There is still a week until Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trading deadline, so speaking in absolutes about a team’s strengths and weaknesses at this point might be a little foolish and subject to change. That said, we are well past the halfway point in this Twins season, churning toward the 100-game mark next week, so we should at least have an idea of a team’s identity.
Surprisingly — perhaps even shockingly — the identity of a Twins team that is 7 games over .500 and in line (for now) to make the postseason is clear: it’s the starting pitching, and it’s not even really close. While the offense has produced in spurts (often aided by clutch hitting, which usually comes in spurts) and the bullpen has pieced things together at least adequately (thanks primarily to a stellar year from closer Glen Perkins), the starting pitching has been the most consistent thread through this strong 95 games and the thing that has prevented lulls (so far) from becoming tailspins.
Ervin Santana’s masterpiece Thursday was the latest piece of evidence toward this simple truth: if the Twins are going to make the playoffs, it will be on the strength of their greatest recent weakness. They have three guys going right now — Santana, Kyle Gibson and Phil Hughes, the last of which is starting tonight as the Twins come home for a big series against the Yankees — who are more likely than not to pitch well. They have two others — Tommy Milone and Mike Pelfrey — who have pitched above expectations this season. If anyone falters, Trevor May is a capable fallback. And none of this mentions Ricky Nolasco, last year’s spendy free agent.
This is the unit with the most depth and the most ability right now. The offense is 10th in the AL in runs and 12th in OPS. The bullpen is 11th in the league in ERA. The starting pitching? Fourth in the AL in ERA and 10th in MLB in ERA.
The Twins don’t have the bullpen to catch Kansas City or the offense to outslug most teams. But they might have enough starting pitching to not only have their first winning season since 2010 but also squeeze into the postseason. In a season of surprises, the fact that the starting pitching is leading the charge is the biggest one.