Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Twins Should Keep On Dancing

Twins outfielder Torii Hunter leads a (fully clothed) after-practice team cheer at Twins spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., on March 3, 2015. (Pioneer Press: John Autey)
Going into the 2015 Major League Baseball season, the Twins knew they had some deficiencies. Of the most glaring were veteran leadership and outfield depth. Terry Ryan and crew addressed that problem in one sweep signing fan favorite Torii Hunter to a one-year $10.5 million deal. While I was critical of the move from the get go, it's played out better than anyone could have imagined.

Torii was being sold as a veteran leader, and there's no doubt he brought that ability. From a baseball sense however, he was a clear downgrade in the outfield, and his bat absolutely needed to play to put weight to the move. So far, everything has worked out wonderfully, and maybe the best things Torii has brought to the club is his post-win dance parties.

"We win. We dance." It's a moniker displayed on the videoboards around Target Field following a Twins win. Now with over 45 of them under their belt heading into the All Star Break, the Twins have plenty of reasons to dance this season.

Of late, maybe one of the most important reasons for the Twins to celebrate is the reemergence of Joe Mauer. Arguably the most polarizing sports figure in Minnesota, Mauer has gone from a near Hall of Fame lock, to being a punching bag for many. In June, his average dipped to the .250 mark, and 2015 looked to be the beginning of what was a steep decline. Then things clicked.

Since June 5, Mauer owns a .301/.385/.469 line with five home runs, 12 RBI, and a 16/22 B/K ratio. More impressive than that, he has been on an absolute tear of late. Since June 26, Mauer has slashed .388/.426/.531 with two home runs and five RBI, and in the month of July he owns a .400/.438/.633 line. Now hitting for relative power again, with six home runs on the year, Mauer has a shot to post his best total since 2009.

Just ahead of Mauer in the lineup, the Twins have watched a legitimate MVP candidate emerge. Nevermind the fact that Brian Dozier belongs in the All Star Game, he's the best second basemen in all of baseball. 18 home runs, 45 RBI, 26 doubles, and a career best .851 OPS, Dozier is an elite level talent.

While last year saw a second half slide in the power department for the Twins second basemen, skipping the Home Run Derby should no doubt benefit Dozier this time around. On pace for right around 30 home runs and 50 doubles, Dozier is having one of the best power production seasons in Twins history. On top of that, Dozier continues to flash the leather routinely in the field. If nothing but Brian Dozier went right for the Twins this season, it'd be hard not to be happy.

On the mound, the Twins have watched years go by as pitching has been an absolute atrocity. This season however, not only has it been improved, but the team's starters have actually been a strength. Maybe most surprisingly, the Twins have enjoyed the development of Tommy Milone.

Already a proven starter when the Twins acquired him, Milone took his lumps for the first season he spent with the Twins. After getting sent down to Triple-A Rochester early in 2015, he has since come back with a vengeance. Throwing to the tune of a 0.70 ERA and a .182/.200/.248 for Rochester, Milone has gone 3-0 in his seven starts back with the Twins. In those games he owns a 1.84 ERA 32/11 K/BB ratio and just a .236/.284/.345 line against. To put it bluntly, Milone has been virtually untouchable.

It's not just Tommy getting the job done however. Fellow starting pitcher, and former first round Twins draft pick, Kyle Gibson has been equally as impressive. Expected to take steps forward this season, he has absolutely risen to the occasion. On the year Gibson owns a 3.04 ERA, 6.1 K/9 ratio, and just a 2.9 BB/9 mark. In his last five starts for the Twins, Gibson owns a 2.56 ERA and is allowing opposing hitters to bat just .239 against him.

The former Missouri Tiger was always expected to be a top half of the rotation guy in the big leagues. After mixed results in his first two seasons, the Twins were hoping that the further he distanced himself from Tommy John surgery, the better he would be. It's safe to say no one expected Gibson to be amongst the American League's best in ERA, but that's where we find ourselves.

If that already isn't enough reasons to be dancing with excitement, you can probably add in the fact that the Twins are winning as well. Holding pace with the best in the American League, the playoffs look like something more than a mirage for the first time in a while. On top of making that a reality, the organization has found room for top prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano to make their big league debut prior to the All Star Break.

While Buxton's debut didn't start as smoothly as hoped (and now he's shelved on the DL), the fact that he blitzed Double-A was a great thing. Although his bat will take some time to transition to the big league level, it's no surprise the difference he makes in the Twins outfield.

On the flip side, Sano has done everything he's been asked to at the big league level. Fortunately, he's really only been asked to hit, and hit he has. In his first seven games at the big league level, Sano has slashed .455/.571/.682, hit his first home run, and driven in five RBI. Also, and maybe even more impressively, Sano owns an even 6/6 K/BB ratio. He's a week into his big league career, and pitchers have already been pitching around him.

Counting up all of the reasons, and there's plenty more than have been discussed here, Torii Hunter could probably double as a dance instructor. Brought in for some veteran leadership and a hope his bat had some pop left in it, Hunter has helped to reverse a culture of losing, and make the Twins look like an AL Central power once again.

The Twins have been doing plenty of winning, but even when they aren't, there's been plenty of reasons to be dancing.

No comments:

Post a Comment