Tuesday night’s All-Star Game in Cincinnati couldn’t have gone much better if you’re a Minnesota Twins fan.
Brian Dozier was a late-inning replacement at second base, and blasted a solo home run in his only at-bat of the game. His homer actually cost Glen Perkins a save opportunity, but Perkins pitched the ninth, allowing one run, to preserve a victory for the American League.
The Twins are back in action Friday night in Oakland for a three-game series before finishing a brief road trip against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. After that, the Twins have a nine-game home stand against the Yankees, Pirates and Mariners.
The Twins enter the second half of the season at 49-40, 4.5 games behind Kansas City for first place in the American League Central Division. If they can’t catch the Royals, they’re in position to grab one of two Wild Card spots for the playoffs, but that’s a ways down the road.
The last time the Twins were 49-40 at the All-Star break was 1987, when they won a World Series. Here are six reasons the Twins will remain in position for a playoff spot this season.
Brian Dozier Having All-Star Season
It shouldn’t have taken an injury for him to get to the All-Star Game, but Brian Dozier made the most of his trip with a solo home run. He had two walk-off homers before the break and leads the Twins with 19. His average is a modest .256, but he’s got 26 doubles, scored 67 runs, leads the Twins with 50 RBI and has a .513 slugging percentage. Him continuing like he has this season could go a long way towards a playoff run.
Glen Perkins, the Best Closer in Baseball
Glen Perkins has been the best closer in baseball, and it really hasn’t been that close. He’s a perfect 28-for-28 in save opportunities and hasn’t allowed many baserunners. Perkins has a 1.21earned run average in 37.1 innings with 36 strikeouts. If the Twins can get to the ninth with a lead, they have great odds to win.
Miguel Sano Solidifies DH Role
The Twins have lacked a power-hitting designated hitter much of the season, until they called up top prospect Miguel Sano from the minor leagues. In 11 games, he’s hitting .378 with two homers, four doubles and eight RBI. His approach at the plate has been most impressive, taking close pitches for balls and drawing eight walks. A power-hitting DH will give the Twins a great chance to finish strong.
Starting Pitchers Going Deeper
Other than Perkins, the Twins’ bullpen has been a little shaky in recent weeks, so the longer a starting pitcher can go into a game, the better. The Twins’ starting rotation is largely getting through at least six innings in most games. Victories are largely won with good starting pitching, so if that keeps up in the second half, anything is possible with this team.
Molitor Not Afraid To Take Chances
Paul Molitor hasn’t been afraid to take a few chances in his first season as a manager. He tinkers with his lineup daily to give the Twins the best chance to win. He’ll give his pitchers the right situations to get outs, and he’s not afraid to steal runners who wouldn’t normally take bases, especially in hit-and-run situations. He’ll make mistakes along the way, but the players love playing for a manager who isn’t afraid to take a risk.
Mauer Heating Up After Slow Start
Joe Mauer got off to a slow start at the plate this year and bottomed out at around .254. But he’s been on a tear the last month, improving his average to .271 and had been on fire with runners in scoring position. He has six homers, 16 doubles and 42 RBI on the season. If the Twins want to be a playoff team and make a run from there, they’ll need their best hitter to be at his best.
The main question left is will the Twins do anything before the non-waiver trade deadline? The popular theory is that they’ll give up a prospect or two for a power relief pitcher. That remains up in the air, but for now it’s fun for Twins fans to have a competitive team playing meaningful baseball after four straight years of misery and disappointment.