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I'm an old guy waiting on my third joint replacement surgery in the last seven months, so when the Twins aren't on TV, I spend a lot of time reading about the Twins and I have a chance to try to organize my thoughts about my favorite team. My weekly check of MLB stats shows little change from last week. The Twins are still 14th in runs scored and 2nd (fewest) in runs allowed. The Twins +48 run differential is fourth best in the American League, trailing Tampa, Texas and Houston. Pitching team stats are off the charts good. First in strikeouts opponents on-base, second in ERA, runs allowed, WHIP and top ten in (fewest) walks allowed and (fewest) homers allowed. The Twins have (I believe) a better HR differential than they did in 2019 (prorated). I couldn't find the numbers, but I believe the Twins are at the top or close in starting pitcher innings and quality starts. Most of these numbers have changed little since a week ago, but i (and all of Twins Nation I suspect) am far more optimistic after the team defeated Houston two of three in Houston and won the first two games of the Cleveland series. Winning papers over disturbing trends and flaws and two pretty dramatic wins really help in the standings and the psyche. The return to immediate star status of Royce Lewis and the continued strong play of Alex Kirilloff have been two of the biggest reasons for optimism. Lewis' contributions are hard to underestimate. A guy who hasn't played 20 games in the majors came up with two HUGE hits, a tying single off relief ace Ryan Pressly and a 420 ft. game-tying homer against Cleveland setup man Trevor Stephan. Kirilloff has been on base well over half the time, continually taking good at bats and showing no evidence of wrist problems that cost him most of the last two seasons. Many others have chipped in. Jhoan Dúran flashed 105 mph heaters last night and got five outs to secure a victory. Against the Astros, he worked two innings and got the win after Ryan Jeffers hit a two-run homer. Jeffers has been very good, both behind the plate and in the batter's box. Willi Castro plays everywhere, gets some hits, steals bases and got a huge walk off sacrifice fly Thursday night. Jorge Polanco gets key hits. Donovan Solano has shown his worth as a pinch hitter and right hand platoon guy. The rotation has been outstanding, even "bad" starts are not really bad and Bailey Ober just gave the Twins six scoreless innings last night. Am I satisfied? Of course not. We all want more. It is reasonable to expect much more from some of the highest paid players--Buxton is hitting .220 with an OPS below .800 and only DHing. Pablo López has had more off nights than good ones since inking a rich extension and Jorge López again seems broken. Joey Gallo is in his second major slump and is less the 100% due to a nagging hamstring. Team leader and supposed superstar Carlos Correa has been a huge disappointment and is dealing with an ominous foot issue. An uptick from most or all of these players should make up for any regression from those who have done well. Lastly, I'd like to see more from Lewis and Kirilloff. Royce has hit homers and flashed admirable leather. I'd like to see him hit balls in gaps and steal bases. AK keeps getting on and rises to the occasion in big situations, but I'd like to see more power. He homered twice in the first week and has only hit one (barely) over the fence since. Rather than making opposing pitchers pay for a mistake by hitting a single, I'd like to see him drive the ball more. I believe it is in Kirilloff and Lewis to be perennial All-Stars and have to remind myself how little they've played after each missed most of the last two years due to injury.
Some time after the All-Star break, I was pondering how the Twins could fit all of their quality major league position players on the active roster. A few weeks later, baseball immortals Mark Contreras and Caleb Hamilton were on the big club. Fast forward to a crucial five-game series in Cleveland and the Twins were starting Bailey Ober, Josh Winder (both coming off injuries) and having Louie Varland make his second major league start and Jake Cave and Gilberto Celestino were considered regular starters. The season unraveled quickly and now the Twins look likely to finish below .500 and in third place in the weak AL Central. How did it happen? I have several answers--there have been enduring issues all year exacerbated by a rash of injuries, most of them season-ending. Offense underperformed almost all year. Going back to the start of the season, after a rocky first couple of weeks, the Twins offense was sufficient to win a lot of game despite never scoring runs commensurate with their underlying numbers. Right now, the Twins are 18th in runs scored despite being 11th in OPS and 12th in homers. They have often been futile with runners in scoring position and they have been a terrible running bases as a team. I have seen many posters state that the team is terrible at fundamentals. I would submit that all teams draw their fans ire for not advancing runners and "beating the shift". Part of these problems is the way the Twins are built. They lack team speed and their is a lot of swing and miss in their collective game. With the changes made to limit homers, the Twins (IMHO) have suffered disproportionately. Pitching regressed after overperforming early. The Twins seized first place in late April and held on to the top spot for most of the season bolstered by a pitching staff that performed better than expected. Despite seemingly having at least one and usually two or more guys in their rotation that were locks to go no more than five innings, they won a lot of games and obvious weaknesses at the back end of the bullpen were not evident in the win-loss record. Things unraveled here in slow motion. The failure of anyone but Jhoan Duran in late innings cost games (particularly to Cleveland). The extra innings assigned to the bullpen showed the lack of depth that so many short starts demanded. Back to statistics--the Twins currently are right in the middle of total runs allowed stats. Underlying stats (WHIP, Opponents BA and OPS and BB and K numbers) come out slightly below the mean. I think team defense has been slightly better than average, which has helped keep runs allowed acceptable. Injuries (oh my!). The Twins lead the AL in total man-games on the Injured List. They went into the season with one player slated to miss time, so it isn't like there were a bunch of players already on the IL. Some of the injuries could be expected and put on the front office. The Twins obtained several pitchers with injury issues and this season have come up snake eyes with most of them missing significant time. There have been plenty of position player injuries as well. Regular players Ryan Jeffers, Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler have all missed significant portions of the season. Carlos Correa also missed over 20 games with COVID and a badly bruised finger. We all know Buxton hasn't made it through a season without spending time on the IL. The other guys would figure to be healthier than they have this year. Dick Bremer characterized the Twins as developing a "slow leak" from June through August. The leak has been accelerated in the month of September and injuries are a factor in that. That said, even without the injuries, the Twins' flaws probably were too big to win the division. The club exhausted their depth and seeing Jermaine Palacios, Mark Contreras, Caleb Hamilton, Sandy Leon, Aaron Sanchez, and (second half) Devin Smeltzer "perform" in key situations just shows that the Twins have scraped bottom. I think some roster turnover is necessary. Among the position players, they need more guys who make contact, are better base runners and who have more speed. They need more left-right balance in corner outfielders. The front office needs to adjust their focus and bring in more durable players. It should be noted that the position players they brought in (Urshela, Sanchez and Correa) have been basically healthy. The problem has been with the pitchers. I think there is too much talent to tear it down. If the club fails to compete next year, it is probably time to try something else, starting at the top. It won't be easy to win the Central next year, but there needs to be significant progress and better health.