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Behind Enemy Lines: Bookending the All-Star Break with Twinkie Town

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Is Donaldson getting traded? Is Nelson Cruz a worthy All-Star?

Minnesota Twins v Kansas City Royals Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

We know, we know. The Minnesota Twins AGAIN? And again again after the All-Star break? How often do we have to play this team? (We also know that you know it’s 19 times a season, it just feels like 700).

At the beginning of the season, I doubt either Twins fans or Tigers fans would have believed that the teams would be where they are in the standings, with the Twins at the bottom of the AL Central and the Tigers in third place on something of a hot streak (7-3 for their last 10) while Cleveland flounders in second (1-9 for their last 10) and the Tigers eye a potential climb into second.

So obviously these next two series against the Twins are important to the Tigers' trajectory for the latter half of the season. We talked to TJ Gorsegner, managing editor of our Twins sister site Twinkie Town, about how the Twins have stumbled this season.

BYB: The season isn’t exactly going according to plan. Heading into the All-Star break, what do you think have been the biggest problems for the Twins in 2021?

TT: Injuries. Injuries. More Injuries. I’ve literally lost track of how many guys we have used in center field this year—it was at least seven. Just about every member of the “opening day” squad has spent time on the IL. The “depth” pitchers like Randy Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer, and Lewis Thorpe have been hurt as well, forcing the Twins to stick with the likes of the recently, finally DFA’d Matt Shoemaker and J.A. Happ a lot longer than Twins fans will have wanted. In addition, Alex Colome has been pretty bad, Hansel Robles has been less-bad, but not great, and none of the other bullpen gambles has really paid off. Basically the Twins went into this season with a solid offense, a strong top-three starters, plus some okay depth there, and a potentially-good-but-a-little-shaky bullpen. Literally, none of those things have borne fruit.

BYB: We’ve heard Donaldson’s name coming up a fair bit in trade talks, do you think he’ll be gone by the trade deadline?

TT: Honestly, probably not. You get 80% of the player for a lot less cost in Eduardo Escobar, and there are others on the market as well who might make sense. A big market team could, in theory, absorb Donaldson’s $20+ million for the next few years, but the cost is only one of the factors limiting his suitors—how many contenders really see themselves needing a third base upgrade? I still believe the Twins see this year as a bump in the road, not a tear-it-down-to-the-studs rebuild, especially with the number of rookies who have been contributing. With that in mind, they are less likely to trade someone with a couple years left. They may want to move the contract for salary reasons—but if they don’t offset that with a huge contract tender to Jose Berrios and/or Byron Buxton, fans will be very upset.

BYB: Who has been a positive surprise for you this season?

TT: Do I have to answer this question? In truth, there are actually several good options. Alex Kirilloff has come up and raked, while providing adequate defense at both first base and the outfield corners—in fact, he has basically relegated Miguel Sano to the short side of a platoon. Kirilloff was our top prospect though, so great things were hoped for. Similarly, Trevor Larnach has also come up and hit well, but he was pretty much our consensus #3 prospect (behind Kirilloff and Royce Lewis.) For that reason, I’m going to go a different direction for “surprise” player, and give it to Bailey Ober. He’s tall, and added a couple ticks to his velocity, getting the fastball up into the low-to-mid nineties. Its a small sample, but for a guy who was roughly the twelfth starter in line at the start of the season, he’s locked himself into the rotation for the time being.

BYB: Facing the Tigers before AND after the All-Star break, what advantages do you think the Twins have, and what disadvantages?

TT: Our advantage is that we are facing the Tigers. The disadvantage is that the Tigers are facing the Twins.

In all seriousness, these two teams know each other extremely well, and always play competitively. I think this will be a couple of the more watchable series for Twins fans. Finally getting some guys healthy will be a big advantage for us. Nelson Cruz has hit well for the last month, after struggling while playing through a wrist injury. Max Kepler seems to have finally found his groove again. Michael Pineda and Kenta Maeda are both back in the rotation.

That being said, the Twins offense hits like garbage any time we get a decent pitching performance, and the Tigers have the pitchers to keep that trend going.

BYB: Nelson Cruz is the team’s sole representative in the ASG, do you think anyone else deserved it more?

TT: Deserved it more? Probably not. Also deserved it, maybe. A lot of Twins fans think reliever Taylor Rogers belonged in the game. Byron Buxton was in the running for a bit—had he been healthy, he would have been a lock, but missing most of the first half means most of us aren’t offended to see him skipped over. Jose Berrios is a second-tier ace, so while he could have been a worthy “every team needs a rep” kind of guy, not putting him in also doesn’t sting too much. Kepler has hit poorly, Andrelton Simmons hasn’t lived up to his reputation, and no one else is even worth drawing a mention.

BYB: Bold predictions for the Twins second half?

TT: They will have a winning record.

Seriously.

Not necessarily for the year overall, but for the second half, I think it's more likely than not. They just have much more talent than their current performance. Getting guys back from injury and keeping them healthy will be the big thing. Did you know the Twins win nearly 70% of the games that Byron Buxton plays? Even if the Twins trade away guys like Simmons, Cruz, Pineda, and possibly even Donaldson, there are rookies and prospects that can help bridge that gap. Trevor Larnach and Alex Kirilloff, as mentioned, are brilliant; but Nick Gordon has been very good, and is a middle-infielder by trade, despite his frequent use in center field. Jose Miranda has also been tearing up the upper majors. Those two guys, plus the continued versatile presence of Luis Arraez could easily cover up for trading away an infielder or two. Bailey Ober and Griffin Jax have already been filling in the rotation, and its now-or-never time for Thorpe and Smeltzer, if either can get healthy. Randy Dobnak has a shiny contract, but also a lot of questions. Each of those guys has something to play for, and reason to stay motivated, even if the team isn’t playoff-bound.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think the Twins go full fire sale. They’ll move a couple assets on expiring contracts for sure. If they trade some big names like Berrios, Maeda, or Donaldson then the entire paragraph above is moot—but I think this is a small retool, and I think a lot of guys will be earning their position on a 2022 squad.


Many thanks to TJ for taking the time to chat with us. If you want to read more of his work, or find out more about the Twins this season, head over to Twinkie Town.