Making Baseball Fun Again – The 2017 Twins
With broad smiles, infectious laughter, and more good baseball than bad, the 2017 Minnesota Twins actually looked like they were having fun more days than not. Gone were the memories of forgettable seasons, forgettable players, and milquetoast post-game interviews. The 2017 Twins showed personality, and a markedly improved product on the field.
For their troubles, they got a small taste of the post-season to end their 2017 season. The crazy thing to think about is that only Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins were the only remaining players to have made it to the post-season as a member of the Twins. I tend to think of guys like Brian Dozier, the former Trevor Plouffe, and even Kyle Gibson as being guys who were able to experience a crushing defeat by the Yankees back in 2010, but that wasn’t the case.
They all got a chance to experience that in 2017 instead! After an incredibly top of the first inning which saw the Twins leading 3-0, the Yankees stormed back and defeated the Twins in the Wild Card game to end a season, that by most accounts, exceeded expectations. Even Dan and I were off by eight to ten games for our pre-season predictions, and we’re usually the two who are spewing all sorts of rose-colored optimism. But if you were to ask members of the Twins organization if they exceeded expectations, I bet you’d find that they all knew they were capable of a season like this.
If the 2016 season was getting dumped on prom night after your date told you they was in love with your best friend, 2017 was finding a great fling for the summer before you left for college. Fleeting, fun, but ultimately unsatisfying.
The Twins showed some signs of life from various players throughout the year, and it was when their prized power-hitter went down with a leg injury, that the team started to fire on all cylinders. Byron Buxton finally broke out offensively, to match his almost in-human defense. Eddie Rosario showed his power wasn’t a fluke, and that he was also capable of providing a strong defense alongside Buxton. Jorge Polanco came back from almost getting demoted to showing that he’s a capable shortstop and an above-average hitter. Jose Berrios seemed to keep his command issues at bay and showcased his penchant for strikeouts at the major league level. Meanwhile Kyle Gibson, a veteran pitcher known for not being consistent, figured out how to be consistent and played a massive part in keeping the Twins’ playoff hopes alive.
Ervin Santana, Brian Dozier, and Joe Mauer all had wonderful seasons, and the bullpen surprised us with names like Trevor Hildenberger and Taylor Rogers. But that was 2017, and the Twins will have plenty of work to do this offseason. The Twins will need to figure out what they’re going to do with their starting pitching. Hector Santiago is a free agent, along with Bartolo Colon, and neither would seem to factor into the Twins’ rotation for 2018. Meanwhile injuries to Phil Hughes, short and sometimes inconsistent outings from Adalberto Mejia, and the health of Trevor May (who this author is one-hundred percent pulling for) would all be in-house candidates to try and shore up the starting rotation. Kyle Gibson is arbitration eligible, and would make a strong case to received a raise after his amazing second-half of the season. The Twins also need a pitching coach for the major league team, so I imagine that will be something Derek Falvey and Thad Levine work to rectify sooner rather than later.
James Rowson worked his magic with the Twins’ hitters this season, getting guys like Byron Buxton and Joe Mauer to levels some didn’t think were possible. For a young and unproven Buxton, Rowson was able to take Buxton’s sub-.100 batting average up above .250 for the season. More than that, Buxton showed consistency at the plate, something we hadn’t seen from him with the big league team. Meanwhile the often maligned Joseph Patrick Mauer returned to form, hitting .305, an OBP of .384, and an OPS of .801. All in all, not bad for a guy accused of being soft and trying to make his way back from a concussion that threatened his playing career.
Now we get to the wild card of the Twins; Miguel Sano. I will fully admit that I’m not sold on him defensively or offensively (a fact I’ve made known on the podcast all season). There are facets of his game that I’m not a fan of (massive strikeout numbers, temporary lapses in defense), and his overall durability. Can he be an offensive juggernaut? Sure. Will his defense improve? Yes, so long as he puts the work in. Am I alarmed by his continued struggle with his weight? No. Is there reason to believe he can also improve in that area? Without a doubt. When I hear comparisons of Pablo Sandoval and Billy Butler, it does not inspire confidence in me that Sano is currently on the right track. What Sano does have going for himself is that he’s young, has a great group of talent around him, and teammates and coaches that want him to succeed. As of this writing, another power hitter with a penchant for strikeouts is currently 5 of 34 in the post-season. Two of those five hits have been for monster home runs, but you’d like to see him on base more often, and have less than the 21 strikeouts he’s currently accrued. Just saying.
The Twins will have a lot to do and talk about from now until February. They’ll have new faces challenging for roster spots. Familiar faces will return from injured reserve with a lot of fire in their bellies to prove they belong once again. Most of all they’ll have a Hall of Fame manager returning to the dugout with a team of players that finally got a taste of the post-season. A team with another off-season of growth and maturity. A team with a foundation that could be the start of another World Series winning franchise. Don’t quit on the Twins yet, because they’re just getting started.