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TwinsCentric: Twins are playing over their heads. So what?

Posted by: Nick Nelson Updated: May 28, 2014 - 12:40 AM

On Tuesday night, the Twins stole another one away.

You'd have a hard time arguing they outplayed the Rangers, who outhit them 9-6 and had a one-run lead entering the ninth before Joakim Soria uncharacteristically blew a save (his first of the year, in fact) and took the loss when he misplayed a nubber back to the mound with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth.

Hey, a win's a win.

That's been a good mantra for the Twins, who find themselves within a game of .500 as the end of May approaches, despite the fact that they haven't really played all that well.

Offensively, they rank ninth out of 15 American Leagues teams in runs per game, and 11th in OPS. Their team ERA is the worst in baseball.

Despite all that, this team is keeping it interesting. After Tuesday's thriller, they are now 6-2 in one-run games in the month of May. They have heftily outplayed their Pythagorean W/L, which registers at 21-28.

Not exactly a sustainable recipe for success, but it doesn't need to be. The Twins have been succeeding in spite of a lot of correctable problems, so there's plenty of reason to expect improvement over the next four months.

Let's flesh out a few of those reasons:

1) Jason Kubel will be replaced.

Harsh, I know. But are you aware just how bad Kubel has been since the first two weeks of the season?

Since April 13, when his red-hot start basically came to an end, the veteran's slash line is .187/.293/.206. Yes that's a .206 slugging percentage over a period of seven weeks from a player who was brought in almost solely for his ability to hit.

The Twins seem to have a blind spot for Kubel, as they've evidently never doubted his enduring offensive aptitude despite the poor numbers in 2013, but even they can't run away from these blatant struggles. He's been given 163 plate appearances up to this point but has sat out two of the last three games and is amidst an 0-for-14 slump.

It would have been great to see this one work out, but the Twins are going to cut bait on Kubel. Maybe as soon as Wednesday, when he is due a 60-day roster bonus of $150,000. He'll be replaced on the roster by a more capable bat (maybe Triple-A performer Deibinson Romero) while his at-bats will go toward guys like Oswaldo Arcia, who appears to be back on track after last night.

2) Center field also has to get better.

Now that he's given up switch-hitting, Aaron Hicks is either going to improve substantially or get replaced. The Twins are pretty clearly running out of patience with him and it's not hard to see why; Hicks' .585 OPS is worse than all but nine qualified big-leaguers, and is almost identical to last year's paltry mark.

The Twins have gotten worse production in center than any MLB team outside of Boston. They lack viable replacements for Hicks, which is part of the problem, but eventually they're bound to find an upgrade somewhere if he can't get it going.

That said, I'm hopeful the big change leads to a resurgence. Hicks is not this bad.

3) Pitching help is on the way.

As mentioned above, Minnesota's pitching staff has the highest ERA in the majors, in large part because as a team they are averaging only 6.1 strikeouts per nine innings. That's the lowest rate in baseball, and if it holds this will be the fourth straight year of the Twins being the most contact-heavy staff in the game.

But maybe it won't hold.

Down in Triple-A, both Alex Meyer and Trevor May are turning heads with their bat-missing stuff. The Rochester teammates rank first and fifth in the International League in K/9 rate, respectively. Swapping one of those guys in at some point for, say, Kevin Correia -- whose ERA hasn't been below 6 since mid-April -- could change the look of this rotation considerably.

4) Joe Mauer, guys.

This has been a frustrating year for Mauer. He's trying to learn a new position, he's been getting squeezed by umpires like never before, and now he's battling a back issue that is apparently more serious than we were led to believe.

But at the end of the day, this guy is still one of the best hitters in the sport, and if he can get healthy he's going to find a way to be a positive offensive contributor. He has done that this year to some extent -- a .364 OBP isn't exactly a liability in the two-hole -- but we can't pretend that his power output has been acceptable for a first baseman.

Mauer's OPS is currently lower than any mark he's finished with in his entire career, even in that miserable 2011 campaign. Maybe something's really wrong with him, but I'd rather presume that it's just a slow start and he'll make up for it with the big second half we know he's capable of.

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