If you wrote off the Twins’ 2015 season as another rebuilding campaign after a dreadful 1-6 start, in which they were outscored 45-15, you would not be alone.
The general consensus was that Paul Molitor’s inaugural season would be spent keeping the benches warm for all-world prospects Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Jose Berrios while they ironed out their wrinkles in AA ball.
But after the season’s first trimester, our favorite team has catapulted its way into first place in the AL Central Division with the third best record in all of baseball. An unlikely resurgence of old-timers Joe Mauer, Torii Hunter and Glen Perkins, combined with guys in their prime like Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe has catapulted the Twins in May to a 20-7 record, their best month since 1991 when they last won the World Series.
The combination of Dozier, Hunter and Mauer at the top of the lineup has proved to be the catalyst to unleashing a timely offensive prowess we haven’t seen here in a long time. To put things in perspective, Dozier – a leadoff hitting second baseman who was unheard of until last year – is ninth in the league in slugging percentage at .530, in the company of big names like Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
A starting rotation of no-names and castoffs such as Phil Hughes, Mike Pelfrey and Kyle Gibson has been good enough to not spoil the party, and the unit will be fortified when Ervin Santana returns from his PED suspension after the All-Star break.
But how good is this team actually? A quick look at the numbers shows they are nothing special, sabermetrically speaking. The Twins’ pitching staff has posted a 3.84 ERA, a 1.38 WHIP and 326 strikeouts, all of which are either at or below the American League average. Offensively, the Twins’ team batting average, slugging percentage and OPS are also at or below the average, while their runs scored, homeruns and stolen bases are all pedestrian at best.
So is the Twins’ success an illusion? How confident can we be that our half-decade long baseball slump is coming to an end a year earlier than anticipated?
I reckon that yes, indeed, the wait is over.
The Twins’ performance this year is no fluke. They have found a way to win consistently in what is top to bottom the toughest division in all of baseball. Kansas City emerged from its perennial cellar into an offensive powerhouse last year. Detroit remains the best team in the division in terms of pure talent despite losing Max Scherzer in free agency. Cleveland boasts the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner in Corey Kluber. The White Sox have two of the most dynamic players in baseball with Chris Sale and Jose Abreu.
On paper, you can make the argument that the Twins are the least talented team in the division. The Twins’ exceptional play this year with a piecemeal roster that was never designed to actually win now is a testament to our friend Molitor’s leadership.
This squad, combined with the host of talent that is working its way up through the minor league ranks gives us great reason for a positive future outlook. If our friend Molitor can squeeze these results out of an average team, imagine what he will do with Buxton, Sano and company.
In fact, I’ll go even further than that and compare this team to the Twins of 2001 – a young gutsy squad that fought its way out of obscurity to a respectable 85-77 record and laid the foundation for a decade of great baseball.
That squad featured youngsters such as Torii Hunter and Corey Koskie teamed up with veterans like Brad Radke and everyday Eddie Guardado, with future studs Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Johan Santana waiting in the shadows for their time to emerge.
We are seeing the same scenario replay itself 15 years later. The rebuilding process may have taken longer than Twins fans had hoped, but make no mistake – we have a contender once again.