The KC Royals lead the American League Central Division with a 29-18 record. However, the Minnesota Twins sit only a 1/2 game behind the Kansas City Royals at 29-19. Are the upstart Twins for real? Or will they fall back to the pack?
No one expected the Minnesota Twins to contend for the division title before the season began. Grantland projected the Twins at 75 wins. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA system predicted 70-92. Steamer put the Twins at 76 wins.
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While three wins do not seem like a huge discrepancy, consider that the Twins have played 48 games. That’s about 30 percent of the season. Extrapolate Minnesota’s performance over an entire year, and the Twins are playing 10 games over their heads.
That’s not the only thing that’s odd. The Twins rank 10th in major-league baseball with 219 runs scored, while their On Base Percentage (OBP) ranks 22nd, and their slugging percentage ranks 18th. In short Minnesota is scoring more runs than you’d expect.
To put these numbers in perspective, the KC Royals have scored 223 runs supported by a .282/.331/.426 triple slash with a team OPS of .757. The Twins have scored four fewer runs with a .257/.310/.389 slash line for an OPS of .699.
Apparently Minnesota is doing a much better job of bunching hits than the KC Royals.
Grantland’s Michael Bauman asserts:
"So Minnesota’s winning percentage is flukily good compared to its run differential, and that run differential is fluky compared to the team OBP and slugging percentage. Frankly, unless Molitor’s [Twins manager Paul Molitor] pulled off some sort of weird run-clustering voodoo that isn’t readily apparent from the outside, one of those things is going to have to give, and in most cases, the thing that gives winds up being the winning percentage."
On an individual basis, starting pitchers Mike Pelfrey and Kyle Gibson are performing out-of-their minds. Pelfrey is 4-1 with a 2.77 ERA, while Gibson is 2-3 with a 2.61 ERA. Calling these numbers unexpected would be a bit of an understatement. The 31-year-old Pelfrey has a career 4.47 ERA, while the 27-year-old Gibson’s career ERA is 4.43.
That can’t last. Or, well, KC Royals fans would like to think that Pelfrey and Gibson are due to turn into pumpkins.
Even so, the Minnesota Twins believe they are in the race to stay. Twins second baseman Brian Dozier told Fox Sports writer Tyler Mason:
"“We know what kind of team we have. We stressed that early in the year. Obviously nobody’s going to be on board with us, and I get it. That’s always a good thing,” Dozier said. “You don’t play the game on paper. That’s what I hate about it — everybody tries to. Before the game, nobody knows what we have in this clubhouse, the camaraderie, everything. It’s showing right now. Everything’s kind of clicking, so that’s fun to watch.”"
I guess KC Royals fans need to hope that sabermetric predictions prove more reliable than the intangibles that Dozier mentions. Yet, every day Minnesota stays within striking distance of the KC Royals and Detroit Tigers, you have to begin to believe in them a little more.