I’ve heard it said that “expectations are resentments waiting to happen”. That phrase could explain why, as the calendar flips to August on a first place Minnesota Twins ballclub, there seems to be so much negativity surrounding the team. Twenty-four games over .500 and three games ahead of the Cleveland Indians would likely be sitting better had it not come on the heels of what was once an 11-game lead in mid-June.
Sure, I wish that large division lead had held up. Yes, I wanted another starter at the trading deadline. But consider where this franchise stood coming into this season:
-A 78-84 finish in ‘18 which felt even more lackluster than the record indicates, leading to the firing of Paul Molitor and the hiring of Rocco Baldelli.
-The retirement of franchise cornerstone Joe Mauer.
-The third season of Falvine ™, the last year of the usual timeframe to “put up or shut up” from the GM seat.
The take-home point here? There was much uncertainty about this organization coming into the ’19 season. Since Opening Day, however, they have proceeded to:
-Spend 123 days in the AL Central’s first spot, not relenting that perch since April 20.
-Have one losing streak over 2 games (and that was capped at three straight losses).
-Win almost equally on the road (35-20) as on the home grass (31-21).
-Be the first team in MLB to reach 200 home runs in a season, have 11 players with 10+ bombas, and seem set to obliterate the all-time MLB record for total team dingers.
-Field a pitching staff that ranks seventh in MLB in ERA (4.03) and fifth in WHIP (1.27).
-Post a +129 Run Differential, 2nd-best in MLB behind only the Dodgers.
By nearly every metric or framing device imaginable, the Twins have commenced an incredible franchise turnaround. Heading into the final two months of regular season play, they have put themselves in a position that most clubs would be envious of.
Two final stats that may prove important for the final 55 contests:
-The high-water mark (25 games over .500) last occurred on July 13 (when the division lead was 7.5 games). Oh wait...another beat down of the Marlins and this team is currently 25 games above flat ground again. This seems to speak to Cleveland’s torrid pace shrinking the lead rather than a Twins collapse. All the Twins can control vis-à-vis the Indians are head-to-head matchups, an arena in which we currently hold a 5-4 advantage.
-Against teams that are .500 or better, the Twins are 27-23. Modest, sure, but the Tribe are 14-20 in similar contests. With our schedule lightening and Cleveland’s toughening, this would seem to bode well down the stretch.
Of course, I am not necessarily advocating that everything is peachy keen, either. I wanted a solid—perhaps veteran—starting pitcher. That didn’t happen. At the same time, however, to think we can’t make a postseason run with the team we’ve got is a bit foolhardy. While not superstars, Sergio Romo & Sam Dyson seem like solid adds to the ‘pen.
In making value judgements on things like “the bullpen” or “the starting rotation”, I often think that recency bias and comparisons to previous clubs/years perhaps ride shotgun in one’s mind when they should be situated more in the trunk area. In looking at just this year’s crop of major league baseball teams (the one’s we’ll be battling to make or succeed in the playoffs), the Twins stack up remarkably well even in the oft-maligned pitching department even before the new additions begin to factor in.
The bottom line: While not willing to rest on any laurels, I also think it is foolish to discard the extraordinary gains (gainz, for the millennials) this team has made as a franchise thus far. With the dog days of August on the docket, YOUR Minnesota Twins are positioned well for an entertaining division race, playoff push, and (hopefully) deep October run.
What we all wouldn’t have given for that scenario at this time last year.