Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Adding Punch To The Twins Offense

Coming into the week, the Minnesota Twins found themselves preparing for a very important series for the first time in a while. Having played solid baseball to start out the 2015 season, the Twins positioned themselves for more meaningful series early on in the year. Facing off against a Royals team also at the top of the division, Minnesota could create some separation. Unfortunately, that's when the bats went quiet.

Although a small sample size when considering just the first two games against the Royals, the Twins have fallen into the boom or bust trap far too often this season. In the month of June, Minnesota has failed to score more than three runs seven out of nine games. On top of the offensive firepower being void, the Twins have wasted solid pitching performances. Three out of the nine games have been lost with pitchers giving up three or less runs to the opposition.

So, how does the 5th best run scoring team in the American League have such a lackluster offense? The answer is that the Twins have lived and died by an unquantifiable statistic, and the timely hitting is bound to run out.

Minnesota has won a handful of games this season by piling on. Scoring runs in bunches, and driving in runners on base, the Twins have jumped out to insurmountable leads. It's when those hits don't come however, that the offensive construction is unsustainable. No doubt the biggest culprit is one of baseball's most reliable hitters, or he was, Joe Mauer.

On the season, Mauer has 34 runs batted in and is well ahead of his 2014 pace as well as looking at a potential to set a new career high. With runners in scoring position, the Twins first basemen is slashing .411/.500/.536. No doubt those numbers are impressive, but the falloff when the "clutch" situation doesn't present itself is staggering. With the bases empty or a runner on first, Mauer is slashing just .184/.209/.256.

As a whole, the issue has translated into a .260/.322/.358 slash line. While I argued just about a month ago that Mauer was reinventing meaningful statistics, it's a trend that he couldn't possibly keep up. It's hard to fault a line drive hitter for lacking power, but Mauer has turned into something completely different.

Batting out of the three hole, Mauer has not only failed to hit for power in recent weeks, but has offered nothing in the sense of hitting at all. His timely hitting continues to be something that can't be counted upon, and he's become and issue in an important part of the lineup. Immediately behind him, things don't get any better.

For the first two months of the season, you could make the argument that Trevor Plouffe was one of the best third basemen in all of baseball. If Josh Donaldson and Mike Moustakas weren't having incredible years, Plouffe would be the talk of the American League. Unfortunately, a recent slump has all but shelved that talk.

Since the calendar turned to June, Plouffe has just two hits in 32 at bats and owns a .063/.091/.125 slash line. He's struck out nine times, walked just once, and has driven in just a single run. Over the course of those eight games, Plouffe has served as the Twins cleanup hitter as well. In a run production and power position, he has combined with Mauer to leave Minnesota out to dry.

Now there's no doubt you'd be hard pressed to pin the offensive woes on the bats of two players. Kurt Suzuki and Eduardo Escobar both have batting averages below .240, and the Twins bench is composed of players such as Chris Herrmann and Eduardo Nunez. Regardless of who's at fault, the question for the Twins now becomes, how do you fix it? Still in a great place record-wise, doing so sooner rather than later would no doubt be the best course of action.

Talking points for the shaping the Twins going forward have centered around the promotion of prospects such as Byron Buxton as well as working to sustain the early success. Offensively, the Twins need to focus on raising the bar wherever they can. Of course Buxton should be at the center of those conversations, but recently promoted Jorge Polanco should be as well.

Polanco is being called up for one game as Eddie Rosario spends a day on the paternity list. While I have a hard time seeing how the move is justifiable, I also wonder if the Twins aren't planning to do something more there. Plank may still be a defensive liability at shortstop, but there should be little doubt that his bat will play.

Upgrading deficiencies remains the best course of action for Minnesota. Both Polanco and Buxton would check off those boxes. Another name that seems to make sense would be Josmil Pinto. Hermann offers nothing in terms of a bat off the bench, and is little to write home about behind the plate. Should the Twins have another power threat at their disposal, a once dismal bench could provide Paul Molitor with another option.

At the end of the day, the Twins must begin to get creative. Working the 25 man roster to the best positioning for sustained success shouldn't negate any sort of long term plan, and it's vital if the Twins want to capitalize on 2015. The pitching has been there of late, and the offense has let it down. It's time to bring both facets of the game to a similar high level.

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