Wetmore: Should we read into stretch of Twins winning one-run games?
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MINNEPOLIS - The Twins reached the quarter pole over the weekend and are in third place in the American League Central despite an outfield that can best be described as patchwork.
The team's .500 record (21-21) through what was supposed to be a difficult stretch of the season is better than some observers expected. Based on the Twins' run production and run prevention, that's about the record they deserve.
Will it continue?
That often is a hairy question to tackle.
Not only would we need to decipher if each individual is overachieving or underachieving based on his true talent, we'd also need to project how often he'll be used the rest of the season.
I think Chris Colabello overachieved in April, for example, but I don't foresee any scenario in which he's getting regular at-bats the rest of the way. I believe Brian Dozier is good at baseball but will he continue to be a top-10 player in all of baseball? I can't say that with as much confidence. Alex Meyer has shown flashes of dominance in the minors and could join the rotation in the second half. Oswaldo Arcia likely will join the Twins as soon as he's eligible to be recalled. These examples illustrate why it's hard to project the rest of the season using 42 games worth of data.
A fairly good indicator of a team's ability is run differential. The Twins have allowed 13 more runs than they've scored, which currently ranks 22nd in baseball. Only Cleveland (-29) has been worse among AL Central teams. For reference, Oakland is running away with in the run differential category at +95, which is 40 runs better than second-place Detroit. The Dodgers (-3), Yankees (-8) and Orioles (-8) each sport a winning record despite a negative run differential. The Twins did, too, until Sunday's loss dropped them to .500.
In their past nine games, they've won 5 one-run games. The Twins are 8-4 in one-run games and 3-3 in extra-inning games. Last season, Minnesota went 24-25 in one-run games and 9-7 in extra-inning games.
Dozier, for one, thinks this Twins team is better suited to win close games than the 2013 Twins.
"We've had a lot of close ballgames. If we were asking this question last year it would be completely different," Dozier said. "We're winning these games rather than tying them up or losing them late in games. It's a whole different squad and good teams win these close games."
The Baltimore Orioles performed remarkably well in close games in 2012 and made it to the playoffs as a result. The O's went 29-9 in one-run games, and 16-2 in extra-inning games.
Is that lucky? Are there discernible skills in play?
The next season, with most of the same pieces, the Orioles went 20-31 in one-run games, 8-7 in extra-inning games, and missed the playoffs. That doesn't fully answer the skill-luck question, but it shows that there can be swings from year-to-year.
Trevor Plouffe downplayed any perceived attitude shift, saying Sunday that the Twins believed they could win close games last year, even if the lost 96 games.
"We felt that way before," Plouffe said. "Whether we couldn't do it - didn't have the horses or whatever - we always had that mindset. The mindset is the same but obviously we're playing a little bit better baseball.
A reporter asked Plouffe if there's a different feeling in the dugout, implying that in previous years the Twins were defeated before a game ended.
"Obviously it feels a little bit different," Plouffe said, adding that it's because the team added "some new guys, new blood."
"We think we have a pretty good team here and we're looking forward to the rest of year."
It's not within the scope of this post to determine if there's a skill to winning close games. (It helps to have a few lights-out relievers, and a stacked bench that can be maneuvered to squeeze a run late in a game.) I'm more interested in posing the question to Twins fans:
Twins fans, do you think it is a different team this year? Mentally tougher, more talented, however you'd like to define it. Let us know what you think.