Minnesota Twins: 5 Ways the Twins Can Get the AL Central Lead

Joe PetruloCorrespondent IIIJune 28, 2011

Minnesota Twins: 5 Ways the Twins Can Get the AL Central Lead

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    The Minnesota Twins, despite a poor start and recent stretch, are not out of the AL Central Division race.

    In fact, they are only a few breaks away from turning the entire season around.

    Health has been a problem all season, but it appears that the team is headed toward a rejuvenation with a number of players nearing the end of DL trips. 

    Ron Gardenhire and the Twins organization has not given up on this season yet.

    Let's take a look at five reasons the Twins can still grab the AL Central lead.

5. Trades

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    It may be unlikely, but a trade for a veteran bat could turn out to be an option for the Twins.

    Minnesota, as always, has a number of interesting prospects, including a stockpile of outfielders.

    Sensational center fielder Ben Revere has shown that Denard Span will have to earn his job in center field every year. He has put up decent hitting statistics, but his charisma has seemingly won over the clubhouse and the media.

    The Twins are struggling with health right now, which has allowed their minor league depth to shine. Outfielder Rene Tosoni may be the best example after Revere, although he has struggled to fully find his groove in the big leagues.

    Players like Tosoni and Joe Benson could be trading pieces, along with a number of minor league pitchers, to acquire a veteran bat for a run at the AL Central lead.

    Sometimes, when health becomes an issue, a team has to look elsewhere for production. This scenario brings trade negotiations into the picture.

    In this improbable scenario, a hot veteran bat could bring energy to the entire team. It might be worth it for Minnesota to pursue this option in a last-ditch effort to make a run at another division title.

4. The Division Falls Back

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    Minnesota might need some help from the rest of the AL Central to jump to the top.

    The Cleveland Indians, after a hot start, have already shown signs of faltering. They started the year 31-18, but have since gone 10-18 to sit in second place in the division.

    Kansas City has been porous on the road, and they have fallen back to the cellar of the division with the Twins.

    Chicago has a history of late-season duels for division titles with the Twins. It is likely that if Minnesota makes a run, Ozzie Guillen's squad will be right there to challenge them. 

    Detroit may be the toughest team to catch. Behind Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, this is probably the one team that the Twins will have to count on catching, rather than falling back to them.

    The Tigers may appear beyond reach right now, but it is a very long baseball season. Teams are approaching the halfway point, and injuries or poor streaks can hit any team like they have struck the Twins so far this year.

    Minnesota should not expect it, but there is always the possibility of the division falling back to them as they start to win games. 

3. Avoiding an Overhaul by the Front Office

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    The Twins need to avoid a front office overhaul to have a chance at another AL Central crown.

    Many times, around this time of year, teams that consider themselves out of the race begin to move their most valuable trading chips to acquire prospects for the future.

    There have been rumblings around Minnesota that GM Bill Smith has begun these discussions with teams around the league.

    Michael Cuddyer has been a regularly mentioned name. He is a veteran right-handed bat that can play a number of positions, and he is having one of his best statistical seasons of his career.

    Cuddyer is a key piece to making a run, and losing him would kill Minnesota's playoff hopes. 

    If the Twins want a chance at the division, they need to stay close enough to the leader that Smith refrains from overhauling the roster for the future.

2. Resurgence from Big-Name Players

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    Minnesota has added a couple of big names back to the everyday lineup, including Joe Mauer, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and most recently, Jim Thome.

    The problem is, they are not producing the way they were expected to at the beginning of the year.

    Mauer is sitting at a .206 BA, about 100 points below his career numbers.

    Nishioka was expected to adjust quickly to the American game and hit much better than a .224 BA. Plus, his six errors in the field have yielded criticism from the media.

    Thome has seen limited action this season. Following a heroic 2010 campaign, big things were expected from the wily left-handed veteran. He has only played in 31 games, hitting just .238.

    The biggest problem in all three situations is Mauer's performance. He has been thrown back into the fire following an injury, but as the star of the team, he is expected to handle it. Mauer has never dealt with this level of adversity in his pro career.

    If he, and the other under-performing veterans, can handle the adversity and begin to thrive in the second half of the season, the Twins will still have a chance in the AL Central.  

1. Regain Health

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    Imagine if the Yankees were playing without Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada, Brett Gardner, and Nick Swisher. These players all play positions and roles on the Yankees that the Twins have had to fill with injury replacements for most of the first half of the season.

    Injuries are a part of the game, but Minnesota's situation is a rare one. The lineup has been filled with a majority of minor league players at times.

    Starters that the Twins have lost at some point this season to the DL include:

    • Joe Mauer
    • Justin Morneau
    • Denard Span
    • Delmon Young
    • Jim Thome
    • Jason Kubel 
    • Tsuyoshi Nishioka
    • Kevin Slowey
    • Joe Nathan
    • Glen Perkins

    This is not only a long list, but it includes nearly every notably important player on the Twins aside from starting pitchers.

    The injury bug has definitely bitten the Twins incessantly this season.

    Still, as these players slowly begin to return to the lineup, the roster begins to look more and more like the defending AL Central Champion-worthy team that many picked to repeat.

    Health can be used as an excuse, or the Twins can respond with a vengeance as they pluck player by player off the disabled list. The latter will help them inch toward the top of the AL Central as the season wears on.