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March Mania

For Twins, the path is clear: They’re trade-deadline buyers

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi (12) smiles with catcher Mitch Garver (18) in the dugout during the sixth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park in Detroit on June 9, 2019. Raj Mehta / USA TODAY Sports

CLEVELAND — For every major league team there comes a point every July, or earlier for those on the extreme ends of the spectrum, a time to commit to buying or selling at the July 31 none-waiver trade deadline.

For teams that sit a game or two out of a wild card spot, the decision gets increasingly difficult. It’s easier for teams like the 2019 Twins, who return from the all-star break Friday, July 12, on pace to win 102 games and leading the American League Central by 5½ games over Cleveland.

Though that lead has been trimmed by more than half, the Twins have a 96.3 percent chance to make the playoffs, per FanGraphs, and an 87.1 percent chance to win the division.

“I think we deserve where we’re at. We’ve worked so hard. We’ve got a really good group and we play so well,” all-star pitcher Jose Berrios said. “The position we are in right now, we’ve earned it because of the way we’ve played out there. The only thing I want is to stay healthy and try to do the same thing in the second half.”

And so after a strong half in which they outperformed most, if not all, expectations, the Twins have some clarity regarding the trade deadline: Yes, they’re buying and pitching is on the shopping list — bullpen reinforcements especially.

“I think there’s still areas that we could potentially improve our club, but we’re going to wait and see where that takes us,” chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said.

For now, the Twins enter the “second half” of the season well-rested after dealing with a slew of injuries in June and the first part of July. This week’s all-star break came at a good time for the team, which put eight players on the injured list after June 18, including regulars Jake Odorizzi, Byron Buxton, Marwin Gonzalez, Ehire Adrianza, Eddie Rosario and C.J. Cron.

Though the Twins didn’t continue at the torrid pace they had been on at the beginning of the year — at times possessing the best record in the majors — they still managed to post a 15-12 June record. They have spent the season staving off losing streaks, surviving the first half as the only team in Major League Baseball that hasn’t lost three straight games this year.

“If we have a game that doesn’t really go in our favor, maybe we had bad offense, bad pitching, we’re good at kind of flushing it and getting back on pace the next game so not a lot of panic from our guys,” Odorizzi said. “(It’s a) veteran clubhouse (with) guys have been in the playoffs and been in the hunt, so they know what to expect. Just a good group of guys, and I think we’re going to hopefully be here right until the end.”

The Twins set a new major league record with 166 home runs before the all-star break, and are on pace to shatter the record the Yankees set last year (267) and become the first team to hit more than 300 home runs in a season.

While the offense has gotten a majority of the attention, the team boasts a combined 3.97 ERA, sixth in the majors. The Twins sent 40 percent of their rotation — Berrios and Odorizzi — to the All-Star Game and the bullpen, which has received its share of fan criticism, holds a 4.30 ERA, 12th of 30 teams.

The trade deadline looms. But for now, the Twins begin their second half Friday with three important games against the team that is chasing them.

“Being in first is great, but nobody gets a ring or a title by being in first place at the break,” Odorizzi said. “You have to continue into the second half.”