The Twins Need To Win the AL Central Out Of Principle

Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a while since the Minnesota Twins were a sentimental favorite nationally. It’s likely because baseball is becoming an increasingly regional sport, and it’s hard for people who watch 100-plus games a year to keep a tab on other teams. But it may also be because they play in a state-of-the-art downtown stadium and maintain a league-average payroll. The Twins are no longer a penny-pinching franchise in a dilapidated stadium like the Tampa Bay Rays or Oakland A’s. They’re no longer a plucky underdog.

But in 2009, their final year in the Metrodome, Jay Mariotti found it in his Grinch-sized heart to celebrate the Twins. Mariotti is an Around the Horn panelist Gen Z-ers and many Millennials wouldn’t recall. He left the Chicago Sun-Times in a way that upset the great Roger Ebert. He told a local TV station that newspapers were dying and that readership was moving online. Mariotti was right in the abstract, although the Sun-Times is still hanging in there, and AOL FanHouse no longer exists.

The only evidence I could find of Mariotti’s column celebrating the Twins was a MinnPost link roundup from October 2009. Still, I’ve committed it to memory. It’s not every day that a red-ass former Chicago-based columnist celebrates the Twinkies. FanHouse suspended Mariotti a year later, and he stopped appearing on ESPN properties shortly after. The column is lost to cyberspace. The Sporting News bought FanHouse and shut it down in 2011. Fanhouse is something entirely different today.

My point is, it’s been a while since the Twins were a sentimental favorite.

But you’ve got to create room in your ticker for this year’s club. Yes, I get it. You want them to spend serious money to retain their best players and be active in free agency – and they should. You’re sick of seeing this team lose in the playoffs, and their play against the New York Yankees, Houston Astros, and Los Angeles Dodgers hardly inspires confidence. There’s no guarantee that they’ll re-sign Carlos Correa. We don’t know if Royce Lewis will be the player he was before his second ACL surgery. They will have to fill out their pitching staff with homegrown players at some point.

Still, consider this: The Twins went for it at the trade deadline. They traded for Tyler Mahle, a playoff-caliber starter. They landed an All-Star closer in Jorge Lopez, a reliable set-up guy in Michael Fulmer, and backup catcher Sandy León. Sure, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine probably could have added a backup centerfielder, but c’mon, they got what everyone wanted. They got what they needed to field a competitive team. At least they have enough to win a playoff game. Baby steps.

However, they can’t break their playoff losing streak if the Cleveland Guardians or Chicago White Sox win the AL Central. Yet, here we are in mid-August, and the Guardians tied the Twins for the division lead after Joe Ryan got shelled at Dodger Stadium. Cleveland’s big move at the deadline? They traded León to the Twins. And it’s not like the White Sox did much more. They added Jake Diekman, a 35-year-old reliever.

The White Sox and Guardians are meaningfully different organizations.

The Mighty Whities, as Ron Gardenhire once called them, often have a large payroll and play in the third-largest US market. Granted, they’re the second team in Chicago, but they have an established fanbase and committed ownership.

Conversely, the Guardians are a caricature of the team they were portrayed as in Major League. Granted, they no longer have their racially-insensitive moniker, and ownership probably isn’t inviting deceased players to Spring Training. But they still need an occasional reminder that we wear caps and sleeves at this level. They try to win, but as parsimoniously as possible. They’re play-acting as Tampa or Oakland in a way that is not worth emulating.

At this point, every team has adopted Moneyball methods. Teams like the Rays, A’s, and Guardians can make the playoffs on a shoestring budget, but it’s hard to win a championship that way. The best teams typically retain their best homegrown players and supplement them with free agents and trades. The more their core group makes the postseason, the more accustomed they get to playing in them. They hope they’ll eventually win it all if they go on enough playoff runs.

After dominating the AL Central from 2002 to 2010, the Twins moved outdoors and into baseball purgatory. They no longer were an underdog; they were just bad. But Falvey and Levine started to turn things around. Rocco Baldelli is a modern manager who won 101 games in his first year. He’s versed in analytics and cares about player wellness. The White Sox have committed ownership and a cranky septuagenarian manager. The Guardians have Rachel Phelps and Terry Francona.

Twins ownership can start to win fans over by re-signing Correa in the offseason. But Falvey and Levine went for it by adding a starter, two relievers, and a reliable backup catcher. They’re trying, damn it, and it’s hard not to feel sentimental about that. They kinda feel like a plucky underdog again.

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Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins’ hopes to reach the 2022 postseason officially expired over the weekend. The Cleveland Guardians captured the AL Central without any real indication they would […]

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