After starting out an abysmal 17-37, the Twins have gone 24-11 to climb back into the central division race at the All-Star Break. The team cut a 16.5 game deficit on June 1 into a 6.5 game deficit at the break, so it's certainly within the realm of possibilities that the Twins will continue to play great baseball for the second half of the season and overtake the Tigers and Indians in the division.
However, even with the recent surge, the team is still 41-48, and with the Tigers on pace to win 87 games, the Twins will need to go 47-26 in the second half to beat that pace. Basically, if they continue to play like they have since June 1, they have a shot. If they cool down somewhat, chances are they won't be playing in October again this season.
So why has the team struggled for the first half of the season? Injuries have played a major part, but poor roster moves this off-season also hurt. Here's an offensive position by position breakdown of the Twins first half:
Players Used: Joe Mauer, Drew Butera, Rene Rivera, Steve Holm
Offensive Line: .195/.245/.270
Average Offensive Line for the AL: .235/.305/.377
As bad as the offensive line looks for the average American League catcher this season (.235/.305/.377) the Twins have managed to get 30% less production than that putrid line. The team has used four different catchers already this season, which is unfortunate because they went into the season with one major league caliber catcher. Mauer has caught in just 24 of the team's first 89 games, which helps explain the offensive struggles.
Second Half Expectations: .330/.420/.450
I fully expect Mauer to play the majority of the games behind the plate, and I think he's going to have a great second half. Something like .350/.440/.510 isn't out of the question for him.
Players Used: Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Luke Hughes, Mauer
Offensive Line: .279/.339/.433
Average Offensive Line for the AL: .269/.342/.450
Justin Morneau's offensive struggles and injury issues threatened to make this a very weak position for the Twins, but Michael Cuddyer and Luke Hughes have filled in admirably. Despite their best efforts, though, they've still been about 5% below the league average, posting an OPS of .742 compared to the AL average of .792 for first basemen.
Second Half Expectations: .285/.350/.450
Cuddyer is likely going to get the majority of the starts at first base during the second half, at least until Morneau is finally healthy. That's not the end of the world, mainly because Cuddyer is playing well this year after struggling last year, but a healthy Morneau is a better option. If Morneau does indeed return in August as expected* the numbers could certainly surpass my expectations.
*Expected is the wrong word. Morneau has missed 142 of his last 278 games, with at least three major injuries. If anything, all that's expected of Morneau is an injury at this point. Hopefully he can get healthy and become a force again.
Players Used: Alexi Casilla, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Cuddyer, Hughes, Matt Tolbert
Offensive Line: .213/.267/.309
Average Offensive Line for the AL: .254/.317/.382
It's getting relatively easy to understand why the team was 17-37 at one point; so far all three positions we've looked at have been below average. The Twins second baseman have been amazingly more than 20% worse than the league average offensively, which would look atrocious if, as mentioned above, the team's catching production wasn't even worse.
Second Half Expectations: .250/.320/.360
As bad as the production has been from second base, there's almost no way the offensive production will continue to be this bad, regardless of who gets the majority of the starts. It likely will be Alexi Casilla, whose career .251/.309/.334 line is slightly worse than my expectations, but the line needs to average out over a full season.
Players Used: Nishioka, Casilla, Trevor Plouffe, Tolbert
Offensive Line: .233/.302/.334
Average Offensive Line for the AL: .264/.320/.386
Once again, the team's production falls below average. The Twins offensive production from shortstop has been just over 10% worse than that of the rest of the league, and the defensive struggles may actually be worse. Nishioka's arm strength is suspect and he still struggles turning a double play, even from shortstop. Casilla will make a dazzling play one inning and then miss a routine one the next, while Plouffe's throwing issues have forced the Twins to give him a look as an outfielder as well.
Second Half Expectations: .265/.320/.360
Basically, expect the same production from shortstop and second base, and chances are it will be below average during the second half as well. Oh, and by the way, JJ Hardy is hitting .278/.338/.498 with 13 home runs at the break. We'll take a look at Jim Hoey, the player acquired for Hardy, when we get to the bullpen.
Players Used: Danny Valencia, Hughes, Tolbert
Offensive Line: .241/.294/.383
Average Offensive Line for the AL: .240/.309/.383
There's no doubting Danny Valencia struggled for most of the first half. However, when compared to the rest of the AL's third baseman, the Twins production wasn't as bad as advertised. Like every other position to this point, the Twins production was below average, although the difference here is so minimal it's probably more correct to say the Twins third base production has been average.
Second Half Expectations: .270/.340/.410
Valencia will get almost every start at third base barring injury, and he's been tearing the cover off the ball lately. He's hitting .368 in July and his numbers have to improve in the second half, so look for above average production from Valencia over the second half of the season as the Twins make their playoff push as always.
Players Used: Delmon Young, Jason Kubel, Ben Revere, Jason Repko, Rene Tosoni, Brian Dinkelman
Offensive Line: .251/.291/.316
Average Offensive Line for the AL: .246/.306/.374
The Twins have used seven different players in left field this season, so it's no surprise that production from left field has been almost non-existent. The team's hodgepodge of left fielders has produced at a level about 10% below average, and if not for a surprisingly weak offensive first half from American League left fielders, the production could have been much worse.
Second Half Expectations: .300/.390/.480
A .300/.390/.480 second half would be a monstrous half season, but considering how poorly the players have hit to this point and the fact that Young and Kubel have at least major league track records means an offensive explosion from Young and/or Kubel in the second half can't be discounted yet.
Players Used: Denard Span, Revere, Repko
Offensive Line: .299/.353/.372
Average Offensive Line for the AL: .263/.321/.411
Before Denard Span got hurt, he was hitting .294/.361/.385, which would have placed him very slightly above average. Not to buck the trend, the Twins overall production from center field in the first half was also below average. Much like third base, the production is so close to league average that this kind of a season would be deemed league average.
Second Half Expectations: .300/.360/.400
Span should return soon and add a little more pop to the lineup than the powerless but effective Ben Revere, so I fully expect the slugging percentage to improve enough to put the Twins above average among center field production for the full season. Revere likely will play a major role in the team's possible playoff run, I just expect it to be as a corner outfielder more than a center fielder once Span returns.
Players Used: Cuddyer, Kubel, Revere, Repko, Tosoni, Plouffe, Dinkelman
Offensive Line: .306/.370/.450
Average Offensive Line for the AL: .266/.339/.427
Well would you look at that. Right field is the only offensive position that the Twins got better than league average production from over the first half of the season. (The DH spot, which isn't worthy enough of it's own review, posted a .640 OPS for the Twins, compared to a .750 AL average)
The Twins have gotten less than 10% more production from their right fielders than the average AL team, but it's still above average and on a team that has eight of nine positions performing below average, 6% above the average is looking pretty good.
Second half expectations: .280/.350/.450
This will likely be a mix of several different players, so it's difficult to have expectations. Ben Revere, Cuddyer, Kubel and others will all likely play right field over the second half of the season, so hopefully the production can outperform what I expect and help carry the offense again if necessary.