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A Fan's View

Twins baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan

Section 219: Hey, it's kind of a big series for the Twins

Yeah, I'm rolling my eyes a little bit when I look at the American League standings, even if I'm not getting sucked into the "if the season ended today, the Twins would be in the one-game Wild Card playoff" thing. Instead, I'm looking at the series that starts tonight in Detroit as kind of a big deal, an indication of how far they appear to have cone since their laughingstock opening series against the Tigers and the 2-of-3 they lost to them at the end of last month before the winning began in earnest.

The Twins are a cocktail of good stuff and concern right now. But there's enough good stuff to at least have the discussion about whether the team's 18-14 record is somewhat sustainable as the season drags on. It's only a snapshot in time, but ESPN moved the Twins from 21st to 12th in its weekly power rankings, giving the AL Central three of the top dozen teams on the list.

I'm going to worry about the lack of strikeouts by the pitching staff because being last in the majors, by a significant margin, means that fielders are doing more work that you'd like. And given some of the Twins' defensive liabilities, that could well catch up with them over time. Danny Santana is scaring me at shortstop but I've moved on from any thought that he should spend time in center field. Both of the Eduardos (Escobar and Nunez) do the same for me when they play left. The bullpen could stand some improvement and I'm turning a blind eye still to Joe Mauer's OPS+ of 101, which is easier to do because of 18-14.

Here's what I'm going to feel good about:

*The Twins are winning in spite of some numbers not being where they were in 2014. Kurt Suzuki is hitting at a pace that would bring derision if he hadn't established himself with an All-Star 2014 and as the toughest of tough guys when it comes to dealing with the bumps of being a catcher. Brian Dozier is just now starting to hit the way you'd expect and if anyone is having a "when will Joe Mauer homer" pool, send me an invite and I'll send you a dollar.

*The starting pitching is getting by for now. Who had Mike Pelfrey as undefeated and with a best-of-the-rotation ERA after a half-dozen times through the rotation? Kyle Gibson looks good more often than not, and his bad outing aren't as bad as last season. They're making up for the other guys right now, with the irony being that Phil Hughes has won a couple of games recently with worse outings than during his April losses.

*Paul Molitor isn't fooling himself. He's managing like he's putting together a jigsaw puzzle, knowing that different pieces are the best fit on different days. I like that Eddie Rosario isn't getting an apprenticeship on the bench and he's made the best of a pitching staff that includes a handful of weak links despite the overall success.

*I'm sorry I made fun of Blaine Boyer earlier in the season. "The Pretty in Pink refrigerator reference" was mean-spirited and not worthy for a guy who has since pitched 11 1./3 scoreless innings. Name calling is (almost) always wrong, kids. Now I'd like reasons to retire the #FiascoNolasco hashtag and for Brian Duensing to stop making me crazy.

*Trevor Plouffe, for reasons mentioned in detail in an earlier post.

*Pelfrey, because I never thought he was as bad as he was during his two years of struggling. It's fun to watch him pitch well.

*Torii Hunter, whose weekend just ended was better than his previous weekend. Keep speaking with the bat, Torii. It's better for everyone.

The Twins are coming up on an interesting stretch through the rest of the month. The Tigers and White Sox again, and a bunch of new opponents who are all at or very close to .500. It's more fun right now than we expected, but we'll have a better sense in a few weeks whether the Twins are smoke and mirrors -- or smoke that will lead to a bonfire that we can gather around for the summer and enjoy.

Section 219: Watching players grow (Trevor Plouffe edition)

Second-longest current winning streak and tied for best home record in the American League. One game over .500 after an awful first week. Those are ways to describe the Minnesota Twins right now in objective terms.

Here's a subjective term: The Twins are looking like a more mature team. Paul Molitor has taken a businesslike approach that looks like it has carried over to the play on the field. I generally prefer data to observations, but this is a post where they go hand-in-hand.

The Twins of recent years often looked like a team that was intent on making big deals out of small triumphs, which may have been a reaction to having the good times be few and far between. There was the "Fun Bunch" group, mainly borderline major leaguers, who seemed more interested in the accouterments of being a ballplayer than anything else.

Now, the young players from that time who are still with the team are maturing.

In the first month, it's been especially satisfying to watch the growth of Trevor Plouffe. Yes, it's only been a month, but I'm not sure you would have expected Plouffe to lead or be second on the team among the everyday players in almost every offensive category while playing a steadier third base than ever before. You can break down his first-month statistics any way you want and Plouffe looks good.

These are things you couldn't say in the past. The prevailing wisdom had been that Plouffe was holding down third base as the best available option until the arrival of Miguel Sano. At that point, the thinking had been Plouffe would have to find another way to stay important for the Twins. But with Plouffe among the most productive third basemen in the American League right now and Sano batting .156 in Class AA, the future is deferred a bit -- and maybe cloudier.

The longer-term question is whether Plouffe's growth as a force on the Twins continues and will make the Twins consider alternatives for Sano's future -- outfield, first base, DH or even a trade. (I'm just listing options right now, not endorsing an alternate path.) Is Plouffe becoming as vital to the team as Brian Dozier? Will he become more vital down the road?

Watching him Sunday was interesting. His grand slam broke open Sunday's lopsided and series-sweeping victory over the White Sox and he made a couple of slick defensive plays. Just as important, Plouffe had the demeanor of someone who expected to succeed. I don't know whether that's a reaction to the environment that Molitor has created, but I wouldn't be surprised if the new manager is having that kind of influence.

The other way I'll tie Molitor to Plouffe has to do with his future. Molitor was a player who was moved around the field in Milwaukee during the first part of his career to make way for other players, something that didn't always sit well with him. Aside from being a DH, Molitor played more games at third base (Plouffe's position) than anywhere else. Will Molitor's experience will have a bearing on Plouffe's future?

For all of the worst-case situations and scenarios that Twins fans have dealt with in recent seasons, Plouffe may be creating options based on positives. While we're still a long way from giddiness, that's a refreshing change for the organization.

***

One more thing: If you're looking for daily updates on Twins minor leaguers, as well as season stats and team information, we've added a page that links to an assortment of data. You can find it here.

3:10 PM (FSN)
Minnesota 23-18
Chicago White Sox 19-20

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