Let me preface what I’m about to say with a massive caveat: The Minnesota Twins are in a fantastic position to take home another American League Central crown later this month, but anything can happen. Anything.
Glad I got that on paper while crossing all of my fingers, rubbing a rabbit’s foot and knocking on wood simultaneously. It’s not quite time to start planning a parade, or even a postseason roster. However, we’re getting close to looking at the next step with more certainty. It’s looking highly unlikely that the Cleveland Guardians will erase the six-game lead that separates them from the division-leading Twins, but it’s not impossible. Heck, Minnesota was trailing the Detroit Tigers by seven games on this date in 2009, and they managed to come all the way back and surpass their foes with a legendary Game 163.
But with this mostly comfortable lead (still knocking on wood), can the Twins start to take their foot off the gas a little bit?
I’m not saying they should be throwing games. But they should surely try to rest some of their key hitters as soon as their position in the playoff bracket is secured, or even sooner possibly. The last thing they need is to limp into the postseason like they did in 2019 — a season where they won 101 games in dominant fashion.
That was as memorable of a 162-game regular season as most Twins fans have experienced. Still, the club went out with a whimper when they faced the New York Yankees in the American League Divisional Series. Those record-breaking home run totals made for a magical regular season, but injuries to some key players cursed the club to yet another sweep in October. They left Byron Buxton off the ALDS roster due to nagging injuries. Max Kepler and Nelson Cruz were active but carried uncertainty because they were out of action for much of the final week trying to get themselves healthy. Marwin Gonzalez was a shell of himself. Chewing gum and duct tape basically held rookie sensation Luis Arraez’s legs together.
It’s as if the club qualified for the marathon that is the MLB postseason, but their shoes fell apart on the way to the starting point and they had to wear Crocs for the actual race itself.
Based on how this year has gone, seeing a dramatic drop in production from their best hitters would be devastating. The offense was underwhelming through June, but it has been a major strength in Minnesota’s strong second half. They can’t afford to revert back to their early-season ways on the biggest stage. In 2019, that looked like Kepler going hitless in 10 at-bats. It looked like a worn-down Mitch Garver going 2-for-12 with no power. It looked like Miguel Sanó striking out eight times and only producing one hit in a dozen at-bats.
The 2019 Twins didn’t officially take their division crown until Sept. 25. That was certainly a factor in the minimal rest for some of those key bats in the final weeks of the season. As things are looking this year, that clinching date could come much sooner if all goes to plan (knock knock knock). If/when that happens, the club should make it their No. 1 goal to get the key fixtures in their lineup as healthy as possible before Oct. 3.
So what would that entail? The interesting side of this predicament is that the earlier the Twins clinch the division, the better they can map out a recovery path for some of their key bats. Ideally, they wouldn’t have to try and fit in as much rest in a short window as they did four years ago. Instead, they could map out a tapered approach.
Take Carlos Correa, for example. He is going to require some time off of his feet due to the nagging pain from his plantar fasciitis. It would be smart to give him periodic spurts of consecutive days off instead of one long stretch. Maybe he sits the first two or three games after the official clincher. Then maybe he sits out the day before their scheduled off-day on Thursday, Sept. 21, as well as the day after. Maybe he does that same process for their final off-day on the 25th. That would give him ample opportunities for taking time off while still staying relatively fresh to perform come game one of a hypothetical playoff series.
Other players that should be considered for added rest days include Edouard Julien, Royce Lewis, and Jorge Polanco. Michael A. Taylor would also be in this group. But he’s currently on the injured list, so he’ll have his own specialized recovery timeline. Still, the point remains, that all of these bats have dealt with (or are currently dealing with) an ailment of some sort, and will surely be prime candidates for starring roles come September.
But before they get too far ahead of themselves, they’ll need to make their division championship official. The earliest that can happen is late next week, likely when the team is in Chicago or Cincinnati. If that is the case, then they should have some good runway to measure a tapered rest approach. With a few good breaks and some added time for recuperation, the Twins could head into October well-rested and ready to pounce.