Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Struggles Have Highlighted Twins Correct Deadline Decision

The calendar has flipped to August, the Minnesota Twins are now 54-51 just three games above .500, and the problems are mounting. Every indication suggests that the Twins did absolutely the right thing at the trade deadline. As they slip out of sole possession of a wild card spot, Terry Ryan has a new period of evaluation coming.

For much of the season, the Twins were a team playing well above water. With an extremely impressive home record, while staving off regression, Minnesota distanced themselves from the pack. As it generally does, baseball has begun to shift back towards a statistical normalcy and the Twins have felt the squeeze.

Since the All Star Break, Minnesota is just 5-11. In those 16 games, the Twins offense has scored an average of 3.4 runs per game while surrendering 5.2 runs per game. Their bullpen has all but imploded, most obviously on the back end (Glen Perkins owns an 11.12 ERA since the break). The Twins offense has gone in the tank, and the winning has hit the skids. In their last three losses, Minnesota has scored just one run in each contest.

To say this was predictable is probably not unfair. Minnesota has a plethora of pitchers with inflated FIP (fielding independent pitching) marks and strong ERA's (in fact, acquired reliever Kevin Jepsen is among them). They have also seen a boost in the offense from unlikely sources such as Aaron Hicks (who has been incredibly hot), Eddie Rosario (who's been consistent), and Miguel Sano (who surprisingly has hit for average). At the root of the struggles though is that the Twins have watched it all come crashing down at the same time.

Blaine Boyer (3.02 ERA 4.28 FIP, still some regression to come) and Casey Fien (4.19 ERA 4.14 FIP) have started to even out, J.R. Graham has been knocked around (9.00 ERA in his last 8.0 IP), and we already touched on Perkins struggles. Joe Mauer (.255/.317/.327), Torii Hunter (.204/.246/.370), and Brian Dozier (.217/.299/.450) have all slumped since the break. Starting pitching hasn't been great, and Tommy Milone (7.98 ERA in 142. IP since ASG) is now headed to the DL.

Terry Ryan is watching as each of the potential problem areas for the Twins rears it's head at once. In that, he can find solace in knowing he absolutely did the right thing at the trade deadline. Fixing the bullpen, offense, and need positions all at once without jumping the gun wasn't a realistic possibility. In a difficult test of patience, that is now paying dividends.

Staying put for the most part (aside from dealing for Jepsen who provides team control going forward), allows the Twins to continue along a realistic path. Despite being in position to grab a Wild Card spot, the heat of the summer was sure to sort things out. Regardless of the big moves by the Blue Jays (both David Price and Troy Tulowitzki count as just that), the Twins were going to have to continue to defy their own odds. In not sacrificing the blueprint that has been laid out, the next few years remain incredibly bright for the Twins.

As the 2015 Major League Baseball season rolls on, the Twins still have plenty to gain. Nowhere near out of the playoff race, call ups and seasoning can be provided to young and integral players in the midst of meaningful games. With Tyler Duffey paving the way and Jose Berrios likely soon to follow, Minnesota affords young arms a cup of coffee in the middle of real action. Miguel Sano, Hicks, Rosario, and even Byron Buxton can begin to settle into the highest level while competing for something on a nightly basis. In the end, it's the best outcome for everyone.

Going forward, the Twins already had plenty of reason to be realistic playoff contenders immediately in 2016 and onward. Thanks to the decision to hold onto the farm, the Twins should take plenty of valuable lessons and developmental instances away from 2015 even if they don't end up in the playoffs. As 2016 rolls around, they should enter as one of the two best teams in the Central, and the final two months of 2015 baseball will serve as the launching pad for that growth.

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