Tomorrow the Twins kick off the second half of their season as the Athletics come to Target Field for a showdown of American League teams in last place. Wait, what's that? The A's are a .500 club? Oh.
Well, that's tomorrow. In advance of ESPN's Twins-A's hype that's sure to kick off by sunset tonight, after the jump are eleven predictions for our boys in the latter half of the 2012 season. Realistic or facetious predictions? If they come true we'll call them realistic, if not then they were always facetious.
While this won't come as much of a surprise to anyone, it will be the highlight of what could be a second consecutive AL Central cellar finish. Both players only need 11 jacks to get to the plateau, so with a hot streak I could see this happening for one of them by the first week of September.
If Willingham gets to 30, it will be seen as just a good season from the slugger and it will go a long way towards validating what we already know: the Twins landed him on a good contract and are going to get value for their money (barring an injury). But if Plouffe gets there, it's going to settle a few things. The Twins might not have to look quite as hard for right-handed hitting help this winter; Danny Valencia's MLB future with the Twins probably consists of a bench role; the middle of the order looks a whole lot more dangerous going forward. We'll see how Plouffe hits down the stretch.
Terry Ryan has said that nobody is off the table in the scenario where the Twins become sellers (it's a matter of when, not if), but we know that some players are more likely trade candidates than others. These three players have come up in trade speculation for weeks.
Willingham stays because, while it would be a textbook case of selling high, the Minnesota front office believes they are closer to contending than others in baseball might think. They know how power can be generated in Target Field, they know how expensive it can be, and they know how likely it would be (or wouldn't be) to be able to replace that kind of production. Morneau stays because his value is low due to his production and his 2013 contract. Finally, Liriano stays because the Twins are looking for more than a salary dump for him. They'll convince themselves that their rotation will need warm bodies next season, and Liriano embodies the kind of talent that can catch lightning in a bottle.
Joe Mauer wins his fourth AL batting title
Mauer's second half picks up where his first left off, and finishes the season with a .338/.431/.461 triple slash. Paul Konerko's stellar season takes a small dip; pitchers begin to adapt to Mike Trout as scouting reports have more data to analyse; Austin Jackon's second season sees his numbers come back to earth. Joe's .338 average falls short of Andrew McCutchen's MLB-best .346 average.
Matt Capps is traded in August
After a brief return to Minnesota that sees him regain the team's closer role, Capps is claimed by a fringe playoff contender looking to enhance the pitchers in their set-up roles.
By September the bullpen hierarchy has settled and after the dust clears Perkins is still the team's lights-out setup man from the left side, and it's Burton who is handed most of the team's save opportunities. He solidifies that position going forward by closing out 7 of 8 save chances in September.
Denard Span is traded at the deadline
In the waning days of July trade rumors for the Minnesota center fielder heat up, culminating his his departure to a National League franchise. While we at Twinkie Town grind our teeth in frustration, the blow is softened because...
Ben Revere finishes strong
At the time of Span's trade Revere's triple slash had fallen to .288/.330/.341, but by season's end he had been riding another hot streak to finish the year batting .318/.344/.352. It's a better line than Span's, and although the numbers crowd (myself included) don't expect that to continue, there is a general feeling among the fanbase that Revere's numbers are more than good enough for him to take over the center field and leadoff roles going forward.
Darin Mastroianni emerges as the team's permanent fourth outfielder
In spite of not generating any power, Mastroianni's batting average and on-base percentages stay strong. At season's end he finishes hitting .278 while getting on base at a .360 clip, stealing 20 bases. Following experiments with Sean Burroughs, Clete Thomas, and Erik Komatsu earlier in the season, it's a performance that flies largely under the radar.
Justin Morneau hits 20 home runs
Morneau jacks three homers in the last week of the season, giving him 20 for the campaign. It's his highest total since launching 30 in 2009. Additional good news: Morneau's September was strong as a whole, earning him a line that's disappointing in conjunction with the rest of his career yet an improvement over where he was at the beginning of August - .258/.332/.474.
At the break Minnesota had seen 11 pitchers make a start with the Twins: Liriano, Blackburn, Diamond, Pavano, Hendriks, Marquis, Walters, De Vries, Swarzak, Duensing, and Deduno. Jeff Manship's single start in early September gave the team a dozen starters for the year, the most since they also used 12 in 1997.
A fourth place finish
In spite of owning the league's worst record early in the year, the Twins continue to play almost .500 ball in the second half of the season and finish with a 72-89 record. Two games in front of the Royals.