Entering the 2019 season, the Minnesota Twins were not favored to win the division by many experts. They won just 78 games in 2018 and had to deal with the very potent Cleveland Indians. However, the Twins surprised many with a red-hot start and built and 11.5 game lead in the AL Central in June. Even though the Indians evened up the division in mid-August, the Twins pulled away and won 101 games. Their season came to an end though on Monday night, after they were swept by the Yankees in the ALDS.
Positives –– The Offense
The Twins scored the second-most runs in the Majors this year, averaging 5.8 runs per game. They also cranked out a Major League record 307 homers and had eight players hit 20 or more homers. Leading the charge was Nelson Cruz, who at the age of 38 continued to fend off Father Time. Despite playing in just 120 games, Cruz batted a robust .311/.392/.639 (166 OPS+) with 41 homers and 108 RBI for the Minnesota Twins. His ISO jumped to career-best .328 this season. Despite playing in just 130 games and being limited to DH duties, Cruz put up a 4.3 bWAR. His performance was rewarded with the Twins pickup his $12-million team option for 2020.
Jorge Polanco bounced back from a suspension shortened 2018 to post the best season of his career. In 704 plate appearances, Polanco batted .295/.356/.485 (120 OPS+), 22 homers, 40 doubles, and 79 RBI. Those numbers were all career bests for Polanco, who earned his first All-Star Game selection. His 5.7 bWAR was the highest on the team.
Miguel Sano also bounced back from a disappointing 2018 to post the best offensive season of his career. Sano batted .246/.346/.576 (138 OPS+) with 34 homers in just 439 plate appearances. While his strikeout rate was still high, 12.5% of Sano’s plate appearances resulted in an extra base hit. His home run to fly ball ratio skyrocketed to 27.2%, up from 16.2% in 2018. His ISO jumped from .199 in 2018 to an impressive .329 this season. A year after being sent to the minors, Sano has proved that he is a dangerous bat in the Minnesota Twins’ lineup.
Young Hitters Break Out
Before this year, Mitch Garver had hit just seven homers in his brief career. However, Garver stunned many with an impressive power display this season. He hit .273/.365/.630 (156 OPS+) with 31 homers in just 359 plate appearances. He had the second-most homers for any catcher in the Majors. 8.4% of his plate appearances resulted in a homer and his homer to fly ball rate was 25.2%, up from just 6.0% a year ago. His ISO more than doubled this year, going from .146 to an astounding .357. Despite playing in only 93 games, Garver put up a strong 4.0 bWAR. For a position that lacks depth around the league, Garver is now a high-tier catcher thanks to his offense.
After a few middling seasons, Max Kepler finally put together a complete season in 2019. Kepler batted .252/.336/.515 (122 OPS+) with a career-best 36 homers and 90 RBI in 596 plate appearances. His 4.0 bWAR was also a career-best by a large margin. His ISO jumped from .184 in 2018 to a strong .267 this year. Kepler put together these impressive numbers despite only having a .243 BABiP, suggesting that the best is still to come for him. He also played very good defense in the outfield, not committing an error and putting up 11 DRS in 130 games (1111.0 innings).
22-year-old Luiz Arraez got called up in mid-May and became a fan favorite for his play. Arraez hit a strong .334/.399/.439 in 366 plate appearances, and drew more walks than strikeouts (36 to 29). Arraez also played four different positions (second base, third base, shortstop, and left field), making him a valuable asset for the team for the foreseeable future.
Pitching Improves Drastically
In a year where home runs were at an all-time, the Twins’ pitching staff allowed the second-fewest homers in the AL. Their team ERA dropped from 4.50 in 2018 to 4.18 this year, good for fifth-best in the AL. Leading the way were All-Stars Jake Odorizzi and Jose Berrios. Odorizzi earned his first Midsummer Classic selection going 15-7 with a 3.51 ERA/3.36 FIP and 178 strikeouts in 159 innings pitched (10.1 K/9). Berrios earned his second straight selection, going 14-8 with a 3.68 ERA and 195 strikeouts in 200.1 innings pitched (8.8 K/9). This was the first season in which Berrios reached the 200 inning plateau.
The bullpen was also impressive, anchored by closer Taylor Rogers. Rogers thrived in his first year as the team’s closer, going 30 for 36 in save opportunities with a 2.61 ERA/2.85 FIP, 1.00 WHIP, and 90 strikeouts in 69 innings pitched (11.7 K/9). Rogers also only walked 11 batters (1.4 BB/9), giving him an impressive 8.18 strikeout to walk ratio.
The Byron Buxton Dilemma
After a few years where he failed to live up to his hype, Byron Buxton looked like he was finally going to break out in 2019. His offense was rounding into form in addition to playing his usual stellar defense when he was hit by a pitch on June 26th and forced to the injured list. Shortly after being activated, Buxton suffered a concussion while making a diving catch on July 13th. On August 1st, Buxton crashed into the outfield wall while trying to make a play in Miami. This injury appeared to be minor, but it eventually forced Buxton to undergo season ending surgery after suffering multiple setbacks.
While Buxton showed plenty of improvement at the plate (he had a career high .827 OPS when his season ended), his health problems are a huge concern to the team. Right now, he’s on track to become one of the bigger draft busts of this decade. The Twins have a decision to make on whether to keep trying with Buxton, or to give up and move on.
Kyle Gibson was once a top prospect for the Twins, but now his time with the organization could be nearing its end. Gibson put up a disappointing 4.94 ERA (95 ERA+) and 1.44 WHIP in 160 innings pitched. By the end of the season, Gibson was no longer in the team’s starting rotation. While his strikeout rate increased, his home run to fly ball rate jumped to a career-worst 11.4%. With a career 4.52 ERA, Gibson could also be permanently relegated to a reliever role.
The Twins have largely the same roster heading into next year. Considering their success this year, their offense looks like it will once again be potent. Their bullpen will have their main pieces of Rogers, Trevor May, and Tyler Duffey all returning next year.
The starting rotation is where most change will take place for these Minnesota Twins. Odorizzi, Gibson, Michael Pineda, and Martin Perez all enter free agency this offseason. The team should definitely try to re-sign Odorizzi, since he was their best starter this year. To replace the other three pitchers, the Twins should look at the free agent and trade markets for quality starting pitching. If the Twins are able to replenish their rotation with strong arms, they will be in a strong position to repeat as AL Central champions. Whatever they do, it will be interesting to see if the Minnesota Twins have found a sustainable run of success.
Author Twitter: @maktheknife2000
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