It’s easy to forget that Minnesota Twins starter Martin Perez had a 2.95 ERA before he was tagged with six runs and couldn’t get out of the third inning in a 14-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. Blake Parker’s 1.11 WHIP in May doesn’t mean much when he blows a save against the Cleveland Indians and walks two guys to put the tying run on base in his next outing against the Detroit Tigers.
Their lead in the division doesn’t seem as secure when the Indians take the first two in Cleveland, and the series they lost to the Astros in Houston or the Yankees in New York don’t inspire confidence for the playoffs.
The years of losing following a 94-win campaign in 2010, the year Target Field opened, have created cynicism for an already jaded fanbase. Even with their dominance of the AL Central from 2002-10, the Twins never came close to the World Series. And fans here saw similar things from the Flip-KG Timberwolves in the 90’s, the Parise-Suter Wild until last year and various iterations of the recent Vikings — lots of playoff appearances, but never a real shot at a championship.
So it’s only natural that fans and media alike are suspicious of this Twins team. The power is real, but also temporary: Nelson Cruz, C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop are all on one-year deals, and are unlikely to be around for a long time. Jake Odorizzi and Perez didn’t have a background that suggested they would become ace-level pitchers. The bullpen still needs to be filled out.
Even the homegrown players who have been touted as big-time prospects since their teenage years can’t escape skepticism. Miguel Sano strikes out a lot. Byron Buxton dealt with injuries last season. Jose Berrios’ stuff flattens out occasionally. Mitch Garver struggled to frame pitches in the past. Max Kepler only uses part of the field, Jorge Polanco was suspended for PED use last year and the bullpen guys can be volatile.
There is so much focus on the negative that positive aspects of the team can become overlooked.
For starters, the Twins have a 90-plus percent chance of making the playoffs this year and the occasional blowouts have not induced long losing streaks. They are in command of the division, even after dropping two in Northeast Ohio. The prospects are emerging as real players, and the farm system remains stacked.
Even some weaknesses are fixable.
The bullpen can be bolstered by dealing prospects at the deadline. If Michael Pineda struggles to fully come back from Tommy John surgery, he could be used as a reliever and a young pitcher like Stephen Gonsalves or Kohl Stewart who would know that they will go into most starts with ample run support.
Buxton and Sano don’t have to carry the lineup every day. Jason Castro hit well in Garver’s absence when he went down. Luis Arraez hit well enough that he could provide depth if they lose an infielder, and Jake Cave has hit well in Triple A that he could replace an outfielder.
Derek Falvey comes from the Indians organization, where each of their best four pitchers — Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and Mike Clevinger — arrived via trade. Therefore, the success of Odorizzi and Perez could be a harbinger of what is to come, meaning more and more of Minnesota’s starters may be reclamation projects from other organizations, rather than complete outliers.
The odds are still against Minnesota to win a World Series, so this year appears to be more of an indicator of a turnaround rather than of true contention, but they have created a foundation that they can build upon. The core of this team is mostly homegrown, but supplemented by players acquired by trade or free agency who filled in gaps on the roster — which is the way they team should be built going forward.
Minnesota is also benefiting from playing in a weak American League, generally, and has plenty of games left against the three rebuilding teams in the division — the Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers.
This season feels like a mirage at times: Most of the lineup owns video game slash lines, Odorizzi and Perez are having career years and Taylor Rogers, for example, has gone from a lefty specialist to the team’s best high-leverage reliever. But the numbers themselves are real, and there is a strong foundation being built.
Despite the occasional scare, like the ninth inning in Detroit, blowouts like they endured in Tampa or critical series they’ve lost like the one in Cleveland, this team is making a case that this is very real with each passing game.
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