Thursday, July 14, 2011

Minnesota Twins' 2nd Half Outlook

By Matt Tschida


2nd Half History
The Twins are 6.5 games out of first place, which seems like a large hill to climb (and it really is), but last season they were 3.5 games back at the break and finished 6.0 games ahead of second place Chicago (a 9.5 game swing). In 2006, they were 12.0 games out at the break, and ended up winning the division by a game. It’s mathematically unlikely, but the Twins have shown the ability to erase second half deficits in the Gardenhire era.

The Twins have only fielded their “A” lineup in a handful of games the entire year.
If the offense can return to full strength, this lineup should be as productive as it was last year when they finished 6th in the league in runs (they currently rank 25th). A fairly consistent pitching staff (with the exception of Francisco Liriano) coupled with a more productive offense would certainly add victories in the second half.

Trade Help?
The Twins really don’t have many holes offensively, so
assuming the division is still within reach at the trade deadline, they’ll likely look for pitching help.

Alexi Casilla has been providing more consistent at bats, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka (now healthy) has begun to find his swing, so their spots are okay for now. Danny Valencia has struggled for stretches at the plate, but he's notched 10 homeruns and 46 RBI; the Twins are going to ride out this season (at least) with him as their third baseman.

Outside of Liriano's inconsistency, the starting rotation has been relatively dependable this season. As a whole, the starters have gone 33-32 with a 3.98 ERA. Clearly, the team's biggest holes are in the bullpen, where as a unit they've lost 16 games and amassed a 5.01 ERA. Glen Perkins has become the only trustworthy option. Matt Capps has been shaky, and before his return from the DL Joe Nathan was unsettled. The Twins desperately need another right handed setup man, or even closer, so they can move Capps into a setup role. I hope the Twins don’t settle for Capps as the closer, because he's putting up much worse numbers than John Rauch did to this point last season, and they felt he needed to be replaced:

Capps 2011 through July 13: 4.42 ERA, 15-21 Saves/Opportunities
Rauch 2010 through July 13: 2.38 ERA, 20-24 Saves/Opportunities


The Bullpen
One of the strengths of last year’s team has now become its biggest weakness, and it should come as no surprise since the club let Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier and Brian Fuentes walk during free agency without adding any significant replacements. As noted earlier, the bullpen has already lost this team 16 games, where as last year's pen only lost 18 games throughout the entire season. There’s nothing more demoralizing to a team than losing a lead late in a ballgame, and we've already seen it way too much this season. If the Twins expect to make a run at the division, Bill Smith needs to make a significant trade to bring in a legitimate late-inning right handed reliever.

Because of their unpredictable nature, "injuries" are cause for both hope and concern. This roster has been decimated by injuries, and they'll need Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel to return healthy and productive. It also goes without saying that other regulars need stay out of the trainer's office, which sounds simple enough but has proven to be a major obstacle this season.

Francisco Liriano
Liriano has been the team’s most inconsistent starter through the first half of the year. On one hand he nearly pitched his way out of the rotation. On the other, he tossed a no-hitter and threatened for a second. The Twins don’t need Liriano to be lights out in the second half, they just need him to be consistent. If he can string together a streak of six or seven quality starts, it would really his confidence going forward, and the team's chances of making a push for the division.

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