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Are the Twins for real?

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The Twins are 28-18, how?

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Twins are 46 games into the regular season, and are currently tied for first place in the AL Central. At 28-18, Minnesota has a winning percentage of .609, and are one game above Detroit, and seven above Cleveland and Chicago. Out of all the first place teams however, the Twins are perhaps the strangest. They're the only one that isn't ranked in the top five of fWAR in their league in either pitching, batting, or fielding. They don't look like a playoff contender, yet at the moment they are.

How did this happen?

Not many expected the twins to have a winning record in 2015, but even those who did couldn't have predicted that they'd be tied for first on May 28th. The Twins are the perfect example of the divide between the sabermetricians and the traditionalists. The numbers say that Minnesota shouldn't be this good, and that they'll regress in the future. But the purists will tell you that the Hall of Fame presence of Paul Molitor has rubbed off on the team and they're playing the game the right way.

Aaron Gleeman has a wonderful post about how the Twins are winning, and it comes down to three things. Minnesota has benefitted from "scoring in bunches" and rank first in the AL in runs per game since their 1-6 start. Their overall hitting numbers aren't impressive, but with RISP, have a collective .297 batting average, with an .806 OPS.

The second piece helping the Twins keep up in the AL Central is the fact that the starting pitching hasn't been horrendous. As Gleeman writes, "Make no mistake, the rotation hasn't been good and Twins starters again rank dead last among all MLB team in strikeouts." But even that is a step up from their 2011-2014 rotations that ranked "dead last in strikeout rate, ERA, xFIP, Wins Above Replacement, and opponents' batting average".  They're also set to get suspended starter Ervin Santana back in the next 40 games or so, and he could help the rotation.

The final key to the Twins is their bullpen success in high-leverage situations. Like their hitting, the bullpen hasn't be good overall, but when it matters most they've been able to come through. Glen Perkins has remained excellent, and owns a 1.19 ERA and an FIP of 2.11. His supporting cast of Blaine Boyer and Aaron Thompson have done well, and rank in the upper echelon of WPA for non-closers. Despite ranking 21st in ERA as a team, because of their success in high-leverage situations, the Twins "rank third in Win Probability Added".

Can they keep it up?

The short answer is probably not. As our very own Mike Bates notes, "63 percent of the Twins' games so far have come against teams that are .500 or worse", and they've struggled against the division rival Tigers. They'll be tested once they start matching up against better talent for long stretches, but they still don't look like a playoff team. Even with Santana in the rotation, they simply don't have enough offense or pitching to carry them for an entire season, and through the gauntlet of October.

Twins fans should enjoy the winning times, but temper their expectations. They have a legitimate shot to finish the season above .500 thanks to their hot start, but anything more than that is unlikely. According to fWAR, Minnesota ranks 18th in defense, 22nd in fielding, and 25th in offense. It seems that the question is when will the Twins regress, not if.