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Depth Matters: The amazing part of the story of the 2019 Minnesota Twins

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Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Detroit Tigers
Jorge Polanco is one of the few true superstars on the team.
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

- Mike Tyson (supposedly)

Raise your hand if you said “here we go again” when Miguel Sano’s foot injury became public back at the start of Spring Training.

Sano was literally considered ‘out of the picture’, and that was that. He would never be the same again, the Twins would start slowly, and it would be another lost season.

Doomsday? Maybe. But you’re a Twins fan, so you get it.

Of course, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine (here-to-for referred to as Falvine) had already inked super-utilityman Marwin Gonzalez to a two-year pact. I’m not sure how much of a heads-up the Twins front office had on Sano’s injury and to what extent the MarGo signing was a reactionary move, but the injury wasn’t public when Gonzalez was signed and there was no primary position that Marwin was expected to fill when he signed the deal.

And that is when we should have known. This Twins team is deep, and Falvine had considered plenty of scenarios.

In a season in which only one position player (Jorge Polanco) managed to appear in more than 150 games for the Twins and only three players played in more than 130 (Polanco, Max Kepler, and Eddie Rosario), depth was leaned upon at every turn.

You see, it wasn’t superstardom that carried the Twins to 101 wins and a division crown. Sure, there was Jorge Polanco finishing No. 8 in the American League in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) with 5.7, sandwiched between New York Yankees DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge. But the Twins had eight players who provided a WAR of 3.0 or greater — more than every other playoff team (and the second-place Cleveland Indians, for that matter) except the Dodgers, who also had eight such players, and the Houston Astros, who had nine.

And consider that of those eight players, three of the position players played in 105 games or fewer: Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, and and Mitch Garver.

This team was built to withstand the war of attrition that is 162 games. And for as deep as the stable of position players is, the pitching staff was simply more of the same, with Jake Odorizzi (3.6 WAR) and Jose Berrios (3.3 WAR) leading the way and Taylor Rogers (2.5 WAR) and Trevor May (1.3 WAR) anchoring the bullpen.

Outside of Michael Pineda’s 2.4 WAR in 26 starts that included a pair of Injured List stints prior to a season-ending suspension, the pitching staff was a work in progress throughout the season and the bullpen cobbled together on the fly. Tyler Duffey emerged as a legitimate late-inning option and figures hold down a high-leverage role in the playoffs. May went from up-and-down to more down than up to a lock-down reliever down the stretch in August and September.

The idea that a 101-win team had only three All-Stars (actually only two until a late injury replacement netted them a third) is preposterous. But it’s also a testament to the depth assembled by Falvine and the ability of virtually everyone on the roster to stay ready and willing to jump in and play a key role at a moment’s notice.

Take for instance, the following.

  • Much has been said about Luis Arraez, so I won’t rehash just what a revelation he was. But it’s worth repeating that he was a fringy prospect given a let’s-see-what-he-can-do promotion as the normal lineup was dropping like flies back in the spring, and he turned into some crazy Rod Carew/Tony Gwynn/Luis Rivas hybrid. (In no way is Arraez like Rivas, outside of his first name, uniform number, and primary position. But I needed a third guy for the hybrid thing and I thought those three things would be fun.)
  • Jake Cave was sent to Triple-A Rochester on April 26. He went up and down a couple of times and slashed just .176/.299/.243 in 74 big-league at-bats through June. From July 1 to the end of the regular season, Cave put up a line of .306/.383/.581 in 124 at-bats and has a real shot at making the A.L. Division Series roster. The Twins stuck with him as a fourth outfielder (and because LaMonte Wade, Jr. dislocated his thumb,) and Cave delivered when Buxton and then Kepler went down with injuries during a crucial part in the schedule.
  • Marwin Gonzalez did Marwin Gonzalez things. Despite playing in only 114 games due to a couple of frustrating injuries, MarGo started 40 games at 3B and 44 games in RF, 18 games in LF, and 22 games at 1B. He also made starts at SS and 2B. Through it all, he was largely consistent at the plate after a terrible April and managed to put up a 1.6 WAR despite a disjointed season.

A deep team with few superstars and a seemingly endless supply of better-than-replacement-level players is the theme, and it carried the Twins to the second-best record in franchise history.

Of course, the jury is out on whether or not depth can trump star power in a short playoff series. Conventional wisdom would suggest that it’s unlikely, but conventional wisdom has never met the Bomba Squad.