Souhan: Why the Twins are winning despite injuries and oddities

The Twins are in first place in the American League Central on May 10. Imagine what they could do if anything went right.

There are 133 games remaining in the regular season, and already the Twins have had their top pitching free agent signing (Sonny Gray), their top position-playing free agent signing (Carlos Correa), their best player (Byron Buxton) and a slew of regulars (just read the roster) miss time because of injuries.

They have already been forced to call up their top prospect (Royce Lewis), even though their hope was for him to finally have a full season at Class AAA.

They have already experienced a lengthy team hitting slump, and the first reliever called upon to pitch a regular-season ninth inning (Tyler Duffey) blew the save right after they traded their best reliever (Taylor Rogers).

Their third-highest paid player (Miguel Sano) is hitting .093 with one extra-base hit and is out at least a month after knee surgery.

The Twins, leading the Central at 18-11, enter a three-game series against Houston starting Tuesday tied with the Astros for the second-best rotation ERA in the AL and with the fourth-best ERA in baseball overall, even though Gray, acquired to be the staff ace, spent much of the early season on the injured list and the rotation looked, on Opening Day, more like a curious experiment than an asset.

How has a team beset by so many problems grandly overachieved? With scattered excellence and remarkable depth, most of which is the handiwork of baseball boss Derek Falvey.

The Twins have not had organizational pitching depth for decades. Falvey was hired for his pitching expertise and has successfully built the farm system to the point where he has surpluses at almost every position.

When Buxton, Correa and Jorge Polanco are in the lineup, the Twins are exceptional at three premium positions. When they miss time, the Twins have excellent prospects taking their places.

A couple of months ago, the Twins did not look like they had anyone to pitch on Opening Day. Now they look awash in starting pitching, including Gray, Joe Ryan, Chris Archer, Josh Winder and Chris Paddack, with Bailey Ober, Dylan Bundy and Cole Sands waiting for either full health or another opportunity to get back on the active roster. And top prospect Jordan Balazovic, 23, made his Saints debut Saturday, striking out four batters in 3⅔ innings.

That group will be winnowed because of injuries and failures, but this will be the rare Twins team that can afford to have its pitching winnowed.

Jhoan Duran’s emergence as a dominant reliever has given a muddled bullpen reason for optimism. The Twins’ bullpen ERA is 3.03, which is remarkable even in this deadball-era season.

Just as encouraging has been the Twins’ ability to call up top position-player prospects who look anything but overwhelmed in the big leagues.

Lewis was drafted in 2017 yet has only 1,447 minor league plate appearances because of injuries and minor league shutdowns. He has played in three games since being called up to play shortstop because of Correa’s finger injury. First impression: He looks more like a shortstop who is a great athlete than a great athlete being asked to play shortstop. He has range, speed and arm strength and takes quality at-bats.

Lewis might be a year or two away from being ready to play every day in the big leagues, but his combination of talent and maturity should make him a star.

Jose Miranda is hitting .154 in seven games but he, too, looks like a professional hitter who can handle the spotlight.

This group of players also features positional flexibility. Polanco can play anywhere in the infield. Miranda can play the corners. Lewis could probably play anywhere. Alex Kirilloff can play left field or first base. Gary Sanchez can catch, play first or DH.

To be great, the Twins need Buxton and Correa in the lineup.

To be good, now and for the foreseeable future, they simply need to keep developing quality pitchers.

Organizational depth gives the Twins the ability to survive injuries. It also means they will have the means to make trades this summer, and it was a flurry of trades this spring that led to the arrival of Correa, Sanchez, Gio Urshela, Gray, Paddack and Emilio Pagan.

The most popular phrase attached to the Twins the past few years has been “if healthy.”

Now they are thriving even when they are not.

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