Thursday, July 12, 2012

Twins second-half headlines to watch

The Twins still have one more day before they kick off the second half of the 2012 season so this gives the players and their fans another day to enjoy a break from the world of baseball.  Now with the addition of the extra Wild Card team in each league, it seems that plenty of teams find themselves in reach of a playoff spot at the All-Star Break. In the American League, every team except the Twins, Royals, and Mariners are within 2.5 games of a playoff spot. The races in the National League are tight as well with three teams in each division being within 4.5 games of each other.

With more than half of the team's games having been played, the Twins sit 11 games out of first place and they are under .500 by 13 games. So what is in store for the second half of the season with the Twins? There has to be something to keep fans entertained during the rest of the summer and the beginning of fall. Some might say that the Twins pitching staff could put it all together and help the rest of the team to come back from one of the biggest deficits in franchise history. While at the same time, others might look at this season as a lost cause and turn their sights to the future of the franchise.

Below there are a few different headlines for fans to watch out for in the second half. Even with the team being out of contention at this point, there are plenty of stories to follow. Here are just a few of those headlines.

Sell, Sell, Sell
At the trade deadline last season, the Twins were close enough to the race that they kept all of their parts and didn't add any additional help. The team stood pat even though they had pending free agents like Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Joe Nathan, and Matt Capps. There was still the lure of gaining draft picks for these players if they signed with other teams via free agency. With three of the above names leaving for greener pastures, the Twins ended up with five picks in the first two rounds of the June draft.

Flash-forward to 2012 and the Twins will have some tougher decisions on hand when it comes to the trade deadline. A new collective bargaining agreement signed in the offseason means that the rules have changed for compensation when free agents leave a team. Like in years past, the Twins would have to offer free agents arbitration to have any shot at getting a draft pick. In order to receive draft pick compensation, the salary the team would have to offer their former player who became a free agent is the average of the top 125 contracts in the baseball. This sits at over $12 million for next offseason.

This means that the Twins could be looking to sell players before the July trade deadline comes and goes. Francisco Liriano, Denard Span, and Matt Capps lead the list of possible trade candidates. But on a team struggling to reach .500, there should be no players that are untouchable. My guess is that Liriano gets dealt and the other big buzz will be around Span but he will stay with the team because they won't be overwhelmed by any of the offers for him. There should be plenty of reasons to sell, sell, sell.

Mauer hunts for 4th batting title
Joe Mauer has won three batting titles so far in his career and he is in the race for a fourth title at the All-Star break this season. He currently sits in fourth place behind Mike Trout (.341), Austin Jackson (.332), and Paul Konerko (.329). All of the players in front of Mauer have never finished in the top five in batting before with Konerko having the highest finish at eighth place in 2010. Trout is in the middle of a tremendous rookie season so it will be interesting to see if he can keep this up. In his other two seasons with the Tigers, Jackson has never finished with an above .300 average. This could give Mauer the chance for a second half comeback in the batting race.

Behind Mauer in the standings are two very good veteran hitters, Adrian Beltre (.326) and Miguel Cabrera (.324). Each of these players will play a critical role on a team looking to make the playoffs in the second half so they will have a lot of pressure situations to face in the coming months. With the Twins essentially being out of the race, Mauer can relax and continue to hit the ball at an amazing clip. In the other seasons that Mauer was able to come out on top for a batting title, he was in the midst of a pennant race with the Twins. Combine all of this information and it should make for a very exciting finish for the AL Batting Crown. 

Gibson makes his way through the minors
One man that was projected to make an impact on the starting rotation as early as last year has just starting pitching in the 2012 season. Kyle Gibson has spent most of the last year recovering from Tommy John surgery and he is inching closer to making a full recovery. He threw his first inning on the mound earlier this week and it was a fairly successful outing. He didn't give up a hit and the only man to get on base was erased by a double play ball. Reports from the Twins front office had Gibson hitting as high as 94 with his fastball and that was probably the only pitch he was using in this start.

During the rest of the season, Gibson will continue to get stretched out as he makes his way through the minor league system for the Twins. In my post on Tuesday, I mentioned the fact that the Twins aren't looking for him to debut at the big league level in 2012 and they would just like to see a healthy player make it through the end of the season. It also sounds like there is a chance that he could pitch in the Arizona Fall League but that decision is still a couple months away. For now, fans can check the box scores of the minor leagues to see if one of the team's top pitching prospects is getting any closer to Target Field.

Plouffe and Diamond: Progression or Regression?
There have been two players to burst onto the scene for the Twins this season after not finding a lot of success at the big league level. Trevor Plouffe and Scott Diamond were two of the most important players to any kind of success the Twins had in the first half of the year. In the last couple of months, Plouffe has been one of the best power hitters in the American League and it has been amazing to see the small adjustments that he made at the plate to impact his swing in a big way. Diamond has turned into the ace of the staff for the Twins after not even being in the rotation at the start of the season.

With plenty of success in the first half of the year, it will be interesting to see what kind of production the Twins can get out of their two rising stars. Will they each continue to progress or will there be some second-half regression? It's hard to imagine Plouffe not having a little regression because he was hitting at a Barry Bonds like level for a few weeks. Even with a low K/9 rate for Diamond, the hope is that he can continue to be consistent and put the Twins in position to win games in the second half. Each of these men have played their way into the long term plans for the Twins and fans should be excited to see what they can do for the rest of the year. 

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