While the Minnesota Twins may not be spending the second half of the season chasing after a playoff spot like they would have hoped — FanGraphs gives them less than a one percent chance of making the postseason — there’s still plenty to watch in the back half of the season.
Trade chatter will dominate the rest of the month as the Twins have plenty of valuable trade chips they could decide to deal. The aftermath of the trade deadline will also provide storylines and sidebars to watch throughout the next few months as younger players get opportunities and step into larger roles.
The season resumes Friday with a double-header in Detroit, the start of a four-game series against the Tigers. Here are five things to watch as the Twins play out the season and look ahead to 2022 and beyond:
For the next couple of weeks, the Twins could be one of the most intriguing teams in Major League Baseball as they navigate their way to the July 30 trade deadline.
The Twins have plenty of interesting pieces that could help a contending team. That number grows if they’re willing to part with players who are under contract for more than just the rest of this season.
Players on expiring contracts such as Nelson Cruz and Andrelton Simmons, Michael Pineda or Hansel Robles, represent the most likely to go. But if the Twins wind up dealing players such as Taylor Rogers, José Berríos or Josh Donaldson, things get really interesting.
Due to injury and underperformance, the Twins have had plenty of at-bats and innings to dole out to rookies in the first half. That group should have an even bigger opportunity after the trade deadline, giving the Twins ample time to assess how each piece fits into future plans moving forward.
That group includes Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, Bailey Ober and others currently at the major league level, but could also include prospects like pitcher Josh Winder and infielder Jose Miranda who have recently reached Triple-A, or even Brett Rooker, the Saints outfielder who leads the International League with 18 home runs.
While Berríos was not chosen for the American League all-star team this month, the Twins’ No. 1 starter turned in one of the best first halves of his career, going 7-3 with a 3.48 earned-run average.
Can he keep it up? The right-hander has notoriously been better during the first half of the season each year. His career earned-run average by month jumps from 2.98 in June to 4.07 in July to 5.57 in August.
During a rocky stretch of the 2019 season, the Twins and Berríos made changes to his pre- and post-game routines in an attempt to keep him fresh throughout the season. They’ve yet to see how those changes will play out over the course of a full season, though, as last year’s was a COVID-shortened 60 games.
It remains to be seen when Byron Buxton will return from the boxer’s fracture in his left hand that he suffered in June. But when he does, Buxton will bring a spark to the lineup and provide a reason to keep watching a team far from playoff contention.
Before his injury, Buxton was hitting .369 with a 4.09 on-base percentage and .767 slugging percentage. His blistering pace in April earned him American League Player of the Month honors, and after missing six weeks to heal a hip strain, he appeared to have picked up where he had left off for three days in June before suffering the fracture.
While the season might be lost, there should still be time to enjoy Buxton’s many talents.
There is likely less time to enjoy Cruz’s talents (and personality), so savor watching the 41-year-old designated hitter in a Twins uniform while you still can. You’ll miss him: He leads the Twins with 18 home runs and 46 RBIs.
It’s not every day you see a slugger wearing a plush bathrobe in the dugout, or cheering loudly for himself during pregame introductions and then going out and blasting mammoth home runs.
The fun-loving, age-defying all-star has given the Twins everything they could have asked for and more over the past few seasons, and things in the clubhouse would certainly be different without him. But as a veteran on an expiring contract with plenty of pop remaining in his bat, Cruz should draw interest from contending AL teams looking for a top-of-the-line DH.