The Blue Jays start a 3-game weekend series in Minneapolis with the Twins tonight. Since it is in the Central Time Zone, it starts an hour later, 8:00 Eastern. The Twins are 28-18, tied for first place with the Royals in the AL Central. Who saw that coming?
The Twins are 3rd from the top in runs scored per game, at 4.61 (we are number 1 at 5.20) and right about league average, sitting 7th, in runs allowed per game at 4.15.
I sent off some Twins type questions to Jesse Lund, manager of Twinkie Town, SB Nation's great, if terribly named, Minnesota Twins site and he was nice enough to answer them for me.
The Twins are off to a great start this season (I wonder what that feels like). What's the feeling in Minnesota, are people thinking the team is going to contend all the way or are they taking a more wait and see approach?
I don't think most serious fans think the team can contend all the way, but the longer the success goes along the more interesting the second half of the season will be. Right now I'm looking at the second half of the season and thinking about Ervin Santana returning, about finding a Major League role for Alex Meyer, how early Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano will debut, and whether or not the front office will deal any of the organization's fantastic minor league depth to make an interesting move or two at the trade deadline. But that's me getting ahead of myself. Nobody could have seen this start coming, so for my part I'm definitely taking the wait and see approach.
Among casual fans I think there's more a sense of either A) "I told you that Gardy & Anderson (former manager and pitching coach respectively) were promoting failure!", or B) "If this team starts to believe in itself it could go all the way!" There's probably a little bit of truth in both of those statements.
The Twins don't seem to have any real stars or anyone that's playing over their heads, how are they winning so much?
There are a couple of easy things to mention here. Minnesota is hitting .257/.311/.389 as a team, but that improves to .284/.350/.419 with runners on base and .299/.375/.443 with runners in scoring position. They've scored runs in bunches, making it a regular thing to have one big inning in a game that more or less acts as a knock-out punch.
Trevor Plouffe, Torii Hunter, Eddie Rosario, and Joe Mauer all have a 1.000+ OPS with runners in scoring position. Three more fall between .890 and ..974.
On the pitching side, starters are going deeper into games which means the weaker parts of the bullpen aren't left exposed repeatedly, and Glen Perkins is possibly the best closer in the American League. Kyle Gibson does a nice job of inducing weak contact on the ground. Mike Pelfrey's velocity is back to pre-Tommy John levels and his pitches have life again. Trevor May has pitched much better than his ERA indicates.
There's a lot happening right now. Indicators of future performance aren't all roses and sunshine, but that hasn't stopped them yet.
What is Paul Molitor like as a manger? Strengths and weaknesses?
It's difficult to know what his strengths and weaknesses are too much at this point. The peanut gallery is giving him a lot of credit for the team's success, but the only thing we really know right now is that he's doing a few things differently from his predecessor: he'll bring in his closer for a four or five-out save, he plays platoon advantages (or at least he did before he was forced to start hitting Eduardo Escobar fifth, because nobody wants to voluntarily make that decision), and in middle relief he's shown a penchant for leaving a reliever in for two innings instead of a standard one, and he's employing a great deal more defensive shifts.
One thing that could be seen as a potential strength for Molitor is his attention to detail. That sounds so cliche', but it's true. There are anecdotes of Molitor sitting in the dugout last year and calling out pitch sequences of opposing pitchers and nailing them. Take it as urban legend, but he's instilled in the team: reading pitchers to get jumps, getting better at being aggressive and taking an extra base, not bunting a runner on second to third with no outs, understanding hitter tendencies for placement outside of shifts. I don't think Molitor is some kind of baseball savant, but he seems to have an understanding of the game that I've never seen in a Twins manager.
Who is your favorite Twin to watch?
I love watching Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe. They've both turned into pretty good players on both sides of the ball. Joe Mauer's swing is still pretty great. Oh and I've also enjoyed watching Mike Pelfrey because, really, who saw this coming?
If the Twins stay in the race, what would the team want to pick up at the trade deadline. You wouldn't be interested in a slightly damaged Dioner Navarro would you?
Haha no, I don't think so. The Twins already need to find a place for Josmil Pinto and hopefully begin a transition to him from Kurt Suzuki.
I mentioned earlier the impeding arrival of Ervin Santana, and with pitching prospects to spare I don't think it would be prudent to try and land an ace with the talent on the roster. It's an odd situation, really. There are so many young players either already on the roster or who should be by the end of the year, most of whom should be franchise cornerstones for the next half-decade plus. The Twins need to get those guys playing time. Maybe if there's a star shortstop on the market, or a short-term DH or power reliever?
The Twins are in an odd position for adding talent. Put it that way.
Can we have a quick scouting report on the starting pitchers the Jays might see this series?
Trevor May leads the Twins in swinging strike percentage, thanks in no small part to being able to use his off-speed pitches as weapons. His command has been a real surprise this year, walking just eight in 43.2 innings. What has helped him to be effective this year is that even when he doesn't have his fastball working as well as he'd like, he's been able to use the two-seamer or changeup or curve to his advantage.
Kyle Gibson has had similar success with his off-speed stuff, especially the changeup. He's been getting a few more swinging strikes recently, but Gibson will always be a guy that relies on contact to get outs. He works low and on the corners, which helps him burn worms. Gibson's real trick this year has been stranding base runners.
Ricky Nolasco's beard is still terrible, but since coming off the disabled list he owns a 3.77 ERA. He breaking balls actually looked really sharp his last couple of times out, so who knows where all that's coming from. I'll be honest, right now I'm hoping for Nolasco to pitch well enough to have some kind of trade value, because Minnesota needs a spot or two in the rotation to open up still.
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