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Wetmore’s 5 thoughts: Twins have earned the luxury – and challenge – of preparing for October

The Minnesota Twins are the class of the American League.

Where else are you going to find a club that should be selling tickets to hitting clinics while also posting top-3 ERA marks as a pitching staff?

That’s how we got to the point where the Twins are 40-18 more than one-third of the way through the schedule, winning 69% of their games. They’re 22 games better than .500 after taking 3 of 4 from a good Rays team in Tampa-St. Pete.

The really exciting thing for the Twins and their fans is clear. No longer do you wonder if this roster is good enough to play in October – it is. There’s no question. Where the attention shifts, now, is how does the roster stack up against the other handful of great teams across baseball. That’s where things stand right now, and that’s where every contender will need to self-reflect and make some improvements before the leaves turn.

This column present 5 thoughts on what got the Twins to this stage as the most pleasant surprise in baseball.

1. The Twins’ bats are the real deal.

The Astros are a great club; the Yankees have dealt with injuries. We’re into the first week in June and it’s clear that this Twins team, the first AL club to 40 wins, is not going away.

Welcome to the time of the year when the national media will begin to look at the Twins as more than just a nice story. “Boy what a great start – wonder how long this will last?” is about to be replaced by, “This club is a serious contender.”

May was a good month for Minnesota, the second of its kind in a two-month stretch of MLB season. Here’s where the Twins offense ranked in the month of May:

Home runs – 1st (59)
Runs – 1st (191)
Strikeout rate – 4th (19.4%)
wOBA – 2nd (.366)

Let’s put that last one in a little bit of context. Weighted On-Base Average is my choice if I’m looking for an offensive stat to tell me, in one number, how productive a hitter has been. It gives credit to guys who get on base, and those who hit for power. The MLB hitters who finished the 2018 season in the immediate neighborhood of that .366 wOBA were Jose Altuve, Javier Baez, Charlie Blackmon and Francisco Lindor. So the Twins as an entire team hit like a great, all-star-level hitter and sustained it for an entire month. That just happened!

And they just got back Mitch Garver, who’d been their best hitter. And Nelson Cruz and his power bat are back, too.

I naively thought that this club would miss Garver when he sprained his ankle in the middle of May during a play at the plate against Shohei Ohtani and the Angels. And maybe I would have been onto something if a) Garver didn’t return, remarkably, after missing only 16 games; and b) the Twins didn’t go 13-3 without their star catcher, scoring 7 1/3 runs per game in the process.

I don’t know what to make of this anymore. Hitting coach James Rowson for league MVP, I guess.

2. The pitching has been great, and Jake Odorizzi deserves more shine. 

Odorizzi gave up 3 earned runs in May and all of them came in the same outing. He put up a zero in 7 innings for his final start in April. He began June with another zero in 6 innings. He’s seen outstanding results, including Sunday’s start against his former club, when he basically just threw fastballs and dared somebody to go get it. They didn’t, he got through, and now he’s the leader in the American League in ERA. (On the SKOR North Twins show, if you want to bring up his name you must refer to him by his full name, A.L. ERA Leader Jake Odorizzi, to you.)

I’ll preface this by saying that stats don’t work like this. But let’s have some fun. You remember that miserable, drizzly outing in Philadelphia in the first week of April? It was A.L. ERA Leader Jake Odorizzi’s second outing of the season and Phillies fans were so excited to see Bryce that they showed up in raincoats and watched a baseball game that began with 43-degree weather. Odorizzi started that game — and again, we’re not dismissing it — but if you pretend that game never happened then Odorizzi’s 1.96 ERA shrinks to 1.41, and he’s the early front runner to start the All-Star Game for the American League.

Odorizzi’s name didn’t come up often this winter when you’d sit in a bar (or forum) ask Should The Twins Extend Player X’s Contract. Now, he’s in a walk year, pitching like the ace of the staff, and do you think that guy is getting paid this winter? That’s not a right-now concern for the Twins. The focus right now should be on working to keep this good thing going until he makes his start(s) in the Division Series.

3. #BOMBAS

Bombasota

Here’s what it sounds like when you isolate the sound of every Bomba that the team has hit this season. You’re welcome.

4. Opening such a commanding lead in the AL Central affords the Twins at least two luxuries.

One is simply about stress reduction. There’s no need to eke out every out and win from the roster – and rush players back from injury, for example – when a mere .500 record the rest of the way results in a 92-win season. (Rhetorical question: Can you see the 40-18 Minnesota Twins finishing .500 in their remaining slate of games?)

You know that the Twins, under Rocco Baldelli, won’t project arrogance.

If you’re an Indians fan right now, you’re rightly thinking to yourself that the two teams have plenty of games remaining between them, and that if Cleveland can only do big damage in those matchups it’ll tip the scales back in a hurry. And while that’s true, there is one fly in the ointment with that line of thinking.

The Twins are the better team.

How many games can you expect to pluck against Minnesota just because the contests mean a great deal to you? I guess we’ll start to find out this week.

The second luxury the Twins have earned at this point is roster planning can be done with October in mind. A trade acquisition (or free agent signing) doesn’t need to be geared toward winning the division. That ship is out at sea. Now if you’re a member of the Twins braintrust, you can step back and ask how this roster stacks up to October competition. Do you have the pitching staff? Will the lineup hold up against the best pitchers in the world? Is the quality of fielding good enough to get the job done? And on down the list of questions.

 

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Welcome to #Bombasota… home of the #BombaSquad!

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Granted, clubs that are trying to win are often thinking about how to improve. But this is a very specific kind of thought process. How can you get better to improve your chances in a 7-game series?

Gear your moves, now, not toward adding 2019 wins. But adding October 2019 wins, and even 2020 wins to the ledger. It looks to me like this club is sticking around for a while.

5. If this isn’t the summer to go for it, it’s at least a summer to go for it.

A young boy had asked Thad Levine during TwinsFest in January at a sort of townhall-style gather inside Target Field, if the team had ever considered signing Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. Free agents at the time, the boy rightly concluded that each would make the Twins a better team.

Yes, he said, they had. And then Levine went on to talk about the “who” and the “when,” stating that a market this size would need to get those questions right. Is this the right person on whom to make a massive bet? And is this the right time for that bet? I’m paraphrasing; Levine said it better.

“We are also going to hold ourselves to the standard of: Is now the most appropriate time for us to be doing this? And I would just tell you my view of it is, the best time to acquire players of that magnitude is when your window to win is wide open – not when you’ve got your fingers underneath the window and you’re trying to jam the window open. I want to do it when we are projected to win the [American League] Central and we are ready to put our foot on someone’s throat. That’s the time to make those types of moves,” Levine said.

“I think we’re really close to that, so I think that’s once again the balancing for us, is the ‘who’ and the ‘when.’”

Reasonable people could hear that and draw different conclusions. One interpretation is that given how the Twins have put themselves in position, now is the summer to be aggressive in the available markets to upgrade the roster and take a shot.

I don’t foresee this Twins team sacrificing a significant part of the future to take a better crack at winning this year’s World Series. If you want to “put your foot on someone’s throat,” then you’d absolutely look this Summer to trade future wins for upgrading chances this Fall.





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