Five questions as second half of Twins’ season gets underway

13 July 2023

For a team that began spring training speaking of its high aspirations, reaching the all-star break in second place — after spending most of the first half in first — with a losing record is far from what the Twins expected of themselves. But because of their division, the Twins are still right in the thick of things, hoping to spend the rest of the season competing for a spot in the American League playoffs.

“When you’re playing up-and-down baseball for an entire half (of a season), there’s no way to be in a clubhouse and not ride that a little bit, but we still have an entire half ahead of us with a good team and we’re in striking distance,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “… It’s still right there. It’s right in front of us. It gives us something to charge at.”

With the second half of the season kicking off at 8:40 p.m. CT Friday in Oakland, here are five questions for the remainder of the season:

What will the Twins do at the trade deadline?

The Twins tapped heavily into their farm-system depth last trade deadline to try to improve a team that was in first place at the time. Those moves didn’t pay off as expected.

Tyler Mahle, whom the Twins traded three prospects for, made just nine starts in his Twins career, walking off the field alongside a team trainer in three of them. He is out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

The Twins also swung a trade for Jorge López, an all-star last season, who hasn’t performed as such since arriving in Minnesota. After a great April, he hit a rough patch and currently has a 4.80 earned-run average. Meanwhile, one of the players they traded, Yennier Cano is an all-star for the Orioles.

Relief pitcher Michael Fulmer and catcher Sandy León, both low-risk moves, were impending free agents.

So, how much will the Twins do this time around at the Aug. 1 deadline with less depth in the farm system? And what do they need to do, sitting half a game behind the Cleveland Guardians at the all-star break? Realistically, the Twins need some help for the bullpen and could use a bat, preferably right-handed. But how much they’re willing to push and give up for this version of the team will need to be answered.

Can the pitching keep this up?

The Twins expected their pitching staff to be good. But this good? Well, that was hard to predict.

Twins pitchers have a 3.68 earned-run average, third-best in the majors. The starter ERA is second to the Tampa Bay Rays. As a whole, they lead the league in FIP (fielding independent pitching), WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) and are second in the majors in quality starts.

When the Twins lost Mahle for the year, Bailey Ober stepped in and stepped up, posting a 2.61 earned-run average in his 14 starts. Sonny Gray and Pablo López were both all-stars, and Joe Ryan had a solid case for consideration, too. Kenta Maeda, since coming back from a triceps strain, has given up just three earned runs in his past 17 innings.

While the pitching staff often hasn’t had much run support, it’s more than done its job to ensure that the Twins are in nearly every game.

“I don’t know that you could really ask for much more than leading the league in quality starts and ERA and everything else,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said before the all-star break. “… I think we feel like we’ve got a good group. We’ve got to stay healthy. We’ve got to keep pitching the way we have. If we do that, we’re going to give ourselves a chance to win a lot more games in the second half.”

Will the offense ever pick it up?

It’s no secret that the Twins’ offense has been the team’s primary issue.

The Twins held a players-only meeting last month, during which they opted to take charge of the hitter’s meetings. They’ve altered the lineup. They’ve worked tirelessly behind the scenes.

But the bottom line is that many of the veterans — Carlos Correa, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler, among them—  whom they were expecting to carry them simply have not .

While they may make an addition, Falvey was clear that the “key cogs” in the Twins’ offense will need to be the ones who carry them down the stretch and the vast majority of their offense will need to come from the players already in the room.

But after more than half a season of watching the offense struggle, is there reason to believe there’s a big team-wide turnaround coming? And if not, will there be changes — either in player personnel or in the coaching staff?

Will any team pull away in the division?

There’s no denying it: the American League Central is the worst division in baseball.

At the all-star break, no team was over .500, including the Twins (45-46) who have been hovering around that mark for a while now. By comparison, all five teams in the AL East are above .500.

Last year, while the Twins were dealing with a rash of injuries, the Guardians pulled away in the division race, going 21-8 in the month of September and breezing past the Twins, who went 10-18. Cleveland finished 11 games clear of the White Sox and 14 games up on the Twins.

Will something like that happen this year?

How healthy will the Twins be?

A rash of injuries played a big role in keeping the Twins from making the playoffs last season. The Twins have had their fair share of injuries again this year, but the roster hasn’t been decimated to the point it was last year.

They hope to get second baseman Jorge Polanco, who has played in just 30 games this year due to a knee injury and multiple hamstring strains, back later this month. Same goes for relievers Brock Stewart and Caleb Thielbar, whose returns should help stabilize the bullpen.

Third baseman Royce Lewis injured his oblique earlier this month, an injury that is expected to keep him out into August.

But for the most part, they’ve enjoyed a relatively healthy season, and their ability to keep their players on the field will be critical moving forward.

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