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First Place, Feeling Great: 4 Twins Observations at the Quarter Pole


With 41 games in the books, that Minnesota Twins are almost exactly 25% of the way through their 2022 schedule. Obviously, things have gone better than expected so far.

Here are four thoughts on the first-place Twins as we take stock at this checkpoint.

1: People aren't fully buying into the team's success.

The Twins are on pace to win 99 games, which would stack up as one of the best seasons in franchise history. But if this Twins Daily Twitter poll from Sunday night is any indication, most people aren't convinced that they'll be able to keep up with that pace.

With 500 votes in, only 5% of respondents said the Twins will finish with 100 or more wins, and only 12% had them landing in the 95-to-99 range where they are currently projected. A vast majority (61%) expect the team to finish with 90-to-94 wins, and more voters envision the Twins winning fewer than 90 (22%) than 95 or more (17%).

It's fair! Perspective matters. We are currently sizing up the Twins in the midst of a hot streak against blatantly poor competition. The only time we saw them face a great opponent this month, the Twins were swept and thoroughly dismantled by the Astros – albeit without two of their best players in Carlos Correa and Luis Arraez.

Most people are gonna need to see the Twins win a few slugfests in their own weight class before anointing them a true upper-echelon contender. Nothing wrong with that. The team will have its chance in early June with a tour of top dogs in the AL East: Blue Jays, Yankees, Rays, successively. 

2: The front office's bets are paying off (mostly).

The Twins opted not to invest heavily in the free agent reliever market, signing only one player to a major-league contract: Joe Smith, on a cheap one-year $2.5 million deal. That move couldn't have worked out better so far, as Smith has yet to allow an earned run through 16 appearances.

The bullpen as a whole has been far better than expected, in spite of the passive offseason approach. The team's belief in Jhoan Durán helped them feel comfortable trading Taylor Rogers for Chris Paddack (a bet that did NOT pay off, for this year anyway) on the eve of Opening Day. They've been rewarded. Griffin Jax has also been excellent in his transition to the pen.

The front office's boldest gambit of the offseason was that wild mega-deal with the Yankees, which involved losing Mitch Garver and taking on Gary Sánchez and Gio Urshela in order to to dump Josh Donaldson's salary. (Thus setting up the Correa signing.) That one's looking pretty good too.

Donaldson is hitting decently well as a frequent DH for the Yankees, but drawing headlines in New York for all the wrong reasons. The improvement in clubhouse culture for the Twins since his departure has been apparent even from the outside. Meanwhile, Sánchez is emerging as the slugging force that the Twins hoped Garver (slashing .207/.295/.370 for the Rangers so far) would be.

3: The Twins/White Sox rivalry we wanted last year has now arrived.

The Royals and Tigers have already pretty much rendered themselves irrelevant, and it's hard to buy into the mediocre Guardians, despite the greatness of José Ramirez. Chicago has been scuffling a bit in the early going but garnered some momentum on Sunday with a doubleheader sweep over the Yankees. They're back above .500 and trailing the Twins in the Central by four games.

There was a lot of hype surrounding the return of this classic rivalry last year, following a tight race in the shortened 2020 season, but the Twins never showed up for the fight. This year they're showing up, and I suspect the White Sox will too. Both teams have a lot of talent and a lot of character, so it should be fun.

4: The combination of standout rookies and established stars is really exciting.

There's just a great vibe on this team. It's awesome to see Joe Ryan stepping up and leading the rotation, while Durán establishes himself as The Guy in the bullpen. Gilberto Celestino is blossoming before our eyes. We've already seen flashes from Royce Lewis; he and other top prospects are likely to factor in as the season goes on: Jordan Balazovic, Matt Canterino, Simeon Woods Richardson, José Miranda (maybe after a get-right stint in Triple-A). All in play.

Meanwhile, the true leaders of this team are Byron Buxton and Carlos Correa, two bona fide superstars in their prime. Jorge Polanco and Luis Arraez are on the next tier. 

Max Kepler is having a resurgent season to reinsert himself into that conversation. We can maybe say the same about Gary Sánchez, who seems to be getting exactly what he needed out of this change of scenery.

The intermingling of experienced mainstays who are performing well, and young up-and-comers who are often contributing immediately, along with a $35M free agent who somehow gives off no "mercenary" vibes ... it's really cool. This is a very likable group and it's adding all the more to the enjoyment of this (so far) surprisingly wonderful 2022 season. 

Here's hoping we feel the same way at the halfway point, and especially at the finish line.


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A few of my own takes;

1-Our hitters have figured out they don't always have to swing for the fences.

2-Our hitters have learned they don't have to pull the ball to get on base.

3-Arraez has found a home on defense

4-We need at least 1 more quality starter, either from a trade or promotion

5-Rocco still can't manage a bullpen

6-Duran is for real

7-We have some pretty darn good players knocking on the door in the minors

8-What a difference a year makes!

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Thanks for the upbeat read, Nick.

I expect Royce Lewis will become part of the Twins lineup by the all-star break, at latest.  Remain hopeful that AK returns comfortable with his wrist and hitting like the young man can.  That would be so important.  It would move Miranda back to St. Paul and push Arraez into lots of days as DH.  

My biggest concern remains the bullpen.  Yes, the results have been good.  Heck, better than good.  But I really would like to see Pagan pushed back to replace that revolving guy who drives over from St. Paul every couple days, giving the closer slot to Duran.  But there remains a need for one or two more solid late inning guys.  Can that be Alcala?  Will he even be back and pitching like he was before the injury?  If not, they need to find someone.  Don't know if he is at St. Paul or Wichita.  May have to go out and get that player some July.

The other addition to the team I would like to see come July is a young catcher.  You know, a guy like Rortvedt who is capable of coming up as an injury replacement with the potential to be a starter or rotating catcher come 2023.  Certainly someone who is more of a prospect than Godoy.

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Well, they've had injuries, they've had a COVID outbreak, and they're still in first place. There's some real depth and resilience there.

But they're going to need to improve. I still think the White Sox are much better than a .500 team, and they'll likely be aggressive at the trade deadline. If the Twins don't win the division, a WC spot isn't guaranteed.

All in all, this season has been a lot of fun so far. I tip my cap to them for turning things around so quickly. Those who defended the team despite the 2021 mess should feel pretty darn good at this point.

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I think a big contributor to their success is the ball and the Twins adjusting to it relatively better than many teams. After their slow start, I'm seeing a focus on driving the ball to the opposite field gap on outer half pitches instead of home run swings to pull the ball. Examples being Miranda busting the game open on Saturday and Gary Sanchez already having as many opposite field doubles as he had last year (and he had only 1 in 2019).

The ball is dying on the warning track and home runs are down 33% leaguewide. Despite being 10th in slugging at .394 and 12th in HR at 41, the Twins are 5th in wRC+ at 114. That being said, Houston outdid them on this when they came to Minnesota. We'll see how teams adjust for the remainder of the season. 

The other way the ball is suiting the team is that in the past Bailey Ober and Joe Ryan have had good outings with one or two home runs that seemed all but inevitable. The hope was no one would be on base when they happened. Those home runs are dying. Joe Ryan is sporting a 0.62 HR/9, down from 1.69 in 2021. Ober is 0.73 thus far, down from 1.95 in 2021. We'll see what happens as the weather warms. 

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Not only will Royce Lewis be a force in the line-up before the All-Star Break, but remember Kenta Maeda is rehabbing and likely to be ready for playoff run and playoffs.  Who knows if he will produce after surgery?   But it’s a potential factor that is being ignored by the “gotta trade for an ace” crowd here. 

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28 minutes ago, strumdatjag said:

Not only will Royce Lewis be a force in the line-up before the All-Star Break, but remember Kenta Maeda is rehabbing and likely to be ready for playoff run and playoffs.  Who knows if he will produce after surgery?   But it’s a potential factor that is being ignored by the “gotta trade for an ace” crowd here. 

And you won't have to worry about an innings limit for Maeda, other than health and stamina.

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Before the season, I said that this team will go as far as the younger players will take them.  So far, I think that's proven to be true, particularly in the pitching department.  Still a lot of season left, but early returns are looking good.  It'll be interesting to see how Chicago pushes this team the rest of the way.

And while the bullpen has been better than advertised, it's been a rollercoaster at times too.  It would be nice if that could get solidified.

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5 hours ago, Karbo said:

A few of my own takes;

1-Our hitters have figured out they don't always have to swing for the fences.

2-Our hitters have learned they don't have to pull the ball to get on base.

3-Arraez has found a home on defense

4-We need at least 1 more quality starter, either from a trade or promotion

5-Rocco still can't manage a bullpen

6-Duran is for real

7-We have some pretty darn good players knocking on the door in the minors

8-What a difference a year makes!

Very true I would say... with the exception of #5.

On this one I guess we will have to just disagree.  Now I'm not saying Rocco and Wes have been perfect in managing the bullpen in game situations... they also however, haven't been terrible either.  If we as fans want to pick out the times where a choice didn't work out we also need to at least acknowledge those times where the decision worked (even if it wasn't pretty).

When approached from a neutral standpoint/view, the bullpen use has been just fine.  Yes, not perfect, but then this is baseball... it's not supposed to be perfect.  This is the terrible and cruel beauty that is the game that we love.

 

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1 hour ago, strumdatjag said:

Not only will Royce Lewis be a force in the line-up before the All-Star Break, but remember Kenta Maeda is rehabbing and likely to be ready for playoff run and playoffs.  Who knows if he will produce after surgery?   But it’s a potential factor that is being ignored by the “gotta trade for an ace” crowd here. 

I agree on Lewis and Maeda with a twist - I think Maeda will come back as a key bullpen piece for 2022. I live in LA. When Maeda was with the Dodgers he would start for 1/2 to 2/3 of the season and then be shifted to the bullpen for the remainder. He was a great bullpen weapon during the stretch run and playoffs, reliable late inning guy who could close. That's the role I'm hoping he fills for this year's Twins. 

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1 hour ago, TwinsAce said:

And you won't have to worry about an innings limit for Maeda, other than health and stamina.

I disagree, as I think they'll have Maeda on a very strict pitch count when he first comes back.

Like you though, I am excited for him to possibly make a comeback this year.

 

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Love what the young players are doing. Royce is surpassing our most generous expectations; Celestino is finally giving us a viable Buxton back-up, playing great D everywhere and is a OB machine; Larnach has shown he can hit; really like Gordon; Just waiting for Kiriloff to  get pass his wrist problem.

Pitching- Ryan and Duran has been great, Ober and Winder are steady and are pretty good when healthy.

Buxton has been fantastic when 100%, Correa, Polanco and Kepler are heating up. Arraez always have good ABs and I agree with what Karbo stated that Arraez has found a home at 1B. He's more relaxed, he's playing better overall. Last year it pained me to see Arraez run the bases, he never took an extra base and hardly stole any bases, now he's one of our SB leaders.

I liked the Gray trade but I didn't like trading away Garver or Rogers. Urshela & Sanchez have worked out OK. I really like our Correa, Smith and Archer signing but have been a little hesitant about our 1st Bundy signing.

It doesn't surprise me that many outside of MN underrate them or that many MN fans are pessimistic due to lack of vision. But I'm very optimistic about our players, there's a special chemistry there. I see them only get better with more time to work together, gain more experience and get 100%. My only reservation is Baldelli's total reliance on the short RPing and giving rest to most of our main players at one time thus greatly increasing the difficulty of winning that game.

Yes they're not ready to compete against NYY or LAD but I believe they will be.

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2 hours ago, Karbo said:

A few of my own takes;

1-Our hitters have figured out they don't always have to swing for the fences.

2-Our hitters have learned they don't have to pull the ball to get on base.

I was thinking along these lines and wondering how much credit goes to the new hitting coach. Always hard to say from the outside, but it definitely seems like for the most part, hitters are harnessing their strengths and producing. Kepler, Garlick and Celestino have been among the most impressive, especially compared to their track records. Good early returns on Popkins.

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6 minutes ago, Nick Nelson said:

I was thinking along these lines and wondering how much credit goes to the new hitting coach. Always hard to say from the outside, but it definitely seems like for the most part, hitters are harnessing their strengths and producing. Kepler, Garlick and Celestino have been among the most impressive, especially compared to their track records. Good early returns on Popkins.

I was going to say the same thing. The thing that impresses me is the change in Kepler. I've been one of his biggest critics here but I may have been wrong. Watching Kepler use the left side of the field and hit lefties has me hoping that he might be a .260/.350/.425 hitter. That guy can hit 5 or 6 every day for a contending team and is a very valuable guy when you add in his very good to elite defense. Popkins has also apparently helped Sanchez hit better by using the opposite field. A .235/.290/.450 hitting catcher is a good thing if he is even a tick below average behind the plate. 

Now he just needs to help Urshela, Polanco, and Jeffers...    

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58 minutes ago, Nick Nelson said:

I was thinking along these lines and wondering how much credit goes to the new hitting coach. Always hard to say from the outside, but it definitely seems like for the most part, hitters are harnessing their strengths and producing. Kepler, Garlick and Celestino have been among the most impressive, especially compared to their track records. Good early returns on Popkins.

Kepler is the one I am most excited about in this regard. For years we have seen him bounce out or pop out to the right side. I have screamed at my TV for him to just lay down a few bunts to the left side just to get on. It looks like he is getting it. I like this brand of baseball. It is fun to watch.

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It's hard to be too unhappy with anything with the Twins to this point; how many people really expected more? The entire pitching staff has been better than advertised/predicted and while the offense has looked a little rough, in the context of the league they've been quite good.

I think the most exciting/encouraging thing for this season to date is how the Twins have been able to respond to injuries. Guys have stepped up when other players have gone down, which is good...but it's also who has been slotted into those roles. Most of the guys who have stepped in are players from the system who have potential to be contributors to this franchise beyond this season. You're seeing young guys with upside come up and get a shot on schedule, as opposed to yanking up someone from AA we know isn't ready, or very many journeyman AAAA veterans in their 30's, or guys playing out of position. (no Jake Cave!)

I'm bummed about Alcala's injury: I've been very high on him, and thought he was really figuring it out late last year, so for him to be having arm trouble is a bit of a blow. I'd be more excited about how sustainable our bullpen is if he were healthy and part of it, but Maeda potentially coming back in a month could be a great addition.

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1 hour ago, Nick Nelson said:

I was thinking along these lines and wondering how much credit goes to the new hitting coach. Always hard to say from the outside, but it definitely seems like for the most part, hitters are harnessing their strengths and producing. Kepler, Garlick and Celestino have been among the most impressive, especially compared to their track records. Good early returns on Popkins.

I've been sceptical with Popkins because he'd been advertized as a HR guru with LAD. We don't need a HR guru we need a pure hitting coach to overcome the past MoonBlast mentality and confront the "dead ball" reality that they've had problems with the last few years and Sano' still seems to have problems with it.

I'm happy if possibly I've been misled to think that Popkins is other than indeed a pure hitting coach that he can help any hitter to improve their hitting.

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1 hour ago, Nick Nelson said:

I was thinking along these lines and wondering how much credit goes to the new hitting coach. Always hard to say from the outside, but it definitely seems like for the most part, hitters are harnessing their strengths and producing. Kepler, Garlick and Celestino have been among the most impressive, especially compared to their track records. Good early returns on Popkins.

I said this not too long ago in another thread seeing specifically the turn around in Kepler … I think I said something along the lines of ‘I think they’ve finally found Rowson’s replacement’

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4 hours ago, Karbo said:

A few of my own takes;

1-Our hitters have figured out they don't always have to swing for the fences.

2-Our hitters have learned they don't have to pull the ball to get on base.

3-Arraez has found a home on defense

4-We need at least 1 more quality starter, either from a trade or promotion

5-Rocco still can't manage a bullpen

6-Duran is for real

7-We have some pretty darn good players knocking on the door in the minors

8-What a difference a year makes!

Agreed on all accounts. Sadly I see reason number 5 continuing to cost us some close games here and there. Lets hope the division lead doesn't come down to a game or two at the end of the year because I already have at least 3 losses on the books because of Rocco and his management of the BP/Pulling-Keeping Starters. 

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7 minutes ago, Squirrel said:

I’m glad you’ve come around to this! Seeing is believing 🙂

I've always been high on Celestino but the time from potential to reality is always a big question mark. As you know CF depth is a big deal with me and where we have been hurting for a long time. So I'm overjoyed to see that potential realized and our need met.

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While I try to remain cautiously optimist about the team and this season, but it's getting harder and harder to not get excited.  This team just seems to be clicking and having fun.  Yesterday's game was a great example of the fighting spirit we've lacked in the past.  Let's put some distance between us and the rest of the AL Central and prep for the harder schedule in the coming months.  Let's go Twins!

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1. I don't know how anyone can argue Baldelli is mismanaging the 'pen.  The bullpen has been phenomenal, the Twins are all but undefeated once they have a lead, and he's getting production from a near constant shuttle from AAA.  Honestly, I don't know what successful looks like if it ain't this.

2. I said it at the time: the deals with the Rangers and Yankees were about creating flexibility and looking for upside.  Garver has really struggled, Rotervdt looks like damaged goods, and Donaldson is a DH a third of the time.  It's possible they knew his future was there and that Buxton's health would require more use of that spot.  They also bet on helping Sanchez improve behind the plate, that Urshela would be a leader and a defensive stud, and that the money freed could land them something spicy.  All of those things are happening and the team is so much better for it.  A similar move with Rogers/Paddock didn't work out in the near-term, but it was the same kind of thinking: don't let the past have too much influence over the future.  Swing for upside.

3. The young players are really developing.  They've missed on some bats it looks like, but man do we seem to have the development pipeline humming right now.

Frankly, and I know I'll have boos chucked at me for this, but it's time to start thinking about extending this FO.  They're doing what they came here to do.

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