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Three reasons the Minnesota Twins will win the AL Central

Wed, Aug 10, 2022
MLB News (AP)

Three reasons the Minnesota Twins will win the AL Central
By Pedro Moura
AP Sports MLB Writer

Somehow, the Minnesota Twins entered Wednesday in a tie for first place in the American League Central. But by no means has this been a smooth season for them.'

Their pitching coach chose to leave at midseason. Their prized offseason acquisition, Carlos Correa, hasn't exactly starred. The starting pitcher they acquired just after Correa, Chris Paddack, soon required Tommy John surgery. Their former No. 1 overall pick, Royce Lewis, tore his ACL for the second time weeks after finally making it to the majors. Their biggest incumbent bat, Miguel Sano, also tore his knee.

But with just under two months remaining, no team is a better bet to win their division than the Twins. Here are three reasons they are the AL Central favorites.

1. Their offense is deep.

The Twins' preferred every-day lineup includes eight players producing comfortably above-average offensive seasons, though many of them entered 2022 without sufficient experience. The one weak spot is catcher, where neither the currently injured Ryan Jeffers nor Gary Sanchez has found his form. Even there, though, both players have been roughly league average at their position.

There are a few reasons behind this success. In the offseason, the Twins poached hitting coach David Popkins from the Dodgers, where he had quickly made a name for himself, first as a player-coach and then as a coach. He is only 32, and this is his first season working with major-league hitters, but he comes from the same once-outsider coaching tree as the Dodgers' Robert Van Scoyoc and Craig Wallenbrock.

In Los Angeles, Van Scoyoc quickly became known for aiding the success of several young players. Similarly, in Minneapolis, staffers describe Popkins' impact as immediate. Nick Gordon and Jose Miranda, one-time prospects who had lost their sheen, are prospering under the young coach's tutelage.

Infielder Luis Arraez has also emerged as a uniquely skilled contact hitter. It doesn't hurt, either, that Byron Buxton has already accrued the second-most plate appearances of his career - in his eighth season. Buxton, 28, has fallen off from the level of his hot start, but because of his elite defense and prodigious power, having him on the field in any form is a boon. He is hitting barely .220 with an on-base percentage hovering around .300, but he has still hit 40% better than average.

2. They made big pitching additions at the deadline.

Few teams moved in as many chips ahead of this month's deadline. The Twins parted with significant prospects to acquire right-handed starter Tyler Mahle and relievers Michael Fulmer and Jorge Lopez. Their moves don't compare to the splashiness or aggressiveness of San Diego's, but they do represent a sizable bet on the talent already assembled at the expense of the distant future.

"They're putting the right product on the field for us to have a better chance at winning," Correa told AP Sports. "It's worked so far. That series against the Blue Jays where we split, I think without the bullpen help that we added at the deadline, it would've been a little tougher to hold that offense for three innings like we did."

Correa was referring to a 10-inning victory the Twins recorded over Toronto on August 5. Mahle started and finished six innings. From there, manager Rocco Baldelli was able to turn to his two most reliable relievers from the first half earlier than he would have otherwise. Lopez then blew a one-run save chance in the ninth, but Fulmer fired a scoreless 10th, and the Twins quickly converted the victory.

Correa said he arrived in Minnesota confident the Twins would make such additions - because executives Thad Levine and Derek Falvey assured him they would.

"I wanted to make sure I was going to go to a team that wanted to make a statement," he said.

This season hasn't been a statement, exactly, but it retains the potential to become one. And it already represents a significant rebound from Minnesota's disappointing 2021.

3. The competition is light.

Entering Tuesday, the AL Central's top three teams - all within three games of one another - had all won exactly five of their previous 10 games. For good measure, the fourth-place Kansas City Royals had done the same. That's the 2022 AL Central for you: middling.

The White Sox have the talent required to surmount this division, but their talent has not played to expectations. It helps the Twins, too, that just as the White Sox were finally getting healthy, they lost Tim Anderson to what could amount to a season-ending injury. Neither the Guardians nor the White Sox added significant talent at the trade deadline, either.

It was smart, then, for the 2022 Twins to take a swing at a division title. Correa could opt out in a few months.'

But they could make a statement before then.

Pedro Moura is the national baseball writer for AP Sports. He previously covered the Dodgers for three seasons for The Athletic and, before that, the Angels and Dodgers for five seasons for the Orange County Register and L.A. Times. More previously, he covered his alma mater, USC, for ESPNLosAngeles.com. The son of Brazilian immigrants, he grew up in the Southern California suburbs. His first book, "How to Beat a Broken Game," came out this spring. Follow him on Twitter @pedromoura.

Article Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved.
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