The Twins traded Johan Santana this offseason for prospects, and they let all-star centerfielder Torii Hunter sign with the Angels. And for those very good reasons nobody really expected Minnesota to contend in 2008.
But here they are, two months into the season, 2.5 games back of the Chicago White Sox and ahead of both the Indians and the Tigers. So maybe it’s time to concede that this team might be a little better than we thought they were (and that the Indians and Tigers are worse than we thought they were).
That begs the question, what do the Twins need to put them over the top?
First of all, they could use a little pop. Minnesota doesn’t have the fewest home runs in all of baseball. But if not for the Kansas City Royals, they would. Justin Morneau is carrying the Twins’ lineup right now. He’s the only player with more than 6 home runs (10) and more than 29 RBI (42). Joe Mauer has rediscovered his stroke, hitting .328 with a .411 OBP, but he’s not a source of power. You know who really isn’t helping? Delmon Young. He still doesn’t have a home run.
So the Twins could use a guy capable of hitting a few dingers. And I can’t help but think that Jason Bay and his 13 homers would look really good in a Twins uniform (to the extent that anyone can look good in those horrible scarlet, grey and blue rags). Minnesota will open its new stadium next season in 2010 and a lineup that features Bay, Young, Morneau Gomez and Mauer would really put butts in the seats, not to mention runs on the board. Does Minnesota have the prospects to make the Bay deal? I don’t know. But I think it’s worth exploring.
Minnesota’s pitching has been surprisingly decent this year, with a team ERA ranked ninth out of 14 AL teams. But I don’t think that will last. Opponents are batting .285 against Twins pitchers, higher than every team but – guess who? – the Royals. And Twins pitchers have issued more walks than any other team in the AL. (EDIT: Oops, they’ve actually issued the least number of walks.) So it’s a minor miracle that teams haven’t scored more runs. Chalk it up to Minnesota’s pitcher-friendly park, I guess. Fortunately, help is (maybe, hopefully) on the way in the form of Francisco Liriano, who continues to rehab in the minors. Minnesota’s playoff dreams are almost entirely dependent on his ability to return to form.