Expert MLB Handicapping: Can Minnesota Twins Sustain Torrid Pace?
There are many things that have been very surprising in this baseball season so far - both positive and negative. Of all of them, though, none are more gobsmacking than the fact that the Minnesota Twins have the best record in baseball.
I can think back to the start of the season when I repeatedly pointed to the Twins as a team that could surprise. But I can't take any credit at all for being right - I defined surprising as going from 78 wins last year to threatening hard for a wild card spot this year. But they are 9.5 games up in their division, leading the league in offense, and rolling. The wild card is the very bottom of their hopes and dreams now as we are about to enter June. Crazy days.
Oddsmakers are not writing them off as a fluke, either. At BetOnline they are fourth in the World Series futures at +1000, behind only the Astros, Yankees and Dodgers. That certainly is not the company they were keeping heading into the season. We could spend the rest of the season talking about what is happening here and not get to the bottom of it. But they have been, by a wide margin, the most profitable team to bet on up to this point. And here are five factors to consider as we are trying to figure out how much they are going to be able to keep it up and how far they might be able to go:
Division: We knew that the AL Central was not going to be deep or particularly good this year. But what we didn't know is that the Indians were going to struggle to meet their expectations as much as they have. They just can't score runs, and it has made things very tough on them. As a result, the Twins have a 9.5-game lead in the division already and are in total control as long as they play even reasonably solid baseball the rest of the way. But it gets even better. The team plays in such a weak division, and they still have 62 games left in that division the rest of the way. The Indians could improve a little, but the other teams aren't doing so in any hurry. The team is already 11-3 in the division. And with one team right at .500 and three well under it, the Twins have a chance to add a whole lot more wins.
Home runs: Last year the Yankees set an all-time record with 267 home runs in a season. It was a remarkable effort. But through 54 games, the Twins are on pace to absolutely shatter that mark. If they kept up their current pace, they would wind up with 318. They have 106 home runs already through 54 games, which is just a whisker short of two per game. They can hit a full half a home run per game fewer than they have to this point and still tie the Yankees. It's amazing, and especially so if you think that they are doing with a roster not so nearly as loaded with traditional, big ticket sluggers as the Yankees were. When a team is always a threat to go deep, it has opposing pitchers on edge and creates further benefits for batters.
Run differential: Largely due to the power at the plate, combined with a pitching staff that is quite solid, this team is the runaway leader in run differential in the league. They are at +101, even after losing 14-3 to the Rays on Thursday night. Houston is second best at 92. Run differential isn't a be all and end all stat by any means, but I find it powerful for one big reason - every time you look back at the playoff teams, you see that the ones that were more positive in this category made the playoffs, and the ones that were less positive didn't. It's a quick glimpse of what a team can do. In their case they are doing it with the most productive offense in the league and a pretty solid defense. And while both sides of that coin seem like they are achieving close to a best-case scenario, it's not impossible to imagine them keeping up something close to it for another 108 games.
Maturity: For so long now, the Twins have been a young team that we have been waiting on. They have had young talent, and we have kept telling ourselves that they can find their mojo and get it figured out - and then they are going to be a dangerous team. This is nothing new in the league - Houston and Kansas City in recent times have gone from having a future to having a present successfully, and many other teams have never been able to make that change.
Assets: The team is cruising along right now, and they have the ability to get better. They could afford to add a free agent soon - they haven't had a traditional closer so far this year, so Craig Kimbrel would look pretty good in Minneapolis for the summer. Or they have enough pieces and flexibility to get in play for one of the big pitching prizes on the trade market - Madison Bumgarner, Marcus Stroman, and Aaron Sanchez are all on total dud teams and could be had for some mix of what the Twins have. We've seen so often that the development of a team requires patience plus the addition of pieces that are needed when they can have the most impact. Maybe one of those arms in Minnesota could have an impact of, say, Justin Verlander in Houston.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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