The Minnesota Twins completed their improbable run to the playoffs this week when they wrapped up a spot in Tuesday’s American League wild-card game. All season long, as I looked at this team’s lineup and numbers, I found myself asking “How are they doing this?” With more talented teams like the Orioles and Royals also in the picture, it seemed inevitable the Twins would fade. But they didn’t and they’re into the postseason for the first time since 2010.
I still ask myself how manager Paul Molitor pulled this off. The fact he was coming off a 103-loss season in 2016 and faced the usual limitations of a small-market franchise were problematic enough. Then the following also went wrong…
*Minnesota’s pitching was a sore spot all year long. They finished 10th in the league in ERA
*One of the few effective pitchers was closer Brandon Kintzler. The Twins traded him at the July 31 deadline to Washington. It seemed a clear indication that even the team’s own front office wasn’t buying on their playoff chances.
*Miguel Sano, the muscular third baseman, who is the team’s most exciting offensive player, missed 50 games with injury. To make matters worse, the injury came at the most important stretch of the season. He went out on August 19 and was just activated yesterday. The Twins pulled away with the second wild-card without him.
*On its face, Joe Mauer’s .381 on-base percentage is enough to make him a good offensive player. But when set in the context of his $23 million annual salary from a team that doesn’t have a lot a cash to throw around, his complete lack of power over the past several years is a big drag on the ability to compete. With only seven home runs this season, Mauer’s transformation from MVP catcher to singles-hitting first baseman was further solidified.
All of that would be enough to cut Molitor some slack for another bad season. But the Twins had the following things going for them…
*The pitching staff might have had problems collectively, but they had two starters that were outstanding. Ervin Santana enjoyed a revival at age 34, winning 16 games with a 3.28 ERA. The real surprise came at the other end of the career spectrum. 23-year-old Jose Berrios has14 wins with a 3.89 ERA.
*A number of players stepped into the power void left by Mauer. Brian Dozier continued his emergence as one of the American League’s most complete second basemen, hitting 34 home runs. Eddie Rosario went deep 27 times. The trio of Byron Buxton, Max Kepler and Eduardo Escobar combined for 56 homers. And Sano, even in his limited season, popped 28 out of the park. It was enough to make the Twins the fourth-best offense in the AL.
Those are the players who deserve the kudos. But the whole for the Twins is still vastly greater than the sum of its parts. And for that, the big shout out goes to Molitor, who should be a lock for Manager Of The Year.