The Twins slumped into the All-Star break with a 45-46 record after a disappointing sweep courtesy of the Orioles at Target Field. Just before that final first-half series, the Twins had won five of six and seemingly responded well after their non-competitive sweep in Atlanta.
Such are the ups and downs of a .500 ball club. The Twins sit in second place in the AL Central, a half-game behind the Guardians, and they are five games back in the Wild Card Standings.
Despite their current place in the standings and consistently inconsistent play through 91 games, all the projection systems still favor the Twins as the most likely club to make the playoffs from the division. Baseball-Reference gives Minnesota a 72% chance at the postseason with an average projected final record of 84-78. FanGraphs is less bullish, but still favors the Twins about 57% of the time with an 82-80 final record:
Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs also agree that the Twins’ Pythagorean record based on their runs scored and runs allowed, should be 49-42, 4.5 games better than Cleveland’s 44-46 expected mark. FanGraphs’ BaseRuns method is even more favorable at 51-40 and 7.5 games in front of the Guardians.
Sequencing luck and coming through in clutch situations tends to drive differentials between actual and expected records and we know by now to put little stock into those estimations with this group. Their poor offensive approach and frequent inability to make contact in situations where they need it most makes them prone to underperforming what the aggregate numbers might indicate. On offense, Minnesota ranks 28th in team clutch score, which is a descriptive measure of performance in high-leverage situations. Their -3.40 clutch accumulation (i.e., 3.40 wins) explains a majority of their 4-game Pythagorean expected record underperformance.
Favorable Schedule, but with Some Potential Pitfalls
It’s been pointed out that the Twins, by virtue of playing in a bad division and having played much of their AL East and NL West schedule already, have one of baseball’s softest remaining schedules. FanGraphs projects the Twins’ remaining schedule with a .487 winning percentage, which is the lowest in MLB right now.
Within the division, the Twins have just 3 games left against Kansas City (against whom they are 9-1 this season). Seven games remain against the White Sox and 6 each are left with Detroit and Cleveland. The Twins also have most of their AL West contests to play, and they’ll begin the 2nd half with a trip through Oakland and Seattle.
While the matchups might be favorable on paper, the schedule itself is maybe not so friendly. The Twins start the second half with games 13 days in a row. Off days on July 27 and 31 sandwich the final set with Kansas City before another 13-day, four-different-city stretch to begin August. They’ll also have another 13 straight games in mid-September.
The Twins had two 16-day stretches in the first half, plus another 13-day’er. It’s not like they are incapable of managing through those, but two-week straight spans have the potential to heavily tax the team’s depth, especially on the mound.
While pitching has been the team’s clear strength, the bullpen currently has only two functional, high-leverage relievers (Jax and Duran). We saw right before the break what the bullpen can look like after close games three or four days in a row. Brock Stewart and Caleb Thielbar are expected back from injury sometime later in July, which should help the back end of the ‘pen.
There’s also some reason for concern amongst the starters, but more from a workload accumulation standpoint. Sonny Gray (99.2 IP), as good as he’s been, hasn’t worked more than 135 innings since 2019. Bailey Ober has already worked a career-high number of innings (100.1) this season between AAA and the majors. Joe Ryan showed some signs of fatigue in his last few turns and is just 43 innings short of his career-high 150 from last season. Expect to see the Twins pick some spots to skip some starts and rely on their accumulated pitching depth (potentially including Chris Paddack) to give their starters some extra rest in the second half.
It’s All About the Core
More than anything else, though, the Twins’ chances this season rest on their expected top producers, actually producing. We have spent a lot of time and energy lamenting José Miranda’s disappointing season or complaining about Max Kepler and Joey Gallo getting significant playing time instead of prospects, but most of those decisions are around the margins of the roster and just aren’t as impactful as stars not playing like stars.
That means Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton are at the center of it all.
Getting Jorge Polanco, who is expected to begin a rehab assignment after the break, back in the lineup every day will help, but no matter how many times analysts try to explain away Correa’s dreadful offensive first half, (I’ve been one of them, too) his .225/.299/.401 slash line and 94 wRC+ aren’t going to cut it. Neither will Buxton’s .208/.300/.436 and 103 wRC+, especially if Buxton is going to continue to provide no defensive value by being limited to DH.
More Falvey:— Do-Hyoung Park (@dohyoungpark) July 9, 2023
"I think the crux of it is the vast majority of the production is going to come from most of the 26 you already have in that room. Can we add and complement that? Sure. But I think those guys are going to have to perform and be the engine that we built for the team."
When Derek Falvey forecasted a likely quiet upcoming trade deadline for the Twins (at least offensively), it’s not too hard to read between the lines and see he was talking about the Twins’ two biggest names. It also seems likely that Shannon Stewart isn’t walking through that door. It’s a pretty comfortable bet to say that, as Correa and Buxton go, so will go the Twins in the second half.
Ideal Plate Appearances and Winning
A few weeks ago I wrote about my attempt at a new metric to evaluate offensive approach. The Twins rank poorly in it, as we are well aware, and so do Correa (34.3% IPA%) and Buxton (32.4%). I got curious about how the quality of the Twins' plate appearances related to winning games.
Using this season’s first-half results, I found that the Twins win about 63% of their games when their hitters’ IPA% is higher than their opponents. When the Twins have won this year, they averaged about 39% of the plate appearance being “ideal” by my metric. In their losses, they’ve averaged about 33%. That’s not a big spread but might point to the criticality of those small number of really important, high-leverage at-bats that can swing close games.
Perhaps even more clear are their win-loss results at certain thresholds. When they’ve achieved better than 40% IPA% in a given game, they’ve won 72% of the time. They’ve won 89% of the games they’ve had with 45% or better.
On the flip side, when they’ve been under 35% IPA% in a game, their winning percentage is only about 36%. They’ve won just 15% of their games when they’ve had under 25% IPA%.
- Twinkie Town community member bean5302 gave us a couple of great FanPosts about the Twins' top prospects after the draft, including one on Brooks Lee’s defense and another that touched on Emmanuel Rodriguez, Connor Prielipp, Marco Raya, and Matt Wallner.
- Mike Petriello provided a mid-season update for MLB.com on which hitters have been helped and hurt by the new limitations on defensive shifting. Joey Gallo has been a slight beneficiary (+3 hits), but Max Kepler has not been helped (-1 hit).
- With the trade deadline approaching the White Sox are planning to sell, reports Jon Heyman. Four players believed to be untouchable are Dylan Cease, Eloy Jiménez, Andrew Vaughn, and Luis Robert, Jr
- I sure wouldn’t mind seeing a rare intra-division trade that returned closer Liam Hendriks to Minnesota. Hendriks was honored with the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the ESPY Awards this week, after beating a bout with cancer and returning to pitch this season. Hendriks award speech has been well received and is worth your time
- St. Louis Cardinals decision maker John Mozeliak told the media that “We’re going to trade people.” The Cardinals also have pieces that would make for good fits in Minnesota
- Pablo López and Luis Arráez, the main parts of an under-the-radar pre-season trade that hasn’t gotten any attention at all on the Twins' internet, were both All-Stars and discussed being traded for each other with MLB.coms’ Jessica Camerato
- MLB released a fact sheet detailing the results of the new rules implemented for this season
- Leo Morgenstern wrote about pickoff attempts being up for FanGraphs, a somewhat surprising development in light of the rules limiting the number of times a pitcher can disengage and throw over