For the first time since 2010, the Minnesota Twins are going to finish with a winning record. With just a handful of games left, they find themselves in the thick of a playoff race, and first year manager Paul Molitor has breathed life into a club so desperately needing it. Maybe most importantly though, the Twins have turned pitching woes into a strength at a critical juncture.
Needing to keep pace with clubs such as the Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, and Los Angeles Angels, the Twins were going to need to win in all facets of the game. Defense has been significantly improved in 2015, and the offense has been carried the final month by players like Miguel Sano and Torii Hunter. On the mound though, the starting pitching has been a tale of two totally different players.
On one hand, Minnesota has seen an ace form out of the very place it was expected. Signing him to a four-year, $55 million deal this offseason, the Twins have been powered by the arm of Ervin Santana. Despite missing the first half due to a PED suspension, it's been the final stretch in which Santana has looked every bit the part of a lights out staff ace. Backing him up is a guy on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Rookie pitcher Tyler Duffey has taken an opportunity afforded after a second recall, and completely run with it.
At this point, both pitchers have thrown their last outings in the month of September. Santana went seven complete innings in four out of his five outings, going eight in the other. He compiled a 4-0 record to the tune of a 1.75 ERA, .211/.279/.297 slash line against, and an 8.5 K/9. Duffey went 3-0 in five starts, owning a 2.35 ERA, .237/.287/.316 slash line against, and an 8.0 K/9. By all respective measures, both pitchers have been near flawless for the Twins at the most important time.
With things where they are currently, the Twins path to the postseason is still very much an uphill climb. Should they get there, only one of the two stars is eligible to pitch (with Santana being ineligible for the postseason). However, the production over the season's final month highlights something vastly more important for Molitor, Terry Ryan, and the Twins.
Despite what has taken place in 2015, this wasn't the Twins opening of their next window. The winning at a high level was expected to begin in 2016. It could be argued however, that the most unknown commodity going forward was what Minnesota had on the mound. Right now, it looks like both Santana and Duffey have answered those questions.
The Twins will no doubt have Santana, Phil Hughes, and Kyle Gibson locked into starting roles for the upcoming season. Duffey's impressive rookie run, and his even more impressive curveball, have forced him into the discussion as well. For a team that should be in an even better place a year from now, having too much talent to juggle is something anyone can get behind.
September baseball has been fun in Twins Territory again this year, and while there's plenty of production to highlight, it's been Santana and Duffey that have paved the way. One expected, one out of nowhere, Minnesota has enjoyed watching two players look like shutdown aces for well over the past month, and it's been a very welcomed change.