TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — The Fraternal Twins Of 2022

When our twins, Ashley and Patrick, were born over 30 years ago, my wife and I often got curious looks as our double stroller rolled through the neighborhood. “Are they identical?” some would ask. That is, until they noticed the pink and blue pajamas and were told their names.

This year’s version of the Minnesota Twins would appear to be a fraternal bunch if there ever was one. As the All-Star Break draws near, Minnie and Paul have brought unexpectedly joy and surprise to their fanbase in 2022. But after nearly 90 games, it still seems impossible to predict which personality will emerge.

Consider these strange statistics from a team that has somehow managed to hold a comfortable lead in the American League Central Division:

  • Minnesota has already been shut out 10 times this season, tops in the majors. Yet the Twins have scored at least eight runs an amazing 20 times.
  • The Twins seldom manufacture runs, by bunting or stealing. In fact, their 14 stolen bases is dead last in baseball. They also struggle to throw out the opposition’s baserunners. Still, the team has managed a +50 in runs scored.
  • No starting pitcher has more than six wins. But the Twins have  13 pitchers with at least two wins, a testimonial to their starter depth and faith in the staff.
  • No group has been more polarizing than the Twins’ bullpen. Manager Rocco Baldelli has admitted the team has no real closer. Emilio Pagan has already blown five games and has an ERA of 5.16. Yet he leads the team in saves with nine. Tyler Duffey also blew saves early in the season and looked to be on his way out in May. Now, in July, he appears to be the safest bet and collected the save just a couple of days ago in Texas.
  • Even the team’s two All-Stars this year appear to be polar opposites. Luis Arraez is having an outstanding season and his .348 BA leads the majors. But he only has four home runs and is learning to play a new position at first base. Byron Buxton has blasted 23 homers and is arguably the best defensive outfielder in baseball. He’s also hitting a meager .215, has struck out 80 times and is prone to long slumps at the plate.
  • If attendance is any indication, Twins’ fans appear to be just as uncertain about what to make of this year’s squad. After 42 home games, the Twins are averaging just over 20,000 per game. That’s only 20th best among the 30 MLB franchises. This, despite the fact that the team has climbed from last place in 2021 to first place more than halfway through 2022.

Those encouraged by that improvement point to the emergence of several young hitters: Alex Kiriloff, Jose Miranda, Ryan Jeffers, Trevor Larnach (currently injured) and Nick Gordon. Or the surprising contributions from pitching acquisitions like Sonny Gray, Chris Archer and Dylan Bundy. The signing of a big-name shortstop in Carlos Correa and veterans Gio Urshela and Gary Sanchez obtained in a trade with the Yankees, have re-energized the base. Team defense seems vastly improved, too.

But those bullpen meltdowns by Pagan and Duffey, along with Baldelli’s penchant for pulling starters early, have provided ammunition for the skeptics. When the Twins have been forced to play several games in short stretches, that ‘pen has been exposed. That’s on Derek Falvey and Thad Levine.

So which Twin will be around when fall arrives?

The 48-40 one that trails only the Yankees and the Astros in the standings? Or the one lucky to be leading a weak division and still winless in the last 18 straight playoff games?

For what it’s worth, here’s my take:

In spite of their rollercoaster ride of a season, the ’22 Twins have already accomplished more than expected. It’s a younger, fresher, more likable team than last year’s. There’s also an unmistakable chemistry evident, based on the number of times this group has bounced back from devastating defeats. This team deserves our support.

Conversely, the leap between baseball’s elite and the Twins is still a large one. Reality says if Minnesota is steady enough to win the Central, their stay in the post-season is likely to be a short one. Both New York and Houston have far better pitching staffs and more power and experience in their everyday lineups.

Meanwhile, we all need to enjoy that ride, but keep the heat on management to at least improve this bullpen with a move or two. Now. It’s also fair to remind Rocco to occasionally abandon exit velocity and spin rotation and give his starters a chance to go more than six innings.

After all, whether it’s Ashley and Patrick, or Minnie and Paul, we still love our kids, even if they have us tearing out our hair every now and then.

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