Brian Dozier was right all along. He said that the Minnesota Twins could make the playoffs at the beginning of the season — and they did. He said that they shouldn’t be sellers at the trade deadline — and they weren’t. He said that the past is the past with the New York Yankees curse and hit a leadoff home run in Minnesota’s Wild Card loss.
For perspective, they’re a team that lost in a one-game playoff, basically a play-in game, by a score of 8-4. They won 85 games, slightly more than the St. Louis Cardinals (83) and slightly less than the Milwaukee Brewers (86) — two National League teams that didn’t qualify for a Wild Card game. And the pitching staff needs to be improved if they’re going to have success in a playoff series.
But yes, this year’s Twins are the first team in MLB history to lose 100 games and make the playoffs the next year. And yes, guys like Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario and Jorge Polanco should continue to get better in the near future. This team now has a foundation to build off; the pitching just needs to catch up with the offensive firepower in the lineup.
Dozier’s words about the playoffs at the beginning of the season are worth examining again.
“I don’t buy into the fact that we’re rebuilding. I don’t buy into the fact that a winning record and still not getting to the postseason could be considered a successful year,” Dozier said back in April. “I promise you when we take the field, there’s nothing short of the goal of reaching the postseason. And if you don’t, then I don’t consider it a success.”
The Detroit Tigers won 64 games this season, and Twins fans should remember how bad That team was
Knowing what we know now, he was right. It’s also sound logic. Fifty-nine wins should always be an aberration. There’s an old adage in baseball which posits that every team wins 60 games and loses 60 games — it’s the 40 games in-between that will make or break them. The Cleveland Indians, for example, won 22 games in a row this season, finished with 60 losses and were eliminated in the ALDS by the Yankees. The Houston Astros, the second-best team in the junior circuit, lost 61. The Detroit Tigers, on the other hand, won 64 games this season, and Twins fans should remember how bad this team was after they started selling.
They still won more than 60 games.
Yes, there are always outliers. The Los Angeles Dodgers, for example, lost 58 games this year — and had a 10-game losing streak this year. Baseball is weird. But the Twins won 83 games two seasons ago, powered by a 20-7 May, in Molitor’s first year as manager. They basically picked up where they left off two years ago; their 85 wins a result of a strong, if unexpected, second-half surge. Keep in mind that their run differential was minus-60 halfway through the season, and they finished at plus-27. Playing seven games against the husk of this year’s Tigers helped the cause.
This brings us to the trade deadline. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine were widely panned by Twins fans for dealing closer Brandon Kintzler and laundering Jaime Garcia — essentially acting as buyers for a hot second before ultimately deciding to sell. Kintzler was shipped to the Washington Nationals, who won the NL East this season. Garcia was received in a trade with the Atlanta Braves, made one start for the Twins, and then promptly dealt to the, ahem, Yankees shortly thereafter.
The root of Falvey and Levine’s indecision was likely the Twins’ poor performance right before the deadline. They lost two of three in a series with the Tigers, then were swept by the Dodgers in L.A., won the game Garcia started in Oakland before dropping the next two against the A’s and then split a two-game series in San Diego against the middling Padres.
Oakland finished 75-87, last place in the AL West. The Padres finished 71-91, second-to-last in the NL West. These are teams that the Twins should have preyed on, especially when the players are trying to convince management that the core of the roster was good enough to make the playoffs if it was supplemented.
“We should be adding [players]. I know all these guys feel the same way”
They did not, and Falvey and Levine didn’t give up on the season — that would have meant dealing Dozier and the team’s best starter, Ervin Santana — but they flipped Kintzler and Garcia for prospects. Hedging their bets, essentially, while not completely crippling the team.
Cue Mr. Dozier:
“That’s frustrating within itself, to not go on a little run,” Dozier said at the time. “A couple of games could have gone differently. We should be adding [players]. It’s frustrating.
“I know all these guys feel the same way.”
Once again, he was correct. This team was good enough to win 85 games and build an ephemeral, but exciting, 3-0 lead on Yankees — the gatekeepers to Minnesota’s playoff success. Maybe Garcia would have stabilized the starting rotation. Maybe Kintzler would have anchored the bullpen. Maybe not. Keep in mind that Garcia had an 0-3 record and a 4.82 ERA in eight starts with the Yankees, and that Kintzler finished the year with a 3.46 ERA in 26 innings of relief for the Nats.
The cardinal sin here isn’t that Falvey and Levine dealt Garcia and Kintzler, specifically, or that they failed to listen to their team spokesman — a man who is usually going to be optimistic about a team on the fence, especially when he stated that it was playoffs-or-bust at the beginning of the year. It’s that they were indecisive.
That too can be explained away, at least this year anyways. Falvey and Levine essentially audited the Twins this season. They made a few moves in the offseason, but mostly spent 162 games figuring out which people in the organization should stay, and which should be let go.
Shortly after the conclusion of the season they transitioned Brad Steil, 41, to director of professional scouting after five years as the director of minor league operations and turned that job over to Jeremy Zoll, 27. Daniel Adler was named director of baseball operations, and Ezra Wise, 27, was promoted to baseball operations assistant.
Team management likely will get younger, with older, tenured Twins officials remaining in the organization to provide guidance and continuity. If all goes to plan, pitchers drafted in the early rounds will fill out the rotation and shortstop will be filled internally because of their progressive thinking.
But now that they’ve had a year to examine the team, and now that they’ve got their guys in place, they need to take action. They need to figure out if Miguel Sano is the next David Ortiz or the next Pablo Sandoval and act accordingly. They’ve got to figure out if Kyle Gibson is first-half Kyle Gibson or second-half Kyle Gibson, and act accordingly. They’ve got to figure out if Polanco is a shortstop, Max Kepler is the right fielder and Mitch Garver is the catcher of the future. They need to evaluate, execute and, above all else, be right more often than they are wrong.
It’s not an easy job, but it’s what they signed up for. If it’s any consolation, we all know what the team spokesman thinks about all this.
“You look around this room, how many guys are going to keep getting better?” Dozier said. “Their best seasons haven’t happened yet, and we’re already a playoff team.”
And at the very least you’ve got to give him this: He’s been right about this team so far.