MINNEAPOLIS — The Twins on this homestand played a national TV game, outdueled old nemesis Justin Verlander, went toe-to-toe with the 2017 World Series champs and took 3 of 4 from the Astros. It took four days and 36 innings to get the point across but by Thursday night that message was clear. The 2019 Minnesota Twins are contenders.
You’re supposed to sweep the Orioles. Not every team will. Good teams are supposed to play the contenders tough. Not every team is capable of taking 3 out of 4 from that Houston team, and winning 3 good ballgames in the process. I think more than the Baltimore series, that 4-gamer with the Astros says something about this Twins team.
“I think it’s definitely a good series win,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I think everyone is going to feel very good about the way we played on this homestand in general. But again, it’s still early, and I think all of our guys know that we have a difficult road trip coming up [Yankees, Blue Jays], so there’s no time to really sit on it and think about it. But I think when everybody goes to bed tonight, we can be pleased with the way we’ve been playing.”
Here’s a pack of stats on where the Twins are at, and where they could be headed.
The Twins this week carried over their great April into the month of May and on the strength of a top-notch lineup and some great pitching performances, improved to 19-10 on the season. That .655 winning percentage makes them, as of this writing, the best team in the American League.
OK, that’s a bold statement. The Rays have more wins (20); the Yankees, Rays and Astros have a better run differential; a few other clubs have more recent postseason experiences. Strictly on the basis of win rate, though, the Twins are the A.L.’s best club right now.
And that adds up, doesn’t it? They’re getting solid starting pitching on an almost nightly basis, they have a few guys that the staff trust-trusts in the bullpen, and that lineup looks something fierce right now with the way they’re hitting and scoring runs in bunches.
To illustrate the point: look up the team’s stat page and ask, How many position players in the Twins’ lineup would you consider early all-star candidates?
This looks right now like a great lineup. It’s hard to see it stumbling, in fact, to anything less than a good lineup. Even as some hitters regress, the collective whole is good enough right now that the baseline expectation should continue to be at least a good club offensively.
Everyone loves misleading stats early in a baseball season. Here’s a rhetorical question: if they continue for more than a month, are the stats still misleading?
After 29 games have been played (about 18% of a season), here’s where the Twins stand in certain categories, bearing in mind that the “pace” will fluctuate throughout a season:
Runs scored: 865
Runs allowed: 715
Team Home Runs: 284
Those all would be impressive totals, especially in the wins department. Entering the year I thought this looked on paper like a team that would win games into the mid-80’s. I’ll adjust that up now to say that it looks like a 90-win club. And the thing about 90-win clubs is that they invariably try to add something at the trade deadline to improve either a) their postseason odds; b) their chances of advancing in October; or c) both.
Byron Buxton currently sports a .318 wOBA, which would be the best mark of his career. His doubles power currently boosts an otherwise fine-but-unspectacular batting line (.253/.303/.458). When you look at some of the metrics designed to track his quality of contact, Buxton still hasn’t fully burst onto the scene as a top hitter in the game. But again, in the context of Buxton being a great player, he doesn’t need to be a great hitter to make that happen. You watch him all the time take over games on the bases when he gets on, and he made two more wonderful catches in the outfield on Thursday.
If Buxton is merely a good hitter then the Twins have a very good player on their hands. And all winter we talked about what a high-variance player he could be. It was hard to define the floor (although it probably looks something like 2018), and at the top of his current capability there’s this superstar unicorn player running everything down in centerfield. The fact that the lineup is off to such a good start — and it includes Byron Buxton — is a really encouraging sign for the Twins.
Let’s agree on a few things here. 1) There’s more to pitching than strikeouts and walks. 2) Strikeouts are good! 3) Walks are bad!
With those generalities out of the way, if you had the Twins’ pitching staff on your fantasy baseball team this week you’re pretty happy. Twins starters combined on the 6-1 homestand to notch 39 strikeouts and only four walks. Against the Orioles it was an 18:0 ratio. That incredible run of pitching is a nice stat and helps to show just how the Twins’ starters pitched.
Pérez vs. Baltimore 4 strikeouts, 0 walks
Berríos vs. Baltimore 8 strikeouts, 0 walks
Gibson vs. Baltimore 6 strikeouts, 0 walks
Odorizzi vs. Houston 7 strikeouts, 1 walk
Piñeda vs. Houston 2 strikeouts, 1 walk
Pérez vs. Houston 7 strikeouts, 2 walks
Berríos vs. Houston 5 strikeouts, 0 walks
In particular, the starts by Odorizzi and Pérez really seemed like arrival moments. For Odorizzi it was his best start in a Twins uniform. He was frustrated by last season even though the results weren’t terrible. Any work he put in this winter and spring was rewarded in that mighty fine outing in which he outdueled Justin Verlander for a 1-0 win against the Astros. Pérez pitched 8 shutout innings against a very good Houston lineup that had scored 11 runs the day before.
The starting pitching will continue to be an important checkpoint to monitor for this club. That’s one area that most everyone agreed that their AL Central rivals, the Indians, had the Twins topped when the season began. But now with long-term injuries to Mike Clevinger and Corey Kluber, the Twins have at least closed the gap, to say nothing of the 3-game lead they hold in the standings.