What to make of the Minnesota Twins?
That’s the question a lot of fans are asking themselves right now as the race for the American League Central title has gone from a 10.5-game lead over Cleveland when the teams entered June to just a half game as of the morning of Aug. 14.
I was at the game on Aug. 11 when the Twins rallied to tie it at 3-3 in the ninth, only to see closer Taylor Rogers give up a grand slam in the top of the 10th for a 7-3 loss to the Indians.
Two days later, the same scenario played out in the Twins’ favor as their bullpen gave up four runs in the bottom of the seventh in Milwaukee. Marwin Gonzalez’s three-run home run in the eighth gave them the lead back and eventually a 7-5 win.
The emotional swings of a competitive baseball season are daily. That’s hard to remember in the moment, but perhaps the biggest takeaway from some tight games in August is that yesterday’s worst can be just as great tomorrow.
After so many losing seasons, that day-to-day excitement should be what fans want, but we get so caught up in the idea that a season is not a success unless it ends in a championship.
I fall into that trap as much as anyone. These guys are getting paid a lot of money. Expectations should be to produce a team that tries to win at the highest level. But in the end, sports are entertainment, and the Twins have definitely been entertaining this summer.
Their offense is a thrill to watch. With a full lineup that includes Byron Buxton and Nelson Cruz, there is not a team in the playoff race that the Twins can’t match up with offensively.
The question then comes down to pitching, and the Twins are flawed on the mound. Looking at basic numbers, their overall team ERA is not that bad. Their mark of 4.14 was the ninth lowest among all 30 MLB teams on Aug. 14. That’s better than the New York Yankees (12th, 4.36), the team many assume will represent the American League in the World Series.
What I question about a lot of the positive numbers that can be presented from the Twins pitching staff is how much of that is a product of having huge leads to work with throughout the first half of the season? It’s a lot easier to pitch in an 8-1 game than it is 3-2.
Their numbers look OK on paper, but a starting staff of Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi and Kyle Gibson or Michael Pineda does not match up great against a Houston rotation of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke and Wade Miley.
Nothing about the eye test says Minnesota’s bullpen will hold up during a seven-game series in Yankee Stadium. It would have been great to add a starter at the trade deadline, but it’s also no fun giving up a top-level pitching prospect like Brusdar Graterol if that’s what the asking price was for a rental.
So here we are with this team in a state of unknown about their postseason potential. If there is a long playoff run this season, it probably means the Twins offense has gotten healthy and is putting up a bunch of runs.
Maybe that happens. It’s not that far fetched, but it’s just as likely better pitching from a team like the Astros or an equally-as-potent lineup like the Yankees gets the better of Minnesota.
Wait and see. Try to enjoy the ride. The good thing is that there’s a shot for some really fun games coming in October.