Whenever the Minnesota Twins have a disappointing season, I find it instructive to examine the biggest Achilles heel that produced more losses than wins.
2022 failure theories already espoused...
- A hot start raised expectations far too high than this team’s water mark.
- Emilio Pagan almost single-handedly lost too many late-inning leads against the Guardians.
- Rocco Baldelli’s extreme adherence to analytics—especially with starting pitching—and general lack of visible competitive fire (excluding this epic tirade). Conversely, maybe Cleveland manager Terry Francona was the second coming of Connie Mack.
- The abrupt, mid-season departure of pitching coach Wes Johnson.
- The Baseball Gods not residing in Twins Territory.
I won’t argue too much with any of those explanations for the Twins’ lackluster 78-84 finish, and certainly some witch’s brew of them all factored into the malaise. But to me, one storyline ruled them all and in the darkness bound them: injuries.
An old poster of New York Yankees slugger Mickey Mantle famously showed all his various maladies...
If a visage of the ‘22 Twins existed, it would look something like that. According to Spotrac, the Twins lost 2,363 player days to the Injured List in 2022—second-most in the majors (only “ahead” of the 2,638 days lost by the Cincinnati Reds). Comparatively, the division-winning Guardians lost just 709 days to the trainer’s room—an astonishing difference.
Some direct equivalents of this terrible injury luck...
- Ryan Jeffers being lost for most of the season meant Gary Sanchez had to squat behind the plate and try to put together competent at-bats far beyond his expiration date.
- Jorge Polanco’s late-season shutdown necessitated a lot of Jermaine Palacios (currently a AAAA player) and Nick Gordon (fantastic utility guy—slightly exposed as an everyday man).
- Nagging or perplexing injuries to Max Kepler, Byron Buxton, Trevor Larnach, and Alex Kirilloff saw numerous OF configurations of Gordon, Jake Cave, Kyle Garlick, Mark Contreras, Billy Hamilton, & Gilberto Celestino. With all due respect to those individuals, that is not a great trade-off in WAR or anything else.
- On the pitching side, a season without Kenta Maeda was already all but guaranteed. Yet, despite acquiring pitching depth, things fell apart quickly and often. Joe Ryan missed a month contracting and then recuperating from COVID-19, while Sonny Gray, Josh Winder, Bailey Ober, Tyler Mahle, and Chris Paddack all missed significant time. This led to more starts from Devin Smeltzer, Cole Sands, Aaron Sanchez, Louie Varland, and Chi Chi Gonzalez than this team was equipped to handle.
As late as September 15 the Twins were just four games behind the Guardians heading into that long-awaited, five-game tilt in Believeland. But truth be told, they had been running on fumes for quite some time and lucky to be even that close. We all know how quickly it fell apart from there.
I won’t be the person who completely writes off all other areas for improvement—which always exist—in the face of injuries. There is more this front office and ownership group can do than simply hope for a regression to the mean on injury luck. But years from now, what I’ll most recall from the 2022 Twins campaign will almost certainly be the zombie-like corpse of a roster that shambled across the finish line—a shell of its former self.