Monday, May 25, 2009

Optimism

The Twins were lucky to finish the month of April with a .500 record after posting one of the worst run differentials in baseball thanks to numerous blowout losses. Even as of May 20, they'd been outscored by opponents 220-195, indicating that there was nothing particularly unlucky about their 18-23 record.

After outscoring the White Sox and Brewers 40-9 in their past four victories, the Twins are now actually under-performing their Pythagorean W/L record of 24-21. And while I certainly don't expect the Twins to continue averaging over 10 runs per game as they have over the past four, this offense is looking legitimate and giving plenty of reason for optimism.

Few lineups in baseball can boast a 1-5 as strong as the Twins. Denard Span has been a prototypical leadoff guy, hitting for a great average and a terrific OBP while chipping in some occasional power and stealing bases. Joe Mauer has been otherworldly. Justin Morneau is having an absolutely monstrous season. Michael Cuddyer looks locked in. Jason Kubel's breakout campaign is going somewhat unnoticed only because of what these other guys are doing.

Many of these players have inflated batting averages and will probably see their numbers come down in time. Morneau and Kubel are unlikely to maintain averages around .340, and Cuddyer is probably not a .290 hitter. Still, the power is real and these guys can hit. The Twins currently rank among the top half of AL teams in home runs, which is almost unheard of. The increase in power has allowed them to maintain a solid run-scoring rate despite a huge drop-off in production with runners in scoring position, which negates the arguments from those who claimed that this offense would drown once its lucky situational hitting came back to Earth (Keith Law, I'm looking in your direction). The fact of the matter is that the top half of this lineup features a bunch of great hitters that can hold up against any group in the league.

While there's certainly a drop-off in the bottom half of the lineup, the 6-9 hitters seem capable of at least holding their own. Joe Crede has been an OBP sinkhole, as expected, but he's shown enough pop to justify his spot in the lineup when his outstanding defense is taken into account. Carlos Gomez is still struggling but is taking better at-bats and has a .340 on-base percentage since the beginning of May. Brendan Harris is capable of providing solid offense for a middle-infield spot.

The lineup is in very good shape, so oddly the Twins find themselves in a position of worrying more about their pitching than their offense (how often have we said that over the past decade?). The starting pitching has been good over the past several days, and the two weakest links in the rotation thus far -- Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano -- are the guys who were viewed as the top two starters entering the season. Given their track records and talent levels, there's really not any reason to believe both of those pitchers won't drastically improve their performance going forward. Baker seemed to take the first step last night.

With a productive young offense and a rotation that seems likely to improve going forward, the Twins appear to be in awfully good shape going forward, even if their record still sits a game below .500 at present.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Here's the problem I have with that take, you will never see another month where you have Mauer, Morneau and Cuddy all clicking at this high of a level for an extended period of time and we're still a game below .500

I think the Twins will be in the hunt but it's kind of scary given those hitters will certainly regress. Others are going to have to pick up the load.

Josh said...

I question the ability of the 7-9 hitters to be anything other than a black hole right now. Tolbert & Punto can't hit a lick it seems, and they are Gardy's preferred middle INF combo. Harris has backslid badly as of late, and Gardy doesn't want to play him at 2B anyways. Buscher is scrabbling a bit too. Gomez should be playing over Young because of his D, but his O is still horrendous. Young's O is a mess too, with no power and a pretty miserable OBP.

I think the starting pitchers will be fine. The relief corps is still a real problem, though. Gurrier has shown that he can't pitch back to back anymore, and shouldn't be used more than 2 out of 5 days. But Gardy will run him out there every day. (and there aren't a lot of better options)

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