If you wanted to boil the season down to one incredible number this season: The Twins have 3 players headed to Miami for the All-Sar Game. The Twins have finished the first half of the season at 45-43, which is only 14 losses fewer than they had in the entirety of 2016. Not only are they significantly improved, but they merit enough attention to give Miguel Sano, Ervin Santana and Brandon Kintzler trips to the All Star Game.
Miguel Sano is such a sensation, that he is going to participate in the Home Run Derby tomorrow night. Ervin Santana was seriously being discussed as a candidate to start by some in the Twin Cities. Brandon Kintzler made it to the Mid Summer Classic as the Twins’ closer, which indicates that he had enough save opportunities to register as a decent closer, and was successful enough in them to be added to the All Star Game.
Certainly, there have been a few things we can be disappointed in, from the back end of the rotation to the front end of the bullpen, but the season has been overwhelmingly positive, particularly when held in contrast with the last several seasons the Twins have had. It’s easy to nitpick when looking at individual games, but a holistic view of the season to date is in order now that we have reached the break.
In my opinion, here are 5 stories that are both positive and telling of how the season has gone, to date.
5. Joe Mauer is alive! Not only has Mauer bounced back at the plate, to his highest average since 2013, along with a reduction in his strikeouts and an increase in his batting average on balls in play, he has also played extremely convincing first base. He has been so skilled at first, in fact, that there is discussion that he could win the Gold Glove. His ability at first has rendered Kenny Vargas obsolete, and has meant that ByungHo Park hasn’t had a clear path to an every day position, even if he was showing enough at the plate to earn his spot in the Majors.
4. Robbie F’n Grossman: The other route for Vargas or Park to reach regular playing time in the Majors would be as designated hitterrs. Well, surprise, Robbie Grossman has that covered. He isn’t a power hitter, but he is on base all the time. All the time. His OBP is .379 and would be even higher if his BABIP was even close to his career average. He walks more and strikes out less than he ever has in his career, and looks like one last diamond in the rough for Terry Ryan to leave with the Twins.
3. Jose Berrios and Ervin Santana anchoring the rotation: The Twins had several seasons that were so bad, the silver lining was that, well, at least it couldn’t get any worse! And then it would. Now, though, with Ervin Santana off to a blazing start, one in in which he maintained the best ERA in the league for several weeks, and Jose Berrios erasing many of the concerns he brought with him in his first campaign in 2016, it will be difficult for the Twins to match their ineptitude so familiar from the 2010s. Their ability to get deep in games has helped the bullpen maintain their stamina, which has been necessary for games from other Twins’ starters.
2. Miguel Sano is breaking out: Last year, Miguel Sano produced 1.3 WAR, with a .236 average and 25 home runs for the entirety of the season. Thanks in part to improved defense by being moved to his natural position, and his ability to crush baseballs, that WAR is at 2.3 already this season, with 21 home runs. He will surpass 30 with east, and has a real shot at 40. Part of the improvement is aided by an unsustainable BABIP which is allowing an average of .279, but that BABIP may be closer to legitimate than we think: He crushes balls, and balls with higher exit velocity have a better chance of finding outfield grass. Sano provides confidence and a shot of instant offense when the team needs it.
And finally, 1. Defense is important. One thing that has helped out pitchers who are capable of the occasional game with a smidgen of competence. The outfield of Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler is very nearly the best in the game, defensively, and have no doubt added real value for their pitching staff. Miguel Sano is very good at third, Joe Mauer may be a Gold Glover at first, Brian Dozier is always reliable at second, while Jorge Polanco is better than expected at short. Meanwhile, the Front Office prioritized catching ability when signing Jason Castro and Chris Gimenez. These are changes with tangible results, and results that are sustainable.
The Twins may not be above .500 or in the playoffs when the season concludes, but it’s not without reason that some or all of these trends, particularly the defense, will continue to benefit the team as the summer plays out. Sano will be squaring off against Mike Moustakas in round one of the Home Run Derby Monday night. Think of it as a cap on a very rewarding half season, and a sign of good things to continue.