Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Consistency Must Be Twins Focus In Second Half

A season ago, the Minnesota Twins finished 83-79, just missing a playoff berth for the first time since 2010. While the season was a significant turnaround from the four straight 90 loss campaigns that preceded it, the final result was one that seemed somewhat of a mirage. Fast forward to where we are now, and the lack of consistency that was an underlying message a year earlier, has once against been this club's biggest problem.

In 2015, Paul Molitor amassed 83 victories in his first year at the helm. A respectable total in and of itself, it was backed by just two winning months over the course of the season. A 20-7 May set the ton, and had it not been for a 15-13 September, the Twins very likely could've been staring at year another sub .500 mark.

Coming into 2016, the expectation was that, despite the luck that had been bolstering outcomes for Minnesota, the playoffs seemed like a realistic venture. Although a handful of things would need to break in their favor, the Twins competing for the Wild Card was not out of the question. Then, again, consistency failed Molitor, Terry Ryan, and the entirety of the organization throughout the season's first 88 games.

Prior to the All Star Break, Minnesota's lone winning month is the current one (July). At 7-3 through the first 10 games, the Twins have also raced out to a +41 run differential. On the season, outside of July, the club owns a -112 run differential and an ugly 25-53 record. As much as the nice play of late has been a position, Molitor's group absolutely needs to find the middle ground going forward.

Over the course of the season's first 78 games, the Twins scored 4.1 runs per game while giving up 5.5. During the recent ten game stretch, they've plated 7.8 runs per game while allowing just 3.7. The drastic swing between the two polar opposite ends of the spectrum is not an enviable position to be in. It took Minnesota 70 games to score double digits for the first time this season, and then they went on to do so four more times over their last eight games.

At 4.97, the Twins have the worst team ERA in the American League thus far. They've allowed opposing batters to hit .283 (also dead last) off of them, and they've also surrendered a league worst 119 homers. Being at the bottom of the barrel in pitching categories is a trend that the Twins need to abandon in the worst way.

On the offensive side of things, Minnesota has done better, but still has significant room for improvement. Their 395 runs ranks 10th in the AL, as does their .253 batting average. Minnesota fins themselves 9th with 105 homers while being tied for 5th in the league with 743 strikeouts. It's not the doom and gloom that the mound has produced, but for a team expected to be powered by offense, there's a lot to be desired.

As we've seen over the course of the past couple of weeks, the youth movement is starting to happen. Miguel Sano has returned from the DL with an affinity for the longball. Max Kepler is one of the best things Minnesota has going for it, and Byron Buxton is starting to figure things out at the plate. Offensively, it's the youth that has powered the resurgence, and that needs to continue.

On the mound however, the Twins have a few more questions to answer. While Ervin Santana has been incredible of late, it's probably in the club's best interest to deal him. In doing so, they'll be looking to Jose Berrios to help carry the load. Despite struggling in his debut, an emergence along the lines of Kepler's would be far from a shock. What's more important however, is that the pen continues to be bolstered by the young arms.

Taylor Rogers' effectiveness has been far from unexpected this season. he owns a 2.93 ERA and has struck out 9.4 per nine while walking just 1.3 per nine. Looking like a fixture of what should hopefully be an improved relief corps in the not so distant future, he needs some friends. Asking J.T. Chargois, Jake Reed, and Mason Melotakis to join him before the season is done is probably a big ask. It's one Minnesota should explore though, and hopefully find some solid results with.

We've seen Twins teams in back-to-back years that have been virtually polar opposites of each other. A year ago, luck carried Minnesota to a record that masked a ton of their deficiencies. Now in 2016, youth was relied upon too heavily too early, and things crashed and burned. As the club needs to find a middle ground roster wise, so too does the production need to follow.

In order to emerge as a playoff team once again, and maybe as early as 2017, Molitor's club doesn't need to be the best at everything. In fact, they really don't need to be great at anything. What the focus has to be is on being solid across the board. The Twins can't afford to be among the league's worst in any categories. Find the middle ground, exploit a niche, and stay there.

The future is in the hands of the developed prospects residing in the Twins organization. Making it a bright one relies upon a level of consistency that has been absent among the organization for quite some time. In a lost season, finish out the slate pushing for that middle ground is as good of a goal as any.

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