The 2005 season was rather non-descript for the Minnesota Twins. Johan Santana had won a playoff game in Yankee Stadium the year before, Minnesota’s most recent postseason win. They won 96 games in 2006, but the Oakland A’s swept them in the ALCS. Tucked in between, the Twins won 83 games in 2005. It was the year before Joe Mauer’s breakout 2006 season. Justin Morneau hit .239/.304/.437.
Still, there were plenty of familiar names. Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, and Nick Punto. Jacque Jones and Shannon Stewart. The rotation was solid: Santana, Brad Radke, Carlos Silva, Kyle Lohse, and Joe Mays. Matt Guerrier was setting up Joe Nathan. Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker were waiting in the wings; Jason Bartlett and Lohse eventually became the players who got away. There were also some characters. Lew Ford burnt himself pressing his shirt while wearing it. Mike Redmond took batting practice naked.
That team should have been better. The following year, they set the record for most wins in Ron Gardenhire’s run. But the most notable thing to happen that year was that Silva picked up a win in Dodger Stadium. Until Tuesday, that was the last time that happened.
It’s fitting that Bailey Ober broke that streak. A 12th-round pick who didn’t sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers the year before Minnesota drafted him, Ober is reminiscent of Twins pitchers of yore. They took Radke in the eighth round; Santana in the Rule 5 draft. Ober pitched well in Spring Training, but Minnesota didn’t have room in the rotation, so he started the year in St. Paul. Ober bid his time and has become necessary depth after Tyler Mahle and Kenta Maeda suffered injuries.
On Tuesday, he held LA’s lineup to six hits and one run in six innings. Minnesota beat the Dodgers 5-1, handing Clayton Kershaw his first home loss since June 21, 2001. In late April, the Twins took the season series from the New York Yankees for the first time since 2001 – Tom Kelly’s last year as manager. Slowly but surely, this year’s team is trying to tell us something.
“It just shows how different we are — our mentality and who we are becoming as a team,” Byron Buxton said after reaching base three times, scoring twice, and stealing a pair of bases for the first time since 2018. “We didn’t go out there today like, ‘Oh, Kershaw’s pitching.’ It was like, ‘They’re facing the Twins. … You’ve got to pitch to us. We nasty. We dangerous.’ And once we get it clicking, it’s going to be way worse.”
Buxton’s first injury-plagued major-league season was in 2018. He only played in 28 games and hit .156/.183/.200 a year after winning a Gold Glove and receiving MVP votes. But Buxton has been healthy this year, playing in 39 games as the designated hitter a year after earning his first All-Star nod. Still, he’s only hitting .234/.337/.476 with eight home runs as Minnesota’s designated hitter. Like many of their stars, Buxton isn’t hitting to his standard.
Perhaps Buxton is being too presumptuous about the lineup eventually clicking. Carlos Correa hasn’t looked like a $200 million player at the plate. José Miranda is in Triple-A. Nick Gordon is hitting below the Mendoza line. Jorge Polanco and Alex Kirilloff are the only hitters playing to their standard. Still, it’s worth noting Buxton’s confidence. The Twins have a cushion in the AL Central because the rest of the division is playing so poorly, buying their hitters time to get right. They also have a stable rotation, so long as their pitchers can stay healthy.
However, the Twins can’t get complacent in a poor division. They’d be a middle-of-the-pack team in the AL East and hover around the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros in the AL West. That’s only worth noting because they’ll likely play an AL East or West team if they make the postseason. In 2019 and 2020, they entered the playoffs with a lot of confidence and lost to the Yankees and Astros. Therefore, they’d be wise to focus on rounding out their offense rather than feeling okay because they’re leading the Central.
Still, this team feels different despite their offensive struggles. The Twins don’t typically describe themselves as nasty and dangerous. Come playoff time, they usually act like a polite doorman, opening the path for their opponents to reach the World Series. Perhaps a little edge is all they need to start hitting like they should. It might be hard to see now, but there’s a good team under there. They just don’t want to end up like the 2005 club, which was loaded with talent and couldn’t put it together.