Monday, May 11, 2015

How Do The Twins Manage The Current Success?

With the Minnesota Twins getting their first off day since April 23, the team is no doubt in a good spot. Owners of an 18-14 record, and finding themselves just 2.5 games back in the AL Central, the break provides a perfect opportunity to set things up going forward. With some key games upcoming, and the club looking to stay on the right side of the win column, there's a few key areas of focus for the team as the season goes on.

Coming off of a 2014 season in which the Twins offense produced a top 10 number in the runs scored category, there was little reason to worry about how this team would score. Although regression was bound to set in for players such as Kurt Suzuki and Danny Santana (and it has), there has been a handful of key contributors that have picked up the slack. However, going forward, there's no doubt the Twins will need to combat continued regression with timely additions.

In the outfield, it's become way past time for Minnesota to make the call for Aaron Hicks. Regardless of his previous major league track record, he's more than earned his way back. Slashing .330/.412/.553 at Triple-A Rochester, and bringing strong defense to the outfield, he's an asset the Twins currently don't have. Shane Robinson and Jordan Schafer currently own a combined .603 OPS for the Twins, while Hicks has a stout .965 number. Even in past struggles, Hicks has always gotten on base, and he could provide some added firepower to the back of the Twins lineup. With the off day prior to kicking off a series with the Tigers, there's no better time than now for the move to be made.

Much like Hicks, Josmil Pinto has all but proven himself at the Triple-A level as well. Assumed by many that he was left off of the Opening Day roster due to a late spring injury, the stay in Triple-A has been longer than expected. Now the owner of an impressive .303/.398/.438 line complete with three home runs and 14 runs batted in, Minnesota's lineup would only benefit from his inclusion. Despite his deficiencies behind the plate, Pinto would be a vast offensive upgrade over the Twins current options. Chris Herrmann owns a .179 average across 11 games, and Kurt Suzuki has started off the season batting just .233 in 26 contests. The Twins making an addition from within would no doubt be beneficial to them.

Looking past offensive upgrades, there's no doubt that the Twins need to continue to refine their pitching outlook. Over the course of their last 13 games, the Twins starters own just a 4.74 K/9 combined with a 2.31 BB/9. Considering the defensive liabilities, Twins pitchers are still making their defense work incredibly too hard. Although Phil Hughes has actually started 2015 off on a better foot than he did 2014, he's gone back to being home run prone. After giving up just 16 home runs in 32 starts a season ago, he has already surrendered 9 long balls in just seven starts this season. As would be expected, the Twins have struggled to win games in which their pitchers have given up home runs.

Knowing that the rotation will be afforded the opportunity to insert Ervin Santana in July, there's plenty of reason to hope the current construction can hold until then. Mike Pelfrey has been the clubs best starter despite owning a 4.64 FIP (fielding independent pitching) against a 2.62 ERA. Where it stands currently, Pelfrey finds himself owning the 10th best ERA in the American League. With his FIP suggesting regression is coming, the Twins need someone else to step up. Conversely, Ricky Nolasco owns a 3.69 FIP and a 9.00 ERA across his first three starts. The FIP mark checks in as the fourth lowest across his 10 year major league career. Assuming he continues to pitch as he has, better days should lie ahead for Nolasco, and he could become an asset in the current rotation.

Although Minnesota has started out hot, they have just one series win against a team with a record over .500 (Kansas City). Getting ready for a three game set against the Detroit Tigers in which they miss David Price, there's no doubt a series victory would be a big boost to the club's future prospectus. Following up the Tigers series with winnable contests against the Tampa Bay Rays and Pittsburgh Pirates, Minnesota finds themselves in a position to continue the narrative of beating the teams that they should.

Looking ahead, there's little reason to suggest that this team should be viewed in the same context of those in recent memory. While losing 90 games last year, the Twins found themselves competitive early. The difference this time around is that the hammer shouldn't be expected to fall. With plenty of internal options at hand to supplement what is already an improved major league squad, this team should remain relevant and competitive going forward. Paul Molitor and Terry Ryan must continue to stack the deck in their favor, and key roster decisions and moves will pave the way for that to take place.