Twins

It's Starting To Feel Like 2021 Again For the Minnesota Twins

Photo Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

2021 was a distant memory when the Minnesota Twins completed their offseason. Nobody wants to remember a season that began with championship expectations and fell short. Even fewer want to remember a team that finished last place in their division.

Signing Carlos Correa was a good start to bury that team. Acquiring Sonny Gray and Chris Paddack was another positive step. Mixing in Gary Sánchez and Gio Urshela didn’t hurt. If the Twins got off to a fast start, everyone could focus on a potential October run.

But that hasn’t happened in the first 10 games. The Twins are 4-6 after Monday’s win over the Boston Red Sox. While that record doesn’t indicate a dumpster fire, the play on the field has some residue of last year’s mistakes.

It starts with Byron Buxton. If you’ve followed the Twins, you know how this works. Buxton is an all-world talent. The Twins are better when he’s on the field. But just when you think he’s going to break out, he suffers a freak injury.

It took eight games for this to happen. Buxton sent a pop fly into the outfield last Friday and calmly trotted along the bases. When the ball dropped in, Buxton glided to second base and made a routine slide into the bag. Then he didn’t get up.

In that moment, Buxton re-created the scene of every Twins fan in their living room. He slapped the ground, hobbled off the field and probably thought to himself Here we go again. With the added pressure of a nine-figure contract, Buxton needs to stay on the field. Although he dodged serious injury, it reminded everyone just how fragile this situation is.

The same goes for Miguel Sanó. The Twins first baseman made his annual proclamation that he was in the best shape of his life. He mashed batting practice. He slugged three homers in 34 Spring Training at-bats. Maybe this is the year we see the return of All-Star Sanó.

But when the games started to count, it looked like more of the same. After an 0-for-4 day against the Red Sox, he’s batting 2-for-30 on the season. He’s struck out 10 times. Sanó’s performance in the field makes Andrew Wiggins look like the most motivated athlete in the world. Sanó is far from the franchise-altering prospect he was projected to be as he was mashing his way through the minors years ago.

Then there’s the bullpen. The Twins pride themselves on riding the hot hand. Instead of paying a solid reliever big bucks, they hope to catch lightning in a bottle. It’s a high variance position. But it’s also one where they do the same thing repeatedly and expect a different result.

The Twins made no notable moves to improve their bullpen this offseason. Tyler Duffey returned as a high-leverage reliever. Jorge Alcala is back as a high-variance flamethrower. Caleb Thielbar and Cody Stashak are just guys and not even Jhoan Duran’s 100 mph fastball could save this group.

The only major move in the bullpen was getting rid of Taylor Rogers. Coming into Monday’s game, Rogers had more saves (4) for the Padres than the Twins had wins (3).

The combination of these events led to a series of anomalies only reserved for the Twins.

The shortened Spring Training didn’t allow the hitters to get in a rhythm. The pitchers had two less weeks to get ready. They played in cold weather. Robbie Ray pitched against them on Opening Day. They played the Los Angeles Dodgers and had to go to Boston.

It sounds like the deck is stacked against the Twins. But this same team also started 5-2 last season before dropping 13 of their next 15 games.

It’s not impossible that the Twins could suffer the same fate. But several things are working in their favor.

The makeshift pitching rotation has posted a 2.96 ERA in the first 10 games. It’s way too early to buy stock. But it’s also a positive sign considering we didn’t know who would start three weeks ago.

And the lineup is too good to struggle as it has. The Twins entered Monday averaging 3.2 runs per game, 24th in baseball. Carlos Correa isn’t going to bat .133 the entire season and there’s a good chance Sanó’s batting average will be sober by this time next week.

If the Twins can survive the early part of the schedule, they should be able to get going by the time the calendar turns to May. With games against the Baltimore Orioles, Oakland Athletics, and Cleveland Guardians, they should be able to create some distance.

It starts with how the Twins respond in Kansas City. Getting hammered by the favorite to finish last in the division wouldn’t be a good look. But if they can get their bats going, it should be a chance to prove this isn’t 2021.

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Photo Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

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