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Talkin' About Playoff?! (Part 3)

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Welcome back to the third and final entry in my expose on the realism of the Twins playoff hopes.  Once again, as I mentioned in part 1 and part 2, none of the stats have been updated since the writing.  That actually becomes notable later in the article.  You'll notice...

Kubel and Bartlett

These two are the two disappointing young players of the year, but there are reasons to believe things might be turning around for them as well.  Since starting the year 1-20, Bartlett had produced a .272/.353/.341 line.  On the other hand, he's slumping again in July with a .231/.273/.269 line.  I like Bartlett enough that I made him my BatGirl Twins boyfriend, and I believe he should be a quality major league shortstop on both sides of the ball, but Bartlett needs to show a little more this year to prove he really can be all that good.  Bartlett has seemed to show some improvement in the field.  Since committing his 13th error of the season of June 18th, Bartlett has committed only 2 errors through the games on the 14th of July (this, of course, if where the date of the stats are noticeable.  Bartlett, of course, had that very damaging error in the team's one run loss last night).

Reminder:  Once again, as I mentioned in part 1 and part 2, none of the stats have been updated since the writing.  That actually becomes notable later in the article.  You'll notice...

Kubel and Bartlett

These two are the two disappointing young players of the year, but there are reasons to believe things might be turning around for them as well.  Since starting the year 1-20, Bartlett had produced a .272/.353/.341 line.  On the other hand, he's slumping again in July with a .231/.273/.269 line.  I like Bartlett enough that I made him my BatGirl Twins boyfriend, and I believe he should be a quality major league shortstop on both sides of the ball, but Bartlett needs to show a little more this year to prove he really can be all that good.  Bartlett has seemed to show some improvement in the field.  Since committing his 13th error of the season of June 18th, Bartlett has committed only 2 errors through the games on the 14th of July (this, of course, if where the date of the stats are noticeable.  Bartlett, of course, had that very damaging error in the team's one run loss last night).

Kubel has also been a disappointment this year.  Many of us expected him to be a left-handed Cuddyer.  Instead, he's been more like a left-handed Lew Ford with a .244/.297/.394 line.  It's been even more frustrating when Gardenhire won't play him against lefties, despite the fact his .741 OPS against them is only 4 points less than Morneau's.  Kubel has showed an upward trend, but the progress has been relatively slow.  After a bad April and a bad May where he posted .636 and .663 OPS's respectively and struck out 33 times to only 11 walks, he rebounded to hit .266/.309/.469 in June with an improving 8/4 K/BB ratio.  He's fallen off again a bit in May with only a .226 average, but his ISO and ISoP have continued to climb and he's been able to still put forth a non-terrible .717 OPS.  Kubel's hobgoblin going forward will continue to be inconsistency, but his main problem has been average, and his .233 BABIP is very low for a player with a 22.8% line drive percentage (higher than Mauer's).  Part of the problem seems to have been Gardenhire's relative reluctance to play him every day, but Kubel still has received more plate appearances than all but 6 other Twins players.  Kubel's continued emergence or continued floundering will be critical for the rest of this year and beyond.

PS:  Kubel just struck out hitting for the injured Hunter with the bases loaded.  I'm not surprised.  Not enough at bats...

The Back 2

The back 2 spots in the rotation are probably where the Twins have the greatest chance to improve in the second half without a trade.  The 4th and 5th starters for the Twins (I'm counting Ortiz, Ponson, Baker, Slowey, and Garza, since they were the ones who occupied those spots, other than Garza's one start) combined for a 6.00 ERA with a 1.55 WHIP in 183 first half innings (starts only).  Improving on those numbers isn't that hard because they are already so bad.  The new member of the back end of the rotation, Matt Garza, looks like he could be ready to help out.  In one 6 inning start and one 2 inning relief appearance, Garza has yet to give up a run this season while striking out 7 and walking 3.  Highly touted prospect he is, I don't expect him to have a Liriano season, but a fine rookie campaign with a (league average) 4.50 ERA, or even a somewhat rough 5.00 ERA would be a significant improvement over the production of the last two spots to this point.  The other current man set to stick in the backend role is Scott Baker, and he was already the best of the bad four from earlier this season with a 5.43 ERA.  Baker has shown signs that he's perhaps turned a corner though.  In 3 July starts, Baker has a 4.74 ERA in 19 IP.  Looking even closer, in Baker's last five starts (against both bad offensive teams like the White Sox and great ones like the lead leading Tigers), Baker has given up more than 2 runs only once (in his poor outing in Chicago) and put up 3 quality starts.  In that time, including the bad day in Chicago, Baker has put up a 3.77 ERA with a 24/4 K/BB ratio and 1.03 WHIP.  Even if we take those numbers with a grain of salt going forward, the chance is very good that Baker will be able to help significantly improve upon the 6.00 first half ERA of the backend.

If both Baker and Garza were too put up 5.00 ERA's in the second half, it would be like trading Boof Bonser for Johan Santana.  If both put up 4.50 ERA's in the second half, if would be like trading Ramon Ortiz for Fransisco Liriano.

Also PS:  Garza has now given up 0 earned runs in 15 innings.  I still don't think he'll be Liriano like, but are there any more questions about how good this kid is?

The Bottom Line

There are an enormous number of ifs in all of those, but the Twins just may need all of them to work out if they want to play October baseball.  At 48-43, the Twins are 6 games behind the division leading Tigers (53-36) and 5.5 games behind the Wild card leading Indians (53-37) and are on pace to win 85 games.  If the Twins improved enough to play the rest of the season on pace with their .551 Pythagorean winning percentage for the rest of the season, the would finish with a 39-31 second half record and a 87-74 record overall.  That would be a quality season, but would be nowhere near putting the Twins in the playoffs.  With the Tigers on pace to win 97 games, and the Indians on pace to win 95, the Twins need to kick it into high gear to have a real shot.  Because the Twins get to play the Tigers and Indians a total of 23 more times, they could knock those two teams down a bit by themselves, but it looks like, as I predicted at the beginning of the year, 95 wins will be about the necessary number to give yourself a likely chance to make the playoffs.  To get to 95 wins, the Twins would have to finish 47-24 (a .662 winning percentage).  In other words, the Twins would have to again play the part of the hottest second half team in baseball for the second straight year.

Like last year, this isn't impossible, but it would require everything to go right.  If Hunter kept up his pace, if Mauer and Cuddyer bumped their production slightly back up, if Bartlett and Kubel continued their upward trends, if the rotation got its boost from Garza and Baker, and if Rondell White returned to help produce from the DH (or left field with Kubel DH'ing), then the Twins could be pushed over the top by a third base acquisition.  I expect several or most of those things to happen, but asking for all of them to happen at once is unlikely.  I believe the Twins will finish will a very solid second half, and possibly break 90 wins, but making the playoffs at this point seems a remote chance.

Also Also (wik) PS:  A good way to start the playoff hunt would be to score some FREAKIN' runs and beat these silly Tigers.  Put down the assbats, it's okay, you can do it...