The Minnesota Twins have 104 games remaining on their schedule this season, and 62 of them are against teams in the American League Central.
None of those teams have a winning record, and they are a combined 35 games under .500.
The Twins lead both Chicago and Cleveland by 11 1/2 games, and while it’s possible that one of those teams could make a run at a wild-card berth, the more likely scenario is that both clubs will be sellers shortly after the All-Star break.
In other words, I see it as a foregone conclusion that the Twins win the AL Central.
The question is, will the club’s front office be satisfied with that achievement, or will they want more? That question wasn’t supposed to arise this season, but the over-achieving Twins have put the franchise’s leadership in a marvelously complicated situation.
After the drab, sleep-inducing performance of last year, most fans would have been thrilled to see the Twins be two or three games above .500 as summer begins. And if the team were playing meaningful games in the last two weeks of the regular season — well, that would have been icing on the cake.
A MAGICAL START
But instead, Twins fans across the Midwest are being treated to something magical — and I’m not just talking about all of the home runs. Seldom in the history of the game has a franchise installed a rookie manager and a handful of free agents, then had everything fall so perfectly into place.
I know Rocco Baldelli is a smart guy, but his players are making him look like a genius.
He puts out a different lineup every day, and almost every day it produces a new hero. For the first time in decades, the Twins are the team that no pitcher wants to face. The batting order offers no respite, and it feels as if every time Minnesota has a chance to put a big number on the scoreboard, that’s exactly what happens.
And oh, has it been fun to watch.
Pitchers can’t groove a first-pitch fastball to the Twins anymore. In one game against Tampa last week, leadoff batter Max Kepler put the first pitch in play three times, and he did that because Baldelli has given his guys the freedom to be aggressive.
He seems to believe that instead of trying to get the opposing starter out of the game in the fifth inning due to a high pitch count, the better approach is to swing early, get multiple looks at him and score as many runs as possible before before the bullpen flamethrowers begin warming up.
It’s ambush-style baseball, and the results speak for themselves. Homer-happy clubs are supposed to strike out a lot, but the Twins are on pace to obliterate the single-season team home run record while having the third-fewest strikeouts in the majors. And they’re not just hitting for power. The team batting average is a majors-leading .275.
ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK
It seems Baldelli and his team have figured out that you can’t get a hit if you don’t put the ball in play, and you can’t strike out if you put the ball in play before you get two strikes.
Attack the pitcher. Force the defense to make plays. Run the bases aggressively. Dictate the action.
Now it’s time for Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to employ the same philosophy with their front-office moves. Attack, don’t wait. The door is indeed open for this team to win a World Series, but the clock is ticking.
Sunday’s game against the Rays was a sobering reminder that Minnesota’s bullpen is not playoff-caliber. While I’d love to see Craig Kimbrel in a Twins uniform, there are a handful of other arms out there that would be significant upgrades.
Teams generally wait until after the All-Star break before making deals, but the Twins have ignored conventional wisdom all year. Given that every contending club is fully aware of the short list of quality relievers with expiring contracts on bad teams, why can’t Minnesota be the first to make a big offer for one of them, rather than waiting for the Yankees and Red Sox to do so, then fighting for the leftovers?
Minnesota, after all, is in the unusual position of being able to offer players who have some record of success in the big leagues. Jake Cave, Ehire Adrianza, or even Williams Astudillo could be packaged with some minor league prospects to make a very attractive offer for a real closer or a solid lefty.
Without another competent southpaw in the bullpen, Taylor Rogers’ arm might fall off in mid-August. Or, at the very least, he won’t have much left when he faces Aaron Judge with the bases loaded in the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium in the ALCS.
Make a deal, guys. You weren’t supposed to be in the mix for a championship for another year or two, but the timeline has changed. You owe it to your team and your fans to go all-in.