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A Fan's View

Twins baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan

Section 219: A suggestion I'm glad I didn't make about the Twins

Last week at this time, fresh from the three games of awful in New York and without much reason for optimism, I suggested the Twins confess to the sins of 2015 and use the rest of the season to prepare for 2016. I stopped just short of suggesting the "playoff race" drinking game, where we'd take one for the team every time Dick 'n' Bert or Cory 'n' Dazzle or Anthony or Roy or any of the others in the media would use those words in a sentence.

Now, look what's happened. Six road victories in a row against teams that were in the Wild Card battle, combined with a cluster of losses by other contenders, have returned the Twins to "if the season ended right now, the Twins would be in the postseason" position.

Baseball Prospectus still only gives them about a 1 in 5 chance of really making the playoffs, but we've now reached the end of August and the games are still packed with meaning.

One of my Twitter buddies, Dan Cook from WCCO, cut me slack and explained what happened when he responded to one of my Tweets on Wednesday night:

Here's what's happened. Players have stepped up and stepped in to make up for things that have gone bad.

The rookie Tyler Duffey has stepped into the Phil Hughes spot and recovered from his awful debut. ... Kevin Jepsen has filled in excellently for closer Perkins in the last week. ... The young outfielders have covered quite well for 40-year-old Torii Hunter, whose batting numbers are .163/.217/.306 since July 19. ... Trevor May has done what's been needed in the bullpen and done it very well.

And Miguel Sano? Instead of going deep, I'll rely on these two things: One is the blogger Aaron Gleeman's post on Sano's first seven weeks with the Twins. The other is the @SanoAlerts Twitter account created this week by Ben Collin that issues, yes, alerts when Sano is about to bat.

What now? The Twins are doing some things at an unsustainable level. The bullpen couldn't pick up for the starter pitchers  over the course of a season as it's done recently. But there's only 5 1/2 weeks (and a roster expansion on Sept. 1) left to ride. So is there another low-cost veteran reliever, like Neal Cotts, that can be picked up for the final weeks? Can Jose Berrios (4-2, 2.78 in 10 starts at Rochester) make a final month contribution? Will Joe Mauer close out the season hitting like Joe Mauer 1.0? How will Paul Molitor manage as the games get bigger? Does Jepsen keep closing games as long as he's sharp? How will an outfield of Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Aaron Hicks perform in pressure situations when Hicks is healthy?

The current takeaways: Don't think about 2016 right now because 2015 has become fun again. Don't think about the almost-certain playoff opponent if the Twins get into a Wild Card game. You know, the Yankees or Blue Jays, on their turf.

Be like a player: Don't overthink things.

Section 219: Twins must address conditions that set up their collapse

If you’re among the Twins fans who were optimistic during the 100 games that mattered, you don’t have anything to apologize about.

And if you give up on the season now, you don’t have any reason to apologize, either.

If you were in it until now, you lasted longer than Twins management. The lack of commitment to improving the bullpen (or doing anything else in recent weeks) meant that the front office took a look at the schedule when moves could have been made and decided the cost of competing for the postseason wasn’t worth it.

If they make an argument otherwise, feel free to be skeptical. Maybe that was a realistic position, but it's also a painful one to acknowledge.

If anyone in management or on FSN North now talks about what needs to happen to “get back into the race,” eye-rolling is an appropriate (and understated) response.

Now you’re going to be asked to believe in the future. Build all the optimistic scenarios you want, but expecting things to be better “just because,” is a blueprint that could make the 2016 Twins first cousins with this year’s Milwaukee Brewers, who were expected to build off a 2014 season that looked a lot like the current Twins. Danny Santana, Kennys Vargas and Oswaldo Arcia were expected to be part of whatever Twins improvement took place this season and that didn’t quite happen, right?

If we are looking to the future, here’s what I want to see over the final six weeks of the season:

*An outfield of Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Aaron Hicks. That puts Torii Hunter on the bench. Hunter’s OPS+ has atrophied to 90 and his on-base percentage is in downward free fall. It’s .288 for the season,.206 since the All-Star break and .163 in August. Any idea about Hunter returning for 2016 should be dismissed. There should be no need for him. Buxton is hitting .412 in 12 games at Rochester. Bring him back.

*Think seriously about the choice of Rosario over Arcia in 2016. We like Rosario for all kinds of reasons, some of which are based on him performing better than expected. But there’s a troubling on-base percentage (.301) fueled by 10 walks in 314 plate appearances that needs to improve. Is he the fourth outfielder who can also play the infield in an emergency? I’m up for giving Arcia another shot. At the minimum, I'm up for competition between the two.

*Bring up Jose Berrios. Let him deal with the bumps of being a rookie pitcher right now. I’m not seeing Mike Pelfrey as part of the Twins’ future. Make that switch. Let Pelfrey pitch out of the bullpen, or even let him go.

*Get Trevor May back in the rotation. Nothing good is served right now by keeping him in the bullpen. If you need an alternate closer, put Kevin Jepsen in that role.

*A batting order with Hicks, Brian Dozier and Miguel Sano at the top. This isn’t Joe Mauer bashing. If manager Paul Molitor isn’t going to move Mauer into the No. 2 spot on the regular basis, find him a place in the batting order where he belongs based on performance instead of legacy.

*An acknowledgment from general manager Terry Ryan that the Twins hurt their chances by not working hard to upgrade the bullpen. That’s not an attempt to extract I-told-you-so satisfaction. I want to hear it in tandem with a vow to be better prepared for 2016, whether it’s fixing the bullpen or finding a shortstop or whatever.

If you’re looking for an angry replay of the last couple of games, it’s not going to come from here. Yeah, it was maddening to watch such a colossal combination of failure – everything from Kyle Gibson falling behind in the first inning on Monday through the likely-to-fail bullpen strategy on Tuesday, with poor fielding, bad base-running and shaky managing decisions mixed in.

But everything that happened stemmed from conditions that made failure against the Yankees (and on the previous horrible road trip) more likely.

The Twins must address those conditions.