There are too many reasons to list when it comes to identifying why the 2015 Twins have made such a dramatic improvement from the past four lost seasons.The short list includes clutch hitting, timely work from the bullpen, some well-pushed buttons by manager Paul Molitor and improved starting pitching.
And when it comes to determining which one person is most responsible for the turnaround, there are a good number of candidates as well. Closer Glen Perkins has been lights-out, while set-up man Blaine Boyer has been a force. Brian Dozier is scoring runs and hitting for power at an elite rate. Trevor Plouffe has become a legitimate middle of the order threat, while both he and Dozier have generally supplied superb defense. Starting pitchers Mike Pelfrey and Kyle Gibson have been outstanding, ranking in the top 10 in the AL in ERA.
Most of those players are holdovers, though, from previous years. And while each has elevated his play and contributed to the Twins’ impressive first third of the season, the team MVP should be fairly clear: it’s Torii Hunter, the soon-to-be 40-year-old (he hits that milestone on July 18) whose offseason faith in signing with the Twins (and vice-versa) is being rewarded in ways few could have predicted or even imagined.
Whereas so many of the Twins’ attempts at nostalgia have failed — most notably and recently the flirtation with Jason Bartlett and Jason Kubel last season — Hunter has been a revelation. He leads the team with 35 RBI and has been outstanding in the clutch. He gives the batting order a sorely needed dimension as someone who takes good at-bats in key situations. He clubbed a three-run home run Thursday to bring the Twins back to life in a game they trailed 4-0, and his ninth-inning single was part of the winning burst that fueled an improbable 8-4 victory.
Intangibles are nearly impossible to measure and often laced with cliches, but Hunter’s clubhouse presence and personality are real things. Being confident and relaxed are behaviors that fuel strong performances, and Hunter has contributed to that mood in ways that are evident but might not ever be fully understood.
But we don’t need to know all of the “why” to know the “what.” Hunter is the team MVP so far, one of those rare signings that — at least to date — has worked out exactly as both the player and his team envisioned.