MINNEAPOLIS -- After going 5-3 on their homestand against the Cardinals, Cubs and White Sox, the Twins are six games above .500 (39-33) with an off-day on Thursday before playing 17 straight days heading into the All-Star break.
It's an important stretch for the Twins, and it could decide whether they are buyers at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. They're still in contention and have been one of the biggest surprises in baseball, which leads into the first question of this week's Inbox.
The Twins are obviously off to an unexpectedly strong start, but what has surprised you the most this season?
-- Phil W., St. Paul, Minn.
The biggest surprise, for me, has to be the success of the starting pitching. Twins starters have combined to post a 3.79 ERA, which ranks as the seventh-best mark in the Majors. It's a huge improvement from the last few years, as they had the worst ERA for starting pitchers in the Majors in each of the last two seasons.
Mike Pelfrey has been a pleasant surprise with his 3.06 ERA, while Kyle Gibson and Trevor May have both taken steps forward in their development. After a slow start, Phil Hughes has started to look more like last year's version of himself, while Tommy Milone has been sharp since rejoining the rotation in early June. So while the offense has gone cold this month, Minnesota starters have a 3.30 ERA in June, which has helped keep them afloat.
With Ervin Santana set to return from his 80-game suspension on July 5, and Ricky Nolasco getting ready to throw off a mound again this weekend, the Twins will have some interesting decisions to make.
What are the Twins going to do once Santana and Nolasco return?
-- Sarah J., Edina, Minn.
The short answer to this question is that the Twins still haven't decided what they'll do. Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said this week that it's not even on the middle burner yet.
Santana is making his second rehab start with Triple-A Rochester on Thursday and will make one more, which will line him up to start in Kansas City on July 5. Nolasco is set to throw a bullpen session this weekend after being fitted with orthotics, and he is likely going to need a rehab assignment to test out his right ankle.
So it's essentially a good problem for the Twins to have, as they finally have starting-pitching depth, and could even look to trade a starter before the Trade Deadline.
What do you think the Twins will look for at the Trade Deadline if they're buyers?
-- John B., Eagan, Minn.
Adding a reliever, especially a lefty, seems to be one of the biggest needs for the Twins. The bullpen has been anchored by closer Glen Perkins and setup relievers Blaine Boyer and Casey Fien, but Minnesota relievers have combined for a 3.81 ERA, which ranks 22nd in the Majors.
Lefty Aaron Thompson has struggled since his hot start, while veteran lefty Brian Duensing has fared better recently but still has an 8.22 ERA.
No. 3 prospect Alex Meyer has a 0.55 ERA since being converted to relief in Triple-A, and the righty will be called up before Friday's game in Milwaukee.
Adding a bat could be a priority too, but the Twins could also promote from within and call up No. 2 prospect Miguel Sano, who could bring much-needed power as a designated hitter, while occasionally seeing time at third base.
What have you made of Byron Buxton's time in the Majors so far?
-- Jake S., Rochester, Minn.
The jump from Double-A to the Majors isn't easy, and it's clear Buxton is struggling against good pitchers who are feeding him plenty of breaking balls away once he falls behind in the count.
Buxton is hitting just .189, but it's come in just 11 games against some top-quality starting pitchers, so it's certainly not time to panic. He's been impressive defensively and he's easily one of the fastest players in the Majors.
Buxton has been a slow starter at almost every level, and he's still just 21 years old. Even Mike Trout struggled in his first taste of the Majors, hitting .220 in 40 games in 2011, so there's no reason yet to worry about Buxton's slow start offensively.