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July 02, 2017

For an upstart Twins team that still holds dreams of postseason glory, the Indians finally starting to play the way everyone expected after last year’s World Series run is only part of the problem. Minnesota ranks dead last in the American League in offense over the past two weeks, a disturbing trend that could quickly erase the team’s surprising first half if it persists.

The biggest concern is that the team’s biggest first-half star starting to regress. When Mike Trout went down with an injury, Miguel Sano looked like the second-best bet in the AL (behind Aaron Judge) to vie for MVP honors this season—that’s how blazing hot his first few weeks were. Trout hit the disabled list on May 29, and Sano wrapped that day’s action hitting a scorching .292/.406/.590. Still, you had to figure that might not be sustainable. During that same span, Sano struck out an outrageous 73 times in 161 at-bats. Sure enough, that regression has now hit: Sano’s hitting just .152 in the past two weeks. Once he stopped hitting one of every three flyballs over the fence, the holes in his swing caught up to him.

Sano wouldn’t need to be a perfect hitter if he had murderers’ row backing him up. He doesn’t. Jorge Polanco’s one of the worst hitters in the league. Jason Castro’s a master pitch framer but also a light hitter. Byron Buxton’s a whiz in the field and a demon in the basepaths, but his bat belongs in the minors. The air came out of Max Kepler’s tires after a torrid start. Joe Mauer still gets on base, but he also has less power than any other first baseman in the league.

Of course, none of this would be this big a deal if the Twins hadn’t gotten off to a hot start, and the rest of the AL Central hadn’t played so poorly. Surprise contention raises expectations, and then magnifies a team’s faults. Sano is still a terrific power hitter, even if he’s also a strikeout machine. Jose Berrios looks like a potential front-line starter. Other young Twins have shown flashes of excellence.

Change the mindset to “legitimate contender in 2018 and beyond,” and the little setbacks don’t look so back—and the future starts to look awfully bright.

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