The Minnesota Twins’ downfall this season has been pitching. Every starting pitcher except José Berríos has fallen short of expectations. Kenta Maeda and Michael Pineda have struggled with injuries while free-agent signings J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker didn’t pan out.
When a rotation performs this poorly, it creates an opportunity for others to step up. Many have tried, but Joe Ryan was one of the few to take advantage and earn a spot in next year’s rotation.
He dominated in three starts for the Twins, going 1-1 with a 2.12 ERA. With a fastball that plays up and a calm demeanor on the mound, Ryan not only appears ready for the major leagues, he looks ready to stay in the major leagues. Ryan’s injury on Wednesday afternoon creates another opportunity for the rest of the starting staff. Four (and maybe all five) spots of the starting rotation are open next year, and the final three weeks of the season will be the last chance to prove they belong.
The first name on the list is Bailey Ober. The right-hander has shown improvement throughout the season and may already have a spot in the rotation clinched for next season. But there are some questions that Ober needs to answer. At 26 years old, Ober is an advanced-age prospect who could be reaching his ceiling. If he’s not able to continue improving, it could be enough to sign another stopgap player in free agency and let Ober refine his mechanics at St. Paul.
So far, Ober hasn’t fully taken advantage of the opportunity. In two September starts, he’s posted a 5.40 ERA and is allowing a .899 OPS to opposing hitters. Those numbers are expected of a rookie, but not someone who will be relied upon in next year’s rotation.
The open rotation spots are also an opportunity for Randy Dobnak to rehab his value. Many were surprised when the Twins gave Dobnak a 5-year, $9.25 million contract with several team options last spring. However, Dobnak has given his detractors fodder throughout the season, going 1-7 with a 7.64 ERA.
But while Dobnak has disappointed on the mound, it could be because of injury. The right-hander missed two months with a right middle finger strain, and if he’s able to take the mound again, a strong September could convince the Twins that injuries were the cause of his struggles this year.
The Twins have also given an opportunity to John Gant, who was acquired in the Happ trade. While his numbers are significantly better as a reliever, Gant has started out of necessity and could have also vyed for a starting spot down the stretch. Unfortunately, Gant left Tuesday’s start against the New York Yankees with an abdominal strain. He likely will be used in the bullpen when he returns.
But that’s not a bad thing as several bullpen arms could also step up and earn their roles. Next spring, Danny Coulombe, Jorge Alcalá, and recent call-up Jovani Moran could all pitch their way into a roster spot as the Twins look to revamp their bullpen.
All of this creates a meaningful September, relatively speaking. If the Twins fringe players can step up and grab the opportunity, there’s less for the front office to acquire in free agency and could lead to bigger-ticket free agents. If they don’t, the Twins will have to get more aggressive to contend next year.