Minnesota Twins: 5 Reasons They Can Still Win the American League Central
The first 30 games of the 2011 Twins campaign have been anything but smooth for the two-time defending American League Central Champion Minnesota Twins.
They currently sport a 12-18 record, good for a .400 win percentage—the second worst in MLB.
There is hope however for the Twins, who currently sit 8 1/2 games out from the division leading Cleveland Indians.
Here are five reasons why.
1. Cleveland Can Not Continue Torrid Pace
Travis Hafner has had a comeback season this year.
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There is very little chance that the Indians will be able to keep up the pace they have set over the first five weeks of the season.
Not to take anything away from the Tribe, because they have played very well, and have many players performing at a high level, but the team is just not this good.
The Indians currently are tied with the Philadelphia Phillies for the best record in baseball with a 21-10 record.
Cleveland also sports the highest run differential in all of baseball at +48. This is a drastic improvement over the 2010 club which finished with a -106 run differential en route to a 69-93 record.
The key to Cleveland's success this season has been its Major League best home record—13-2.
Not to say that Cleveland can't hold on to win the Central, because their pitching has been great as they have allowed the second fewest runs in MLB. But it will be extremely difficult to maintain success at this level. I see the Indians as an 85 to 88 win team this season, which only requires them to play roughly .500 baseball the rest of the way.
So to make the playoffs, the Twins will need to try to win close to 90 games, which would require them to go 78-54 the rest of the way.
2. The Starting Pitching Is Coming Around
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The Twins have been terrible at more then one thing this season. Hitting, staying healthy, defense, etc. The starting pitching hasn't been an exception.
The starting staff has struggled since the first inning of the first game when Carl Pavano gave up four runs to the Toronto Blue Jays to start the season.
They have struggled to go deep into games, and to find the strike zone at times.
The Twins currently are ranked 27th in ERA at 4.64. This can be linked to the very un-Twins like 108 free passes they have given up this year.
This is in direct contrast to a team that led the majors with the fewest walks in 2010, with only 383 for the entire season.
However, since April showers led to May... well... more showers, the Twins have a 3.09 ERA and a 3-1 record.
The turn around has been led by a rejuvenated Scott Baker, and a change-up chucking, Johan Santana impersonating, no-hit throwing, Francisco Liriano.
3. The Twins Are a Second-Half Ballclub
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Ron Gardenhire has always been able to get the Twins on the winning track as the season has gone along. This led to Gardenhire finally winning an overdue Manager of the Year award for 2010.
Gardenhire is going to have to perform an encore performance this season if the Twins want to be playing into October in 2011.
To find evidence of the Twins dominance of late season baseball, I looked at the Twins records post All-Star break over the past five seasons. They have a combined 208-158 record, including two seasons where they had the best record in baseball post All-Star brea—48-26 in 2010 and 49-27 in 2006.
When the Twins have needed to rally late for a division championship, they have almost always delivered.
In 2009 the Twins were seven games behind the Tigers for the division lead on September 6. They went on a 19-8 run to finish the season with a division title after one of the great games in Twins history—Game 163.
4. The Flu-Bug Has to Be Gone Now... Right?
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Injuries can cripple a baseball team. To understand this, one just needs to look at the Boston Red Sox last season, or a more current example—The 2011 Minnesota Twins.
It is May 7. May 7 and Ron Gardenhire has had to have more starting lineups then Lady Gaga has terrible songs.
The Twins DL looks like an All-Star Lineup. Injuries to Joe Mauer, Delmon Young, Jim Thome, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Kevin Slowey and a returning from injury Joe Nathan and Justin Morneau have seriously hindered the Twins ability to compete.
By the end of May, most, or all of these players should be healthy and back in Gardenhire's starting lineups and terrorizing American League Central pitching staffs.
It can't get any worse health wise, can it? Hope I didn't just jinx the team.
This just in. The Twins have pushed Francisco Liriano's next start to Tuesday following flu-like symptoms. My bad.
5. Casilla May Finally Be Done as a Starter
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Over the years the Twins have given chance, after chance, after chance, after chance to Alexi Casilla to take a starting job and run with it. Albert Einstein defines "crazy" as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Well, the Twins may finally have that different result—Trevor Plouffe.
Plouffe came to the Twins with a first-round pick in the 2004 MLB Draft. He has struggled to make an impact beyond the minor league level.
He finally found his swing this spring down at AAA-Rochester, hitting six home runs to go with his .282 batting average.
Following Casilla's struggles and Nishioka's injury, Plouffe was given a shot at the big ball club.
In his first game—his first at-bat to be precise—Plouffe delivered. He hit a home run on high knuckleball from Tim Wakefield over the Green Monster in pacing the Twins to a 9-2 victory over Boston Friday.
A solid bat at shortstop to go with his above-average, and much more consistent glove, and Plouffe could be just the spark-plug the Twins need going forward.
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No doubt it's not going to be an easy task for the Twins to rebound and win the AL Central for a third straight time, but it's not impossible.
Please comment and let me know if you think it's possible or not and why you think that way.
Thanks for reading!