After making the playoffs for the first time since 2010, the Minnesota Twins seemed like they were ready to take the next step in becoming serious contenders for the playoffs the following year. In 2017, they made the Wild Card game after an exceptional year even though they were knocked out by the Yankees in the one game playoff. The team went 85-77 in 2017 and weren’t exactly playoff bound at the start of the season, so making the playoffs was almost a consolation prize in a way. Regardless, they managed to surprise everyone that year, aided by Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Ervin Santana and Joe Mauer who all had strong years. They may have fallen short in the playoffs, but they seemed to be in a good position to compete the next year and beyond.
But 2018 was not kind to them. They had a variety of issues right off the bat, starting off with their shortstop Jorge Polanco being suspended for 80 games after testing positive for PED’s. Ervin Santana, who had a 3.28 ERA and started the Wild Card game against the Yankees, had an 8.03 ERA in just 24.2 innings pitched and underwent surgery on his finger. Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano got off to slow starts and also dealt with injury issues as well. Both players were optioned to the minor leagues at various points in the season to try and figure it out. This was also Joe Mauer’s last season in the major leagues before retiring, his final season going out with a bit of a whimper. The team went 78-84 for the year.
The 2019 season allowed for a fresh start and the Twins front office got to work on how they could improve the team. They made several free agent signings in Marwin Gonzalez, Jonathan Schoop, Nelson Cruz and also picked up C.J. Cron off waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays. On top of that, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano were expected to be back in the lineup on opening day. None of these moves were slam dunk signings by any means. Gonzalez was probably the biggest of them all considering his success in Houston. But Schoop had a down year with Baltimore and Milwaukee and Nelson Cruz was entering his age 38 season where a decline in quality is seemingly imminent. Adding Buxton and Sano back and the inclusion of Cron didn’t exactly inspire success either. The front office put their best foot forward with these moves, but none were exactly blockbuster deals so expectations weren’t high for most of us watching.
With few expectations on the line, the Twins slowly began putting together a good start to the season, going 13-7 through their first twenty games. In a division where the Cleveland Indians were being handed the division on a platter the last few years, the Twins were all of sudden a threat, maybe not a serious threat at first but enough to turn a few heads. The Indians presumably assumed this would be another season in which they grab the division and waltz into the playoffs again but for some reason made zero moves. The Indians seemed to become complacent by not making any major free agent signings this past offseason and in fact decided to trade their DH Edwin Encarnacion to the Mariners. Encarnacion, recently just traded to the Yankees, currently leads the AL with 21 home runs. To add to the lack of front office moves by Cleveland, Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger, and Carlos Carrasco have all spent time on the IL. A team that was expected to be carried by its starting pitching is not fairing very well.
Even if things were going slightly better for the Indians, I’m not too sure they could topple the Twins right now. They seem to be one of those teams each year that has everything clicking. Buxton and Sano have both seemingly bounced back after disappointing years and C.J. Cron has fit in well so far. Nelson Cruz, despite spending some time on the IL, has mostly defied aging and doesn’t show any signs of stopping. Jonathan Schoop has bounced back as well, starting to look more like the 2017 version of himself. To cap it off Marwin Gonzalez seems to have been embraced by the Twins for his defensive versatility and clutch hitting. Somehow all of these under these under the radar moves have panned out for the Twins. And let’s not forget about the contributions of Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, Jason Castro and Mitch Garver rounding out the lineup. As a team, they are batting .275/.342/.515 with an OPS of .857. When you look at some of the other best teams this year, you’ll see the Astros batting .267/.343/.473, the Dodgers batting .262/.345/.462, and the Braves batting .265/.340/.459. At the moment, I don’t think you can really beat the Twins offense. Everything is working.
That includes pitching too where they have a team ERA of 3.95, which is currently seventh best in all of baseball. Jake Odorizzi is leading the starting rotation with an ace like 2.24 ERA and sports a 10-2 record while Jose Berrios is performing just as well with a 3.01 ERA and a 8-2 record. As a whole, the starting rotation, rounded out by Martin Perez, Kyle Gibson, and Michael Pineda has an ERA of 3.56. The bullpen is led most notably by Taylor Rogers (2.10 ERA) and Ryne Harper (1.93 ERA). Collectively the bullpen has an ERA of 4.69, which is a bit above league average. Expect to see them make some trades at the deadline to bolster their pen, probably their biggest need at the moment.
It’s hard to call the Twins the team to beat in the playoffs because the Astros and Dodgers exist, who both are the current front runners to win their division and possibly the pennant. But you also have the Cubs, Brewers, Braves, Yankees, and Rays who will all be making some noise as we continue along through the season. I firmly believe that the Twins are right near the top of the pack and as long as they stay healthy, Target Field will be holding some postseason games this year. And they more than likely won’t have to settle for a Wild Card game this time and risk being knocked out as soon as they sniff the playoffs. I really wouldn’t mind seeing the Twins in the World Series this year because they really have a shot to do something special. They might have that spark that propels them to glory that other teams don’t but it’s a little too early to start making bets, so we’ll have to just wait and see.