Monday, July 11, 2016

Twins Showing Assumed Colors

The 2016 Major League Baseball season wasn't supposed to go like this for the Minnesota Twins, but then again, maybe it was. Reliant upon an influx of youth, Paul Molitor's club was expected to score runs, and do so in bunches. Pitching should've been an improved aspect, but still could've been an assumed deficiency for this club. Through the first half however, nothing went right, right up until the end.

As the dust settled and the 2016 season enters the All Star Break, the Minnesota Twins find themselves owners of just 32 wins through 88 games. It's the second worst mark in all of baseball, and the worst record in the American League. 20 games back in the AL Central, the club's 2016 efforts are all but null and worthless at this point.

What happened over the final two weeks of the first half though tells a different narrative. Once the calendar turned to July, the assumed Twins showed up.

It took Paul Molitor's club 70 games to score double digit runs for the first time in 2016. From July 1 through the 10th, Minnesota accomplished that feat four times in 10 games. A club that came into July with a run differential of -112, has drastically changed that total with a +41 run differential through their first ten games.

During the span of solid play from the Twins, Minnesota has gotten it done against two different forms of competition as well. Winning a season best three straight series, the Twins have knocked off the Texas Rangers twice (owners of the American League's best record), while also trumping the Oakland Athletics. When looking at the three losses as well, the Twins dropped those contests by a combined four runs.

Entering the year, the narrative for the Twins is that they would hit enough to score plenty, but that they'd likely need to in order to combat some likely pitching woes. Standing 17th in the majors with 395 runs scored is not an ideal place, but its indicative of a club that has gotten too little early on from their relied upon youth. Through the recent surge however, it's been those players that have absolutely carried the load.

At the forefront has been German-born superstar Max Kepler. A grand slam in the final game of the first half put a nice stamp on a breakout campaign thus far. He's experienced some ups and downs, but his production for the Twins has absolutely been a welcomed reality. Despite batting just .216 in the first 10 games of July, Kepler owns a .940 OPS and has launched five homers.

Fellow young outfielder Byron Buxton has slowly but surely adjusted to the big league game. He was shelved over the past couple of contests after a new bruise following a wall collision, but his play at the plate has picked up. Riding a six game hitting streak into the break, Buxton has slashed .348/.400/.609 during that span. It's come with four doubles and a triple while striking out just five times and walking twice. He's dramatically decreased the strikeout totals, sitting down in just 32% of his plate appearances since his recall as opposed to striking out in 49% of his plate appearances to start the season.

Then there's the bopper that is Miguel Sano. Probably assumed to fly by 30 home runs, Sano was dealt a less than ideal situation to start the year by having to move to right field. Now fresh off the disabled list and back in the infield, he's slashed .282/.391/.538 in 10 games since his return. Settling back in to the middle of Paul Molitor's lineup, Sano has crushed three homers while driving in nine runs since the 1st of July.

A somewhat surprising form of production has come from the forgotten Kennys Vargas. Given playing time with the departure of Oswaldo Arcia and demotion of Byung Ho Park, Vargas has done the most with it. Playing in sixe games since his promotion, Vargas has slashed .471/.609/1.294 with five doubles and three homers. Each of his eight hits thus far have been of the extra base hit variety. Obviously an unsustainable level of production, Vargas is extending his opportunity by producing with it.

When Minnesota returns from the All Star break, the reality of 2016 being a lost season will remain. The other reality is that the youth expected to carry this team is beginning to show up. At some point soon, the pitching staff will welcome Jose Berrios and J.T. Chargois. Taylor Rogers has already showed he belongs, and there's hope that a few other young arms may join them yet this season. Despite the end already being seemingly clear, the path to get there the rest of the way is one that absolutely is worth watching.

If the trend of producing youth can continue for the Twins, a 2017 with a handful of young question marks shouldn't be something Minnesota has to assume they'll be looking at.

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