Twins

20 Games In: A Minnesota Twins Progress Report

Photo credit: Jesse Johnson (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Twins have played over a third of the season and earned a spot atop the NL Central. Here is how individual players are doing when it comes to pitching and hitting:

Pitching

In the offseason, the Twins focused on improving their pitching, adding Kenta Maeda, Tyler Clippard, and Rich Hill. They also had a long line of pitching prospects who were looking to cement a spot on the 40-man roster, notably Devin Smeltzer, Randy Dobnak, and Lewis Thorpe.

With 23 games played in a 60-game season, here are how things are going:

Exceeding expectations: Randy Dobnak and Kenta Maeda

Dobnak edged his way into the last starting spot in the rotation and has been solid so far this season for the Twins. In fact, since his last call up in August of last year he has been nothing but amazing. This season he has started five games giving him a 4-1 record with a 1.42 ERA.

The once-great Uber driver has confidence on the mound and has been commanding his off-speed pitches, tallying 12 strikeouts on his slider, according to Baseball Savant.

Dobnak got the chance to start a game in his hometown of Pittsburgh earlier this month and pitched six scoreless innings.

With a shortened season players need to step up to win games, and Dobnak is leading the way with his outstanding pitching performances.

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When the Twins traded 21 year old Brusdar Graterol and his 100 MPH fastball to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Maeda, I was not thrilled. Graterol was a fantastic prospect who could be a reliable reliever one day, and I thought that it wasn’t worth it even if we wanted to “win now.” But boy was I wrong.

Maeda has been one of Minnesota’s strongest starting pitchers and would be their go-to guy if not for Dobnak. With a 3-0 record this season Maeda has been tearing through opponents and pitching late into games.

Maeda was the first Twins starting pitcher to appear in the sixth inning as well as the seventh. Pair that with 21 strikeouts and a 2.66 ERA, and you have a pitcher that could be the No. 1 option on half the teams in Major League Baseball.

Meeting expectations: Sergio Romo 

Romo has been a stud reliever ever since Minnesota acquired him at the trade deadline last summer. So far this season Romo has continued to show that some pitchers age well.

With three saves, 12 strikeouts, and a 2.25 ERA in eight innings, Romo has been appearing late in games — including in the ninth inning — and has continued to show that he is a strong closer the Twins can depend on. With Taylor Rogers having blown a few games recently, Romo is a proven closer who can take some of the weight off his shoulders.

Room for improvement: Devin Smeltzer and Jose Berrios

Before the season started Smeltzer was being discussed as a possible starter in the Twins rotation, but he’s had a slow start to the season. He has struggled to pitch quality innings and has made one start and four appearances. Batters are hitting an average of .289 against him, and Smeltzer has given up eight earned runs in 11.2 innings.

He has 12 strikeouts, but with an ERA of 6.17, there is room for improvement.

Numbers are not everything, but in a small sample size Smeltzer has struggled. Hopefully the more time he sees on the mound, the more comfortable he becomes.

***

It’s not news that Berrios has not been himself this season. With a 1-3 record, the Twins homegrown ace has not been at his best. With a 5.92 ERA, Berrios has been hittable this season, and it is costing him wins.

Although he leads the team with 24 strikeouts, he also is leading the team with 13 walks. Berrios has been working to improve the velocity of his fastball, but he has struggled with it. So far this season batters are hitting .414 against him when he uses his four-seamer, according to Baseball Savant.

Berrios has been a high-upside pitcher the Twins have depended on for the past few seasons. Hopefully, he can get out of his slump before the short season is over.

Hitting

The Twins lineup has seen its ups and downs when it comes to hitting. But for the most part, it has only been up. With the addition of Josh Donaldson and the return of the most prolific home run hitting team in baseball, there doesn’t seem like there should be much to worry about.

Exceeding expectations: Nelson Cruz 

Romo is not the only veteran who is aging well.

It’s no surprise which hitter is exceeding expectations for the Twins: Cruz let the league know that he is nowhere near being done with his career. The Boomstick has continued to live up to his nickname this season. He has a team-high .346 batting average with eight home runs and 23 RBIs. He is slugging .695 and has not slowed down from last season.

It is amazing to think that around this time last year Minnesota was worried that they were going to lose Cruz to a potentially season-ending wrist injury. But after discovering that he could play through a ruptured tendon, he has continued to terrorize pitchers across the league.

With Cruz playing his best baseball, the pressure is on younger players to step up and perform on the same level as the 40-year-old veteran.

Meeting expectations: Max Kepler 

My brother was once told me that he is better looking than Kepler. I don’t see it personally. What I do see is Max Kepler continuing to show that he is one of the Twins’ best hitters.

So far this season he has continued to show some of the best plate discipline on the team while also delivering clutch hits. He currently leads the team with 11 walks and has 15 RBIs and a .231 batting average.

Kepler is in his fifth full season with the Twins and has shown through 23 games that he is one of Minnesota’s best hitters.

Room for improvement: Miguel Sano 

Sano has struggled out of the gate so far this season. Minnesota’s young power hitter has not looked like himself in the box despite having four home runs that carried well over 400 feet.

In 19 games this season Sano currently has a .148 batting average with a team-leading 33 strikeouts. Sano started the season coming off the Twins IL and missed some of the Twins’ first practices after a positive test for COVID-19.

Struggling at the plate is not something that is new to Sano, he has gone through slumps in the past while dealing with injuries. But if he can remain healthy and begin to crank out homers like the career-high 34 he hit last year, the Twins will have a solid hitting infield when Josh Donaldson is healthy and back to normal.

With a shortened season the Twins can’t be caught lacking in any area of play. With a good mix of veterans stepping up and younger players beginning to shine, Minnesota will have all the right pieces in place to compete for the World Series.

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