Just when I think I'm out, they reel me back in.
Okay. That's probably overstated. While the Twins looked very good today in ending a five-game losing streak, I doubt too many fans got too excited over salvaging the final game of an important four-game home series. Unless the Twins go on a serious hot streak to end the season, I imagine most of us will look at Saturday's doubleheader sweep by the Angels as when we realized that getting into the postseason probably wasn't in the cards this year. The Twins did get back to a tie with the Angels in the standings, but they're still 2 1/2 games back of the Astros with only 13 games left in the season. If the Astros go 6-6, the Twins will have to finish 9-4 just to tie them.
But fans should be excited. Not so much for this season but for the seasons ahead. It should be readily apparent that this team is much better than it was at the beginning of the season.
And I'm not just talking about Miguel Sano. Certainly he's probably the biggest reason. The Twins haven't had a power hitter so feared at least since Justin Morneau took a knee to the helmet in Toronto. And maybe not since Harmon Killebrew left for one sad season in Kansas City. Sano and the Killer certainly have the most similar of skillsets in huge power, great patience and the ability to thrill fans even with one of their numerous strikeouts. Sano showed the power on Saturday with a monster game-tying home run in the 7th inning. On Sunday, he showed his great eye at the plate with two more walks, plus he added a single.
Twins fans expected Sano to burst onto the scene sometime this season, but it is doubtful anyone could see Sano being so good, so fast. Fans also were expecting to see the rotation ace and a great all-around centerfielder and leadoff hitter to emerge from the minors as well. They just didn't expect it to be Tyler Duffey and Aaron Hicks.
Duffey has pretty much come out of nowhere to clearly be the Twins' best starting pitcher at this point. He leads the Twins starters in ERA and xFIP and his K rate of over 8 is the best the Twins have seen since Francisco Liriano was traded to the White Sox. Duffey may not be a "true ace," but if the Twins have 5 Duffeys, they would be tied with the Yankees for second-best xFIP for starters in the AL.
What's made his emergence even more exciting is that so little was expected of him coming into this season. MLB Pipeline had him ranked the Twins' 14th-best prospect and Aaron Gleeman had him ranked 31st. When he was drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 draft, Duffey was considered a Twins typical college pitcher draft pick with great control and not great stuff. Duffey started this season in AA and now Twins fans are pinning their hopes on him being at the top of the rotation in a run for the postseason.
Duffey was a stopper on Sunday, dominating the Angels in seven shutout innings. He only allowed three hits: a bunt and 2 slow dribblers up the middle. He also struck out 7. Maybe the most exciting thing about Duffey is there is little mystery about him. When he gets to two strikes, he's going to his curveball, and it doesn't seem to matter. Batters find it really hard to hit and even harder to lay off. As long as he continues to mix in an occasional two-strike 93-94 mph fastball in there, he'll continue to have great success as long as he's consistently ahead in the count.
As for Hicks, there was a lot of people doubting his ability to hit at the major league level as well. After being the Twins' Opening Day centerfielder the previous two seasons, he began this year in AAA while the Twins used a combination of Jordan Schafer and Shane Robinson in center. With top prospect Byron Buxton looming in AA, the present and future did not look good for Hicks.
However, he got off to a great start and earned a promotion at the beginning of May. While his hitting had improved on his first two disastrous seasons, he still had a disappointing .563 OPS. However, he had home runs in back-to-back games the next two days and took off from there. Since July 4, Hicks has a .793 OPS. He showed his great all-around play Sunday with two walks and a nice sliding catch in the first inning. Perhaps most impressive were his two hits, both from his weaker left side. The first hit he pulled a fastball on the inside corner to right field. The second was an RBI single up the middle on a low and away changeup. The old Aaron Hicks never would have been able to get both of those hits from the left side.
If the Twins are to really turn this ship around and be a consistent contender, they need more of these type of surprises.