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Pitching is driving the Twins’ 97-win pace

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Despite being ravaged by injuries, the Twins are still really good

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins
Kenta Maeda has been a huge part of the Twins’ pitching staff’s turnaround.
David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins are exactly 75 percent of the way through their regular season schedule and are nearly guaranteed a spot in the postseason. Their 27-18 record is a 97-win pace over the course of a normal, 162-game season — nothing to sneeze at, although just shy of their 101-win campaign from a year ago.

But because they’re also technically in third-place in the A.L. Central, things don’t feel quite the same as they did last year. Perhaps it’s because last year was the first year that this group, led by Nelson Cruz and breakouts from Mitch Garver and Jorge Polanco, made the playoffs. Maybe it’s because of all the injuries to this year’s team.

Almost certainly, the relative lack of home runs compared to 2019 has changed the excitement level for casual fans. (Yes, the Twins are still No. 7 in the league but are 18 home runs behind the MLB-leading Dodgers. Put simply, the way this team has played does not resemble the original Bomba Squad.)

Before we build the team back up by talking about the pitching staff, let’s look at their MLB ranks in key statistical offensive categories through play on Tuesday, September 8:

  • No. 18 in OBP (No. 18 in SLG% and No. 21 in OBP%)
  • T-No. 23 in doubles
  • T-Last in triples and stolen bases

The team is below league-average in runs per game as well at 4.63, ranking 20th in the league.

But, that pitching though...

On the plus side, the pitching staff still has the fifth-best overall ERA of any team. The strikeouts-per-nine-innings are still No. 8 in the league and the strikeout-to-walk ratio is No. 4. Last year, the Twins’ K/BB ratio was similar, but they’re K/9 numbers have held steady as strikeouts have dipped slightly league-wide.

This side of injury recovery timelines for the likes of Mitch Garver, Max Kepler, and Jake Odorizzi, the most interesting storyline to watch over the final three weeks of the regular season is the starting rotation and the pitching staff as a whole.

The Twins’ rotation crunch is real. Jose Berrios, Kenta Maeda, and Michael Pineda are locks moving forward. Rich Hill has been shaky but has the best (only?) postseason track record of the other options. Odorizzi was the best pitcher of the group last year and if he can get healthy would be a lock. That still leaves Randy Dobnak and Homer Bailey as options No. 6 and No 7.

Dobnak and his still-impressive 3.61 ERA is a lock to stick around through the postseason, but could his role change? He is nearly un-hittable for stretches, with opposing batters unable to elevate his heavy arsenal. However, as games have worn on, Dobnak has been hit hard. Bad luck has something to do with it, but Dobnak feels like the type of starter who the Twins could use in a tandem, similar to what some teams do at the minor-league levels.

Could a Dobnak-Matt Wisler tandem, or a Tyler Clippard-Dobnak tandem, be an effective way to get six or seven innings deep into a game?

In this scenario, Bailey is the odd man out and would only be used in spot starts down the stretch of the season. He was moved the the 60-day injured list but also recently began throwing, so the Twins could use him during the final week or two of the season to eat some innings.

Regardless of what Rocco Baldelli and his braintrust come up with, the Twins’ pitching staff has steered the ship to this point. The past week has featured four scoring outbursts of at least six runs from the offense. If last year’s offense shows up and this year’s pitching staff is truly hear to stay ... look out, American League postseason foes.