

But hey....... it's nothing a 20 game winning streak won't cure.

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#5 Jham

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Posted 07 June 2018 - 02:35 AM

Agree with the conclusion but not the premise. Yes, it is tough for this team to win without Buck and Sano leading the way. However, the level of production suggested takes the cream from the top and ignores the milk, curds, and whey. Sano has always projected as a huge power prospect with severe contact issues and over-swing/pull tendencies. Always a tier below the best power hitters in trajectory, spin, and contact, in my opinion.

Scouts still had big doubts about Buxton's ability to recognize pitches and consistently make contact even when he was raking. his swing itself never looked smooth or natural.

Anyhow, I call the premise flawed because it extrapolates based on the peak of their performance curve, suggesting Trout-esque performance from a good stretch. But it isn't really Trout-esque unless the Sano/Buxton peaks are close to Trout's peaks rather than his averages. So we do need much more from the core. But whether we expected more or merely hoped for more is the important question.
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#6 Champuckett

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Posted 07 June 2018 - 03:55 AM

The inconsistency by both players means only one thing as far as I am concerned.Poor coaching.And it not only extends to those two, it extends to the entire team, the bullpen, the pitching starters, and the team as a whole since Gardy departed.

 

We knew where we stood in the last few years of the previous manager, we were bad news, we were rebuilding.The current manager has given us hope at times, no doubt, and the rest of the time, we are playing like dirt.So we are left wondering what to do.It feels like we could be very good with some serious guidance and focus, but we play like we are quite mediocre and/or bad.Many of the solutions involving both of these players require consistency and intense dedication to that consistency, but it appears this is not what is happening to these players.

 

If you want players to start playing more consistent, then they need to be hit over the head with tactics that implore and demand consistency and repetition.At the moment, this is failing to get through to these young guys, or it is not being taught or it is flat out being ignored by the players either due to respect not being given to the coaches and the manager or because the respect is not being demanded in the first place and therefore is unwarranted.

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#7 Old Twins Cap

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Posted 07 June 2018 - 06:16 AM

Very good article, and a very sad season and series of outcomes for the Twins.

 

I felt this way about Mauer and Morneau in the years after they both flourished. But that was injury driven, first Mauer and then Morneau, and they were never the same.

 

One can still hold out hope for Buxton. We barely know what he can do and he is a huge asset on defense.

 

Not so Sano, though he is better at 3B than I ever expected.

 

Still, at this point, he does not show the professionalism, the ability to make adjustments, the maturity as a human being to be a leader. And in truth, as witnessed last year and this year, the Twins can win without him by inserting Escobar.

 

And yes, the elephants in the room: Rowson, Alston and Molitor. Are they really making this team better?

 

No way.

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#8 jtkoupal

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Posted 07 June 2018 - 06:16 AM

What frustrates me the most about Sanó may not be his strikeouts, but rather the lack of care he has taken of his body. Look at a picture of him from 2015 and a picture of him now. Sure, he was going to fill out some more, but the difference is astounding. 

 

As for Buxton, he has been a slow starter at the plate in his career. I count on him to get hot in the second half, like he did last year, if he ever gets fully healthy.

 

The answer is NOT to give up on these two. They have too much potential. The answer is to keep working with them. The window really begins in 2019. Last year was a bit premature, which is partly what we are seeing this year. 

 

If by next year they are still futile, then maybe it's time to consider something else. Until then, let them play.

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#9 rdehring

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Posted 07 June 2018 - 06:16 AM

Let's not include Buxton in the same category as Sano.Yes, Buxton started slowly.But his problem has been an injury, including some games trying to come back from it when he should have remained on the DL.Yes, Buxton may never be the hitter we all hoped for, but with his speed and defense he can become a very important part of a good team.Maybe they need to work with him next off season to become a small ball type of hitter.

 

The player I think should be included with Sano is Brian Dozier.Usually players in their contract year put up numbers that are off the charts.He seems more like a player who has left town and is uninterested in what happens to this team....at least to me while he is on the field.A lot of defensive mistakes and minimal production at the plate.

 

As for Sano.He is just plain too big to be effective on the field.As I said elsewhere this morning, when Polanco is back I would ship his butt off to Rochester.Maybe that would get his attention that he needs to work to become the best player he can be.

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#10 twinssporto

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Posted 07 June 2018 - 06:21 AM

This offense should be like rolling thunder right now.  However, nothing seems to click.  I think the biggest culprit right now has been injuries.  Buxton has missed a lot of time, Sano has missed a lot of time, Mauer is out and Polanco is detoxing.  

 

The things we've seen so far this year from Rosario is what I would expect him to do.  Same with Kepler.  Escobar picked up right where he left off last year taking over for Sano and is playing as expected.  When over 1/3 of your lineup is out, injured, detoxing or out of practice you're going to see inconsistent play.  I think missing Castro behind the plate also hurts the team.  

 

Unfortunately, this seems to be the theme for the 2018 squad.   

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On a long enough timeline the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.


#11 Don Walcott

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Posted 07 June 2018 - 06:32 AM

It’s also disappointing to get nothing from the veteran core of Dozier, Mauer and Santana. If we had those guys doing what they did last year, we’d be in first place. Just a lot of bad luck so far this year, combined with some poor performances. But I still believe things can turn around for this team.
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#12 Blackjack

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Posted 07 June 2018 - 06:39 AM

 

Let's not include Buxton in the same category as Sano.Yes, Buxton started slowly.But his problem has been an injury, including some games trying to come back from it when he should have remained on the DL.Yes, Buxton may never be the hitter we all hoped for, but with his speed and defense he can become a very important part of a good team.Maybe they need to work with him next off season to become a small ball type of hitter.

 

The player I think should be included with Sano is Brian Dozier.Usually players in their contract year put up numbers that are off the charts.He seems more like a player who has left town and is uninterested in what happens to this team....at least to me while he is on the field.A lot of defensive mistakes and minimal production at the plate.

 

As for Sano.He is just plain too big to be effective on the field.As I said elsewhere this morning, when Polanco is back I would ship his butt off to Rochester.Maybe that would get his attention that he needs to work to become the best player he can be.

Good point about Dozier!!

 

Also a good point about Buxton, he needs to get healthy before we trash him, no I mean before we judge him. Hopefully, with some proper coaching, he can start to hit a little.

 

People on this board hate bunting but I think he should be bunting at least once every game!!! Get on base anyway you can!!!

 

But I will say that I've always been disappointed in how he's so reckless in the field, injuring himself by running into walls/teammates/diving for one out when The Team would be better off with him on the field rather than on the injured list. Save that heroic out stuff for the last out of a playoff game.

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#13 diehardtwinsfan

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Posted 07 June 2018 - 06:44 AM

They can definitely right the ship, but as yesterday's game recap noted, time is starting to work against them.

They key to the offense has always been Buxton and Sano. I'm not really willing to give either of them a mulligan right now, as both have been shades of terrible. Buxton wasn't hitting well before his injury, and other than the first week of the season, Sano has been pretty bad. Sano has hit a bit better of late, so perhaps he's coming out of it, but both desperately need to learn to lay off pitches they cannot hit (and in Sano's case, be willing to go oppo.. he's got the power to put them over the fence opposite field).

Polanco coming back may help. At least it gets Adrianza out of the lineup.

But yeah, those two need to hit and not keep striking out at a historic pace.
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#14 Han Joelo

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Posted 07 June 2018 - 06:48 AM

No matter which way you slice it--injuries, coaching, attitude, whatever--I think the expectation was for these guys to explode this year, and instead they've fizzled.  With the core melting down, what do we do now, Scotty?

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#15 Blackjack

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Posted 07 June 2018 - 06:55 AM

One phrase keeps popping into my head every time there's a discussion about Sano.

 

'Its not the size of the bull, its the size of the heart in the bull'.

 

I have two female Labradors, one is 75 pounds, one is 61 pounds, when I shoot a pheasant, the smaller dog is going to get it every time. She has more heart and desire. Shes going to come back with that bird or die trying.

 

Its the same with people, you have the type A's that are moving and hustling all the time, where the type B's would rather just sit on their butts. You see it all the time in sports where a smaller less talented guy out plays the stud. Sano just seem to lack the desire.

 

He's already banked a lot of money, enough to live like a king. Regardless of how he does the next 4-5 years, he'll sign at least one more big contract, he can add to his kingdom. No need to push himself.

 

I don't think it will happen but it will be interesting to see how he'd react to getting sent down to AAA. Would he take it to heart and really apply himself or would he be upset and decide to leave the Twins ASAP? Would he hire a personal trainer in the off season to manage diet and exercise??

 

My guess is no.

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#16 Dman

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Posted 07 June 2018 - 06:58 AM

It seems like a lot of things just haven't gone the Twins way this year.A bad start the first month of the season.When the starters pitch well the bullpen blows the game.When the starters pitch poorly and the bullpen holds we still fall just short.Losing lots of 1 run games and or getting walked off a ton.It feels a bit like a cursed season.The talent is there it just doesn't all come together for some reason.

 

Last year it was the exact opposite.We found ways to win games and seemed to catch the breaks.I guess this is the other side of things. Just have to keep hoping things turn around and even if they don't then we will be in a good position in the draft next year at least.

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#17 ThejacKmp

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Posted 07 June 2018 - 07:08 AM

 

What frustrates me the most about Sanó may not be his strikeouts, but rather the lack of care he has taken of his body. Look at a picture of him from 2015 and a picture of him now. Sure, he was going to fill out some more, but the difference is astounding. 

I've never heard anything that says that guys who are heavier strikeout more.

 

Sano has been acceptable in the field and that's where you would see the weight matter most.

 

I'm pretty sick of the Sano-is-too-fat-and-it-shows-he's-lazy-and-doesn't-care obsession. He's just not hitting. That's the problem. The power's fallen off but not that much - it's mainly the average. The strikeouts explain some of that but a big chunk of it is his BABIP has dropped like crazy. Maybe that's luck, maybe that's approach.

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#18 ThejacKmp

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Posted 07 June 2018 - 07:09 AM

Also they're only five games out. We really shouldn't be so gloom and doom. Buxton and Sano are capable of hot stretches. So is Dozier and Polanco and Mauer should be back at some point. I'll give up in early-to-mid August and not before.

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#19 puckstopper1

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Posted 07 June 2018 - 07:11 AM

I wholeheartedly agree with this assessment.A first half 2017 Sano or a second half 2017 Buxton would have this team right up there with this years Indians.

 

A first half 2017 Sano or a second half 2017 Buxton AND fewer injuries (Mauer, Castro and Santana) and no Polanco suspension would have this team right up there with last years Indians.

 

The big question becomes what do the Twins do because of this.Can Buxton and/or Sano be relied upon to be a big part of this team going forward?If not, it may be some time before this team is a consistent contender again.

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That Twins 2nd baseman - #29 - he doesn't run, he "ca-rew-zes" - Earl Weaver


#20 lukeduke1980

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Posted 07 June 2018 - 07:18 AM

I'm neutral on the coaches' responsibility.To me they're such easy scapegoats.This is the major leagues - players have established themselves to get to this level they own the majority of the blame for under-performing.The coaches need to help the players with technique when they get off track.

 

That being said it seems like every other team gets more out of their talent.

 

I'm not sure where Falvine sit on this season.I think if their feet are held to the fire they defend it as a lost season due to injuries/suspensions.I think Molly deserves the same.  

 

I know we want the compensation pick, but I consider trading Dozier soon if he continues to sleep walk through games.

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