Twins

The Twins Might Be the Best Of the Rest

Photo Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins had huge aspirations entering the 2022 season. By acquiring Isiah Kiner-Falefa, the Twins signaled that they wanted to compete. The deal that sent Kiner-Falefa and Josh Donaldson‘s contract to the New York Yankees indicated they wanted to be legitimate contenders. Then they signed Carlos Correa, which caused fans to plan their parade route down Nicollet Mall.

Okay, that’s a little bit much. But maybe Twins fans just wanted to see their team win a playoff game for the first time in 19 years. Still, with 36 games to play, Minnesota’s odds of missing the playoffs are just good as ending the longest postseason losing streak in North American sports.

The Twins entered Monday’s game against the Boston Red Sox with a 66-62 record, sitting two games behind the Cleveland Guardians for first place in the American League Central. Their record is viewed as a disappointment to some but not shocking to others.

For instance, Baseball Prospectus’ initial PECOTA projections had the Twins as an 84-win team. Their over/under was 81.5 wins this season. If Minnesota plays .500 baseball over the season’s final weeks, they’ll have hit those projections.

But fans want more, and when the San Francisco Giants came to town, they finally got it. Minnesota’s bats finally erupted on Friday night, scoring a 9-0 victory in the series opener. Although they slogged through a soggy 3-2 extra-inning marathon on Saturday, Jake Cave (yes, Jake Cave) drove in four runs in an 8-3 victory.

After losing six straight games, a sweep could be what the Twins need down the stretch. But it could also be ephemeral.

First, the Twins scored 11 of their 20 runs in two innings. It looked like they were going to hold the Giants to one hit and still lose in Saturday night’s game. Then Cave and Correa delivered RBI singles to tie the game in the ninth. Hell, they won the game on Gilberto Celestino‘s four-pitch, walk-off walk that came roughly 30 minutes after he forgot how many outs there were in an inning.

The Twins don’t look like a playoff team. But neither do the Giants.

The Giants are 61-65 after the Twins swept them. San Francisco’s pitching staff is eroding, and their offense has gone into the tank.

Wait, doesn’t that sound familiar? Let’s look at the rest of the schedule.

The Twins are hosting the Boston Red Sox in a three-game series at Target Field this week, and they look a lot like the Giants. The Red Sox rank 11th in runs scored, but their pitching staff has allowed 4.88 runs per game – 25th in the majors. Boston always has championship aspirations, but they entered Monday’s opener in last place of the AL East with a 62-66 record.

If you’re keeping track at home, the Twins are playing back-to-back series with two teams with nearly identical records. What’s more important is that both of these teams have an established culture of winning.

The Giants outlasted the Los Angeles Dodgers with 107 wins last season but came up short in the NLDS. The Red Sox have had some changes since winning the World Series in 2018, but they have a championship pedigree. The front office loved the culture so much that they fired and re-hired Alex Cora after he received a one-year suspension for using a video camera system to steal signs.

In other words, Boston and San Francisco are relevant teams. But they’re especially relevant when considering who the Twins are chasing in the AL Central.

The Chicago White Sox are one of baseball’s most disappointing teams. After running away with the division last season, Tony LaRussa’s magic has worn off, and games are running past his bedtime. No longer able to cash in on the early bird special at Lou Malnati’s, the White Sox have struggled and limped to a record of…63-65.

Even the Guardians, who have clung to the division lead, aren’t so different from this group. Their 67-59 record creates some separation from their counterparts, but their current PECOTA projection lists them as an 85-win team. PECOTA has Boston and San Francisco at under 80 wins, but Cleveland is just as fickle and could come crashing back to earth at any moment.

The Twins could have a key role in that. Beginning with Friday’s series opener in Chicago, Minnesota will play 17 of their final 33 games against the Guardians and White Sox. Sure, there’s a four-game trip to the Bronx mixed in, but opponents like the Giants and Red Sox could be a preview of what the Twins could see in the season’s final month.

If the Twins can take care of business as they did against the Giants, they could be right where everyone thought they would be.

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