The Twins were 15-36 on May 31, a miserable mark that basically ended any chances they had of competing for a postseason berth. But in the past 57 games, the Twins have shown this is far from a lost season, going 28-29 overall with some breakout individual performances.
There are a ton of bright spots with this team, especially their young lineup, and the stats bear that out. But perhaps the biggest improvement has been from veteran second baseman Brian Dozier, who has returned to playing at an All-Star level.
Dozier hit only .202 with a .294 on-base percentage through May 31 with five homers, 17 RBI and 21 runs scored in 46 games. Since June 1, he has hit .311 with a .375 on-base percentage, 17 home runs, 44 RBI and 42 runs scored in 57 games.
For Twins first baseman Joe Mauer, it’s been a more interesting split. He hit .284 with a .389 on-base percentage through May 31, but he had only 13 extra-base hits in that time with 18 RBI and 18 runs scored, and his slugging percentage was .426.
Mauer struggled mightily through June and July, hitting .236 with a .316 slugging percentage, and he had only eight extra-base hits in 48 games. But that has all changed in the first four games of August, as Mauer has looked like the former MVP he is by going 12-for-18 with three walks, five doubles, one triple and one homer in their series at Cleveland. That’s a .667 batting average and a .714 on-base percentage. It’s also the most hits any player has had in a single series in major league baseball this season.
While Mauer’s season might have seemed like a struggle for him at times, his current .380 on-base percentage is the sixth-best in the American League, a great mark for Mauer and way up from his .338 mark last year.
While Dozier and Mauer have impressed lately, there’s no question the biggest jump in production has come from the Twins’ young players.
Max Kepler played nine games in April, starting two, and hit only .167 with two runs scored and two doubles before he returned to Class AAA Rochester. Coincidentally or not, he was called back up June 1 and the Twins started to show some life. Kepler has played 55 games since then, hitting .269 with 15 homers, 11 doubles, 48 RBI and 36 runs scored.
Eddie Rosario struggled so much early on — hitting only .200 with three homers, nine RBI, 15 runs scored and a .218 on-base percentage through May 18 — that he was sent to the minors. Since he was called back up July 3, Rosario has hit .333 with a .358 on-base percentage, three homers, 14 RBI and 17 runs scored in 23 games.
Miguel Sano, who was the Twins’ breakout prospect last season, hit .235 with a .458 slugging percentage, 11 homers, seven doubles, 27 RBI and 25 runs scored through May 31, then missed all of June because of a leg injury. Since returning on July 1, he has hit .243 with a .429 slugging percentage, with four homers, seven doubles, 15 RBI and 13 runs scored, but he hasn’t approached those rookie-year production numbers from 2015.
As a team the Twins hit .239 through those first 51 games, with 84 doubles, six triples, 52 homers, 181 RBI and 191 runs scored. They were easily one of the worst-hitting teams in the league, averaging 3.7 runs per game. But since then they have been one of the best in the league, hitting .270 over 57 games with 116 doubles, 21 triples, 77 homers, 293 RBI and 307 runs scored, an average of 5.4 runs per game.
The highest-scoring team in baseball this season is the Red Sox at 5.5 runs per game. Even after their atrocious start, the Twins now stand 13th overall at 4.6 runs per game.
The pitching staff has been harder to assess. They were steady early, but the offense was so brutal, the pitching didn’t matter.
The Twins went 7-17 in April despite the pitching staff’s 3.97 ERA. In May and June, the pitchers were truly horrendous with a 5.73 ERA and an 18-36 record over 54 games. But in July and into August, they have shown signs of recovering, going 18-12 with a 4.14 ERA.
Before the season started, the consensus was that the Twins pitching staff wouldn’t be great but that the team would have enough offense to get into contention. It took about two months for the offense to start hitting in any meaningful way, and when they did the pitching staff was in a deep rut.
Finally over the past few months, the two have started to click together and the team has played up to its potential. An explosive offense has paired with a pitching staff that has been just good enough to get some victories.
The final 54 games of the season will be of huge importance for the team and the front office. If the Twins show they are a competitive club that can win next season, it will really help their chances at hiring a top-end general manager and will also give their season ticket-holders a reason to consider renewing for next year.
• My sympathy to Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, whose father, Joseph, a Holocaust survivor, died Wednesday after a long illness. I’m privileged to visit the Wilfs in their owners box during halftime of Vikings home games, and as a result, I got to know their father. Without his backing, they never would have bought the Vikings. He was a great man and a Vikings fan who knew a lot about football.
• Tod Leiweke has been a top sports executive, including being the Wild’s first president. He left the Wild in 2003 to be the CEO of the Seattle Mariners. The next move was in 2010, when he became CEO of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning. He must have produced every place he went, because Leiweke is now the chief operating officer of the NFL, second only to Commissioner Roger Goodell. For all the good work Leiweke has done, he will be inducted into the National Football Foundation’s Leadership Hall of Fame in Tampa on Jan. 5, kicking off the College Football Playoff National Championship weekend.
• Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards on how much more comfortable 2015 first-round draft choice Trae Waynes is in the defense this year. “A lot more, you can’t even put a grade on it,” he said. “Now, he’s not having to think and he’s not having to think about alignments or assignments as much. You look at him coming in, it was sort of different than what he did in college. All of a sudden he’s asked to play a little more zone and make different adjustments, rather than just lining up and playing man-to-man. Now, he doesn’t have to think about those things quite as much. He can line up and play and concentrate on the technique and the fundamental of each call as we go through it.”
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org