Twins

The 2022 Twins Are the Inverse Of Last Year's Team

Photo Credit: Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins have been one of baseball’s best teams just over a month into the 2022 season. Their 18-11 record has given them the lead in the AL Central and the league’s largest division lead. It’s only a handful of weeks into the season, but the solid start indicates there will be a summer of competitive baseball at Target Field.

It’s a welcomed sight for fans of a team that looks completely different from a year ago. Suddenly, the Twins are reminding us that they have won two of the last three division titles. The complete disaster that was the 2021 season seems to be firmly in the past.

The 2022 Twins are the inverse of their 2022 counterparts in almost every facet.

A good first month doesn’t necessarily mean a team will be good. But a bad first month of the season can almost always bury a team into too deep of a hole to dig out of. A tough first stretch was exactly what put the Twins on the path to a 12-20 record at this time a year ago. The season ended in a last-place finish in the AL Central, which only had one winning team.

Some things translate into any sport, at any level. One of those is the adage that good teams find a way to win ball games while the bad teams continue to find ways to lose. Several issues put last year’s Twins team in a challenging position, and they festered on the team all season. Those issues included injuries, poor pitching, and untimely hitting.

Last year, the Twins lineup ranked in the top five in home runs. Although they could hit the long ball, timely hitting was an issue. Minnesota struggled with batting average with runners in scoring position all season long. They had a .232 batting average with RISP that ranked 20th in baseball and a 31/71 BB/SO ratio.

After a 4-8 start in April, it seemed that the demons that cursed the Twins in 2021 had followed them into this year. Getting hits in key moments continued to be an issue in the first couple of weeks this season, and they owned a .171 batting average with RISP through the first 12 games. Since then, the team has found ways to get those runners home with a .282 average. The league average sits at .242 batting average with runners in scoring position, with 67 runs scored during that time.

But last year’s issues weren’t limited to untimely hitting. Their bullpen was unreliable late in games, with a 4.39 ERA from the group, which was fourth-worst in the American League in 2021. Free-agent additions Alexander Colomé and Hansel Robles didn’t pan out. Colome set a career-high seven blown saves in 24 chances last season with a 4.15 ERA and 1.400 WHIP.

The starting rotation didn’t have much to offer either, with a 4.83 ERA that was fifth-worst in baseball. The staff was inconsistent outside of José Berríos. Kenta Maeda had a 4.66 ERA in 106 innings before injuries ended his campaign. Offseason additions Matt Shoemaker and J.A. Happ didn’t even finish the season with the Twins. The lone bright spots were Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober. Still, the pitching staff seemed to be the biggest uncertainty for the Twins in 2022.

However, Minnesota’s pitching staff seems unrecognizable from a season ago. Ryan and Ober have continued their strong starts. Sonny Gray, Chris Paddack, and Chris Archer have mostly given the Twins quality innings through the early part of the season to help give the team a 3.11 ERA.

Furthermore, a bullpen led by flamethrower Jhoan Duran and savvy vet Joe Smith has Minnesota ranked fifth in baseball with a 3.03 bullpen ERA. Even the Emilio Pagán experience in high-leverage spots has been working, even if he’s having trouble keeping runners off base.

Minnesota’s additions to the pitching staff last year sunk this team. Now, this year’s new faces have helped take the team back into competition, and they still have more young arms ready and waiting in the minor leagues.

Injuries and a lack of depth hampered Minnesota’s 2021 season as well. Maeda had injury issues before having Tommy John surgery in August. Alex Kirilloff was enjoying a nice rookie campaign, slashing .251/.299/.423 with eight home runs in 59 games, before missing the rest of the season to have wrist surgery. Taylor Rogers missed almost the entire second half of the season due to a finger injury.

But Byron Buxton’s injury was most devastating last year. Buxton has always had trouble staying. Still, not having him in the lineup due to hip and hand injuries stung the Twins even more because of the great numbers he put up in the 61 games he played last season. Buxton slashed .306/.358/.647 with 19 home runs. Injuries are random and can’t be blamed on any player. However, not having these guys, especially Buxton, for most of last season played a part in their awful 2021 campaign.

Buxton has avoided a long trip to the IL this year, and *knocking profusely on wood* hopefully, that continues. Because if he can avoid injury, Buxton has a chance to exceed his numbers from the season before. And even when Buxton has missed time, Gilberto Celestino has proven to be a reliable backup for the star center fielder.

Carlos Correa’s absence from the lineup for a significant period of time wouldn’t be ideal for this team. But Royce Lewis’ arrival helps soften the blow in the short term. Similarly, the pitching staff has continued to have a next-man-up mentality. Josh Winder has slid right into the rotation in Ober and Gray’s absence.

The 162-game season can be a grind. This year’s Twins team isn’t necessarily escaping injury woes. Buxton has had some injury scares, Correa narrowly avoided an injury list stint, and three of the six starting pitchers are already looking at spending time on the IL. The difference between this season and the one before is that the team has big-league-ready players at multiple positions ready to fill in gaps when some of those players weren’t ready for big-league action a season ago.

A clear leadership presence from the players has helped this team look and feel different. It’s not like there was widespread talk of a bad clubhouse last season, although Buxton mentioned how he liked the leadership assembled before Opening Day last month. Correa has added another level of veteran experience to pair with Buxton. Gray has only a few starts in a Twins uniform but has already been the leader of a young and developing staff. No shots at former players, but Andrelton Simmons and Josh Donaldson weren’t able to have the same success level in the clubhouse.

This year’s version of the Twins is off to a much better start. By avoiding some of the bad luck and mistakes, Minnesota is in a position to be in playoff contention again.

Good teams find ways to win ball games, whether that comes from timely hitting, great pitching, savvy coaching moves, or just plain luck. Bad teams, well, find every way possible to do the opposite. No matter what happens the rest of the way, the Twins have established that they are trying to be everything last season’s team couldn’t.

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Photo Credit: Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

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