Joe Mauer high five

The Twins lineup of the moment


The Twins appear to be far from locks to re-sign either Michael Cuddyer or Jason Kubel, but they have added infielder Jamey Carroll and catcher-first baseman Ryan Doumit since free agency began. So, here’s a guess at their lineup as it stands right now:

CF Denard Span
SS Jamey Carroll
C Joe Mauer
1B Justin Morneau
DH Ryan Doumit
3B Danny Valencia
RF Trevor Plouffe
2B Alexi Casilla
LF Ben Revere

Obviously, that’s not going to cut it. The Twins’ four best hitters — Mauer, Morneau, Span and Doumit — all have big durability questions, and even if one could pencil everyone in that lineup for 500 at-bats, Morneau might be the only one to get to 20 homers.

The Twins are likely to pick up one more bat this winter, but in truth, they probably need two. Re-signing Cuddyer is their preference. A pure DH would also make sense, though they can wait there. If Vladimir Guerrero falls through the cracks and ends up signing for $3 million-$4 million, he’d be a nice fit. Doumit is listed as the DH here, but it’s his flexibility as an alternative at catcher and first base that drew the Twins to him.

Which teams improved and declined the most in 2015?

Joe Maddon

I was curious about which MLB teams changed their fortunes the most this season compared to last year, so I crunched the numbers.

First, here are the biggest win total improvements from 2014 to 2015:

+24 Cubs
+21 Rangers
+16 Astros
+15 Diamondbacks
+13 Twins
+11 Mets
+10 Blue Jays
+10 Cardinals
+10 Pirates

The top five teams on the biggest-improvement list all had managers in their first season on the job, led by Joe Maddon joining the Cubs after tons of success with the Rays. Also worth noting: Of the nine teams with the biggest win total improvement, eight made the playoffs. Only the Twins improved to double-digit games and still failed to make the playoffs.

Now, here are the biggest win total declines from 2014 to 2015:

-20 Athletics
-16 Tigers
-15 Orioles
-14 Brewers
-13 Nationals
-13 Angels
-12 Braves
-12 Reds
-11 Mariners

Not surprisingly, a whole lot of those teams have changed managers, general managers, or both. And a couple more may still do so before the offseason gets underway. Oakland retained manager Bob Melvin despite an MLB-high 20-win dropoff and just promoted Billy Beane from general manager to vice president of baseball operations.

MLB games were six minutes shorter this year

Pitch Clock
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According to STATS, INC., the average game in 2015 was 2 hours, 56 minutes. That’s six minutes faster than games in 2014.

The gains came in the first half, when games averaged 2:53. Second half games averaged three hours even. One can probably thank the expanded rosters in September for that, as games then see many more pitching changes. Of course, it’s likely that second half games were faster in 2015 than 2014 as well given the rules changes.

Those changes: agreement to enforce the rule requiring a hitter to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box and the installation of clocks timing pitching changes and between-inning breaks in ever ballpark.

It remains to be seen if MLB stays satisfied with that modest improvement or if chooses to go the way Triple-A and Double-A leagues did. They installed 20-second pitch clocks and started penalizing violators with balls and strikes. Triple-A’s two leagues, the International and Pacific Leagues, saw game-time decreases by 13 and 16 minutes, respectively.