Coming into the season, Fangraphs projected the Minnesota Twins to finish with a .500 record, 81-81, second in the division behind the Cleveland Guardians 82-80. Instead, Minnesota has been a division leader most of the season struggling to stay above .500 in a weak AL Central. Since the All-Star break though, they have gone 31-24, the ninth-best record in the league. Quick math says they’ve been playing like an 85-ish-win team, and that’s respectable enough for a soon-to-be division winner.
Minnesota’s 2023 season gives me ’87 Twins vibes, as they are playing out eerily similar. In short, the 87’ Twins won the World Series with only 85 wins, yet they beat a 98-win Detroit Tigers team in the ALCS, and then took down a 95-win St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. Everything worked out perfectly for an improbable championship run. This year’s team has +2200 with the same potential to pull off an upset like in ‘87. It’s just a matter of everything coming together at the right time.
While not having the most notable young talent on the team, this season looked to be the most complete in the division, with their best rotation in years and a productive lineup. The somewhat weird thing about this season has been the All-Stars that everyone thought would be the star of the show of this team, Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton, have drifted into the background and are almost a distant memory although Correa is finally starting to have what could be an exciting September, which I expect carries into October. The attention has turned to the young guns stepping up and performing above everyone’s expectations. Edouard Julien and Royce Lewis, among others, have significantly contributed to the team’s success.
Lewis deserves a big part of that credit. He has been exceptional in the 49 games he played in 2023. Lewis is slashing .314/.365/.530, with a 146 wRC+, the highest wRC+ of any rookie with over 100 plate appearances. Lewis has hit 11 home runs, 41 RBI, and has accumulated 1.8 fWAR. Nobody expected this production level from him after coming off the IL, especially coming down the stretch this late in the year.
Despite the absence of some key players recently, the Twins remain in a strong position to compete for a deep playoff run. Although the entire American League has been competitive all season, it has started to show signs of breaking down during the final push to the postseason.
Interestingly enough, given how poorly Minnesota has played at times this season, they still have a chance to catch up to the Houston Astros. Houston has also had some poor performances lately as they vie for the final first-round bye in the playoffs. That’s surprising, considering where the Twins were at the All-Star break.
Minnesota’s competition in the junior circuit is also flawed.
- The Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays have been dominant teams throughout the season in the AL East. However, it’s uncertain whether their playoff rotations will be able to perform at their best when it matters.
- The Toronto Blue Jays need to be more reliable to be counted on if they make it to the playoffs.
- The Texas Rangers started with a lot of promise, but things have gone downhill and have turned into a disaster.
- The Seattle Mariners have shown strength throughout the season but need more consistency by finishing September.
Therefore, the Astros are the team to beat in the American League. They have won three of the last four AL pennants. It wouldn’t exactly be a surprise to see them making another deep postseason run. One thing the Twins will have going for them into the postseason is that they won’t have to face the New York Yankees for the first time in what feels like forever.
Don’t get me wrong, Minnesota has its flaws, too, and it’s shown an ugly side at times throughout the season. However, they’ve adjusted as they can. They have stellar starting pitching with Sonny Gray, Pablo López, and various arms in the bullpen that have shown more reliability lately.
Depending on how they play the rotation in the postseason may raise some eyebrows around the league, like Maeda and Keuchel as relief for Gray or López. The Twins aren’t afraid to get creative. They’ve piggybacked two starting pitchers simultaneously before with good results along with tweaking the lineup continuously, trying to find the right formula, using an unorthodox approach to their lineup, with rookies Julien batting lead-off and Lewis batting third. The lineup has been performing exceptionally well recently, making me wonder why they didn’t show this production level earlier in the season. However, with what seems like everything coming together once again as it did back in ’87, Twins fans may witness an unlikely title run in a season that has been anything but ordinary.