The Minnesota Twins might win the American League Central for the first time since 2020 en route to being a surprising contender in the playoffs. Their division title chase was not thrilling with their mediocre first half, but they have played good baseball for several months. Minnesota’s pitching will be the backbone of any playoff run- is it enough?
Can the Twins Pitch Their Way to a World Series?
The Twins’ overall record splits are fairly impressive. In the first half, a 45-46 record (.495%) left them half a game behind the Cleveland Guardians. Since then, a 36-26 record (.581%) has the Twins looking like a true threat once the playoffs start.
The Twins had one of the best team ERAs with a 3.66 mark through the first half of the season. Since July 1 their team ERA has been 4.17, good enough for only 12th in the league. That’s still fine, but the offensive inconsistencies from earlier in the season wouldn’t inspire much confidence from that line.
Despite this overall drop-off, the Twins will still be in good hands if they can rely on their top starters. Sonny Gray might earn some down-ballot Cy Young votes. His 3.02 ERA since July is still fantastic. His 2.90 FIP is even more impressive. He has given up the fewest home runs per nine innings of any qualified pitcher this season.
Pablo López has been everything the Twins could ask for. He has topped 180 innings for the second consecutive season with a 3.58 ERA. He has been dominant since the start of July with a 2.76 ERA. López is striking out over 10 batters per nine innings while walking fewer than two. He forces batters to ground out and avoids hard contact. Highlight reels aren’t necessarily great analysis, but come on, this could be the entire article.
Kenta Maeda is the third-best starter on the staff and he looks like he could be an ace for half the teams in the league. Maeda had one blowup start on April 26, giving up 10 runs in three innings. He immediately went on the injured list, though, so let’s only look at his stats since his return two months later. From June 23 onward, Maeda has posted a 3.39 ERA while also striking out more than 10 batters per nine innings. He has struggled more since August, but this comes even as he is allowing fewer barrels and hard-hits, and in turn getting more soft contact. His strikeout rate has dipped slightly as he is using his fastball more and his slider less. Even if his overall ERA has bumped up, Maeda is still a fantastic option for the Twins’ third starter spot in a playoff series.
The bullpen is a slightly different story. On the season, they are in the middle of the pack at 16th with a 3.99 ERA. Just since August, they still rank 16th with a 4.18 bullpen ERA. However, if we focus on how a tight playoff series might play out, the Twins have an elite cadre of arms at the top of their bullpen. In this time, Jhoan Duran has a 1.93 ERA while striking out over 12 batters per nine innings. Caleb Thielbar (2.00) ERA and Emilio Pagán (2.84 ERA) have continued their impressive seasons. Even on the back end, Griffin Jax has bounced back from a tough August to post a 3.12 ERA over his last nine appearances, striking out eleven batters while only walking one.
The pitching will be important for every team, of course, but the Twins are well-equipped for any matchup they might face. They have showcased great starting pitching all season long and October will offer the chance for them to show they aren’t just a middling team that won a middling division. The bullpen has the arms to lock down close games.
Make Your Pitcher Smile
The Twins’ offense hasn’t always provided complimentary baseball for their top-tier pitching staff. Sonny Gray has the seventh-worst run support among qualified starters. They were a below-average offense entering July, but since then, they have a team wRC+ of 118, good enough for fifth-best in the majors. That type of offensive surge is the most encouraging sign that this pitching staff will set up opportunities for the Twins to outscore anyone in the playoffs.
The offense isn’t without flaws. They have the highest strikeout rate of any team this season, although they still walk often. Being so prone to the strikeout isn’t an issue likely to resolve itself once Minnesota is facing the best pitching staffs in the playoffs.
They hit the ball as hard as anyone, though. Only the Atlanta Braves have a higher barrel percentage and the Twins rank fifth in hard-hit percentage. The Twins have seen several breakouts and rookies transform the offense into a daunting and deep lineup.
The Twins have maintained their confidence in Max Kepler, 30, as he has tapped into his power potential with his best season since 2019. His 22 home runs mark the third time in his career he has reached the 20 mark. He has been one of the catalysts for this offensive turnaround.
Carlos Correa took a long time to start producing this season, but he looked revitalized in September until his recent injured list stint. He was hitting .296 over 61 plate appearances while cutting his strikeout rate from 22.6% to 16.4%. His career strikeout rate is 20.8%, so this was a positive development. He is still barreling the ball as much as he ever has, so the underlying signs show Correa can still be an impact bat.
Royce Lewis was enjoying an exceptional rookie campaign after such a long and difficult road to the majors until his recent hamstring injury. His .921 OPS is the best mark on the team with no shortage of grand slam heroics. Fellow rookies Edouard Julien, who leads all rookies in on-base percentage at .378, and Matt Wallner, who has the highest barrel rate of any rookie, have helped power the Twins on their way to a division title.
The Twins have turned around their season from mediocrity to a confident and promising finish to the campaign. They might just surprise some people in October. If they do, it will be with some big bats backing up their stellar pitching.
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