Welcome to the Wednesday edition of The Cooler, where all I want to talk about is the Twins. Let’s get to it:
“Are the Twins for real?” is a question that you have probably asked or tried to answer in the midst of this 22-12 start to the season.
My stock answer is still that the lineup absolutely is for real, even if some of the numbers aren’t sustainable. And if the pitching continues to trend at a better-than-expected pace, this whole thing is very much real.
To get a better handle on this pinch-me first 34 games, let’s take a look at five mind-boggling numbers that have shaped the early part of the season for the Twins:
1) Minnesota started the season as a considerable underdog to win the AL Central. The Twins’ hot start combined with Cleveland’s vulnerability and the mediocrity (or worse) of the rest of the division have changed those odds considerably. In fact, most places you look the Twins are now the favorites to take the division title.
FanGraphs lists the Twins with a 53 percent chance to win the division (and an 80 percent chance to make the playoffs as either a division winner or wild card). They have Minnesota projected to win 92 games and Cleveland projected to win 91. That’s tight, but it’s still an edge.
Similarly, Baseball Prospectus gives the Twins a 55 percent chance of winning the division, while FiveThirtyEight has them at 58 percent.
As Aaron Gleeman from Baseball Prospectus notes, this is quite a change from just a short time ago.
2) Jose Berrios, Martin Perez and Jake Odorizzi have made a combined 14 starts since April 14. They are a combined 13-0 (with one no-decision from Perez) in that span while allowing just 19 earned runs in 90 innings pitched (1.90 ERA).
Berrios has been somewhere between very good and great for the entire season and had a track record suggesting he was due for this sort of start to the season. Odorizzi and Perez are pitching above expectations, to say the least, and it is fueling the Twins.
3) The Twins lead the majors in slugging percentage (.487). It goes without saying, but these are not your small-ball, move the runner over Twins. They are on pace to hit 286 home runs, which would obliterate the team record of 225 homers set in 1963.
A big part of that is production from Twins catchers. Mitch Garver, Jason Castro and Willians Astudillo have hit a combined 12 home runs and have an OPS of 1.147.
4) Another big part of the Twins’ increase in slugging and power: They are being more aggressive at the plate, particularly in attacking first pitches.
Twins hitters put the ball in play on the first pitch of an at-bat 585 times last season, an average of 3.6 per game. This year, that number has jumped to almost 5 times per game, and a pace for 795 first pitches put in play.
And they’re doing damage on those pitches. Per Baseball Reference, the Twins had a .301 average and .500 slugging percentage last season when putting the first pitch of an at-bat in play. This season, they’re hitting .327 with a .636 slugging percentage.
5) And finally, despite all this, the Twins rank No. 23 in MLB attendance with less than 17,000 fans per game showing up at Target Field. That said, TV ratings are reportedly way up on FSN and the gate should get a big boost with a combination of better weather on the home stand starting Friday and the Twins’ well-timed $5 ticket offer for May games.
There’s plenty of buzz about the Twins. Now we’ll have to see if it’s sustainable and whether it translates into significantly bigger crowds.