The Minnesota Twins have surprised everyone this season, but as we near June, small sample size makes way for the real deal, and these Twins may be legit.
More than a quarter of a way through the season, we’ve reached the point where the term “small sample size” gets phased out of the conversation and statistics, standings and trends start to actually mean something.
We’ve reached that point and the Minnesota Twins — with a lineup filled with key players ranging somewhere between veteran and ancient — are in contention (The Twins actually rank near the middle of the league in average age, but nearly all their offense, aside from 28-year-old Brian Dozier with an .841 OPS, is coming from players 30 or older.) Through Tuesday’s action, the Twins sit at 27-18, winners of four straight, and only one game behind the Royals for the American League Central lead.
But even though Memorial Day unofficially marks the point where we should be able to get a solid idea whether teams are legit or not, with the Twins it is still anybody’s guess. Paul Molitor’s club had a bad April and a red-hot May and it might be too early to tell if either month is truly indicative of what to expect the rest of the way.
Torii Hunter, the 39-year-old Twins legend who returned to Minnesota this year is off to a hot start, entering the week hitting .281 with seven home runs. But is it safe or fair to assume he can keep that pace up for another four months or more? In addition, catcher Kurt Suzuki’s numbers have been in steady decline since the middle of last season when he made the American League All-Star team.
But on the other hand, the Twins might have a nice pitching rotation coming into form. Phil Hughes has just three wins in nine starts and a 4.50 ERA, but his WHIP south of 1.30 and team-high 38 strikeouts suggest those numbers will improve.
Kyle Gibson has been good all year and is coming off one of his best performances on Sunday, an eight-strikeout win against the White Sox. Meanwhile, Mike Pelfrey and Trevor May have both been good enough to work the back of the rotation.
Then there’s the Ervin Santana factor. Santana was the Twins’ prized free agent pickup and a $55 million investment in beefing up the rotation. But he was suspended 80 games just before the start of the season after a positive test for a performance enhancing drug.
What looked like a devastating blow to start the season can be viewed in a different light as long as the Twins stay in contention until Santana’s return in early July.
Now, the addition of Santana can feel a bit like a mid-season trade for a potential staff ace without giving anything else up, which may free them up to make more deals before the trade deadline.
Another factor has been the schedule. Minnesota went 10-12 in April, but has won nearly 73 percent of its games since.
The Twins have been vexed by the same issue that cost eventual American League pennant winners, the Royals, the division title last season: a terrible record against the Detroit Tigers.
The Twins schedule was front loaded with games versus the Tigers, whom they have beaten just twice in nine tries. But Minnesota doesn’t face the defending AL Central champs again until July, after Santana’s scheduled return and more than enough time to continue to build confidence and climb the standings.
So perhaps we shouldn’t remove the Twins from the small sample size category just yet, but as June approaches it is getting harder and harder not to take Minnesota seriously. Navigating the AL Central may be tough, but so far, so are the Twins.