While being very much a team sport over the long haul of a 162-game marathon, at its core baseball is a series of individual matchups between batter and pitcher. Win enough of those moments—especially in the highest leverage situations—and you’ll be considered a success.
From Killebrew to Kepler and everyone in between, the Twins have cultivated an impressive legacy of franchise talent. But who would you want to see (i.e. have the most faith in) performing during the most important game scenarios?
Let’s examine moments where a certain skill is needed, and I’ll give my all-time and current-roster picks for who I want in the box, on the base paths, or toeing the rubber:
Base Hit (Single) Needed
All-Time: Rod Carew. He had 2,085 of them as a Twin, and possessed the speed to lay down a bunt or beat out an infield hit.
Current: Jorge Polanco. He just seems to have a knack for making contact and putting the ball “where they ain’t”.
Game 7 Starter
All-Time: Jack Morris. With respect to options like Johan Santana or Frank Viola, the proof is in the pudding here.
Current: Jose Berrios. He’s the unquestioned ace of this staff and continues to improve towards what could/should be his peak the next few years.
Extra-Base Hit Needed
All-Time: Kirby Puckett. Had the power to drive the ball and didn’t strike out a ton. Tony Oliva would be a very close second.
Current: Mitch Garver. Perhaps a surprising choice, but Garver is patient enough to get a good pitch and put a solid swing on it (without missing).
One Strikeout Needed
All-Time: Johan Santana. With respect to Bert Blyleven and his 12-6 curveball—see below.
Current: Jake Odorizzi. If his up-in-the-zone heater is working, hitters don’t have a chance of catching up to it.
All-Time: Joe Mauer. Perhaps the best eye of any batter in Twins history, and he once actually drew a walk-off walk.
Current: Josh Donaldson. Even though I haven’t seen him play a Twins contest that matters, he was brought in largely for his veteran presence and discipline at the plate. Plus, it isn’t like the 2019 core were all that patient.
Two Shut-Down Relief Innings Needed
All-Time: Al Worthington. From 1964-1968, he was about as good as it gets out of the Twins pen, and back then relievers were routinely stretched out more than in today’s game.
Current: Trevor May. If his control is shoddy, he’ll get pounded. But if he’s on top of his game, the opposition gets mown down in short order.
Stolen Base Needed
All-Time: Chuck Knoblauch. In seven Minnesota seasons, he averaged 39 swipes/year.
Current: Byron Buxton.
In all honesty, no one else on the current roster runs at all. Not in front of the Bomba Squad.
One-Inning Save Needed
All-Time: Joe Nathan. With respect to Rick Aguilera’s experience and Eddie Guardado’s gumption, I have to go with The Nathanator.
Current: Taylor Rogers. While not possessing the physical presence or intimidation factor of a traditional stopper, Rogers can be just as nasty.
Crucial Managerial Decision Needed
All-Time: Tom Kelly. As much as I loved Gardy, his playoff record will always be a ding on his MN resume. TK didn’t lead his teams to the playoffs often, but when he did it counted.
Current: Rocco Baldelli. A team only gets one skipper at a time, of course, but if ‘19 was any indication, Rocco might have a shot at the all-time category someday.
Home Run Needed
All-Time: Harmon Killebrew. No one did it more in a Twins uniform.
Current: While Miguel Sano or Nelson Cruz would seem to be the obvious choices, I’m landing on Eddie Rosario. When it comes to homers, he has a flair for the clutch/dramatic variety...
Tell me where I’m right (or wrong) in the comments!