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5 Reasons Why This Twins Team is Different

At this point, the story of the Minnesota Twins Postseason failures have become all too repetitive. Dating back to 2004, the Twins have a Postseason losing streak of 16 games, with 13 of those losses coming at the hands of the New York Yankees, though you probably knew that already.
Image courtesy of © Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
On each of those teams we have always been able to look back and see what went wrong in the Postseason that brought what were promising seasons to a sudden halt. However, this Twins team is constructed in a new mold, that differs drastically from those in years past. So, here are five reasons why the 2020 Twins are different.

1. The Twins Have an Ace Pitcher

Ever since the Twins traded away Johan Santana after the 2007 season, the Twins have been unable to find an Ace starting pitcher, even for so much as a single season. Sure, the Twins had Ervin Santana, who at times felt like an ace in 2017, but all of his peripheral numbers suggested otherwise, and that got exposed by the Yankees. Jose Berrios has been on the verge of breaking out into an ace for a few years now but has appeared to settle in as a very strong number two pitcher, which is just fine.

This year, Kenta Maeda has been exactly the Ace that the Twins have been looking for all this time. Maeda’s 2.70 ERA and 3.00 FIP both rank 5th among qualified starting pitchers in the American League this year, while his strikeout to walk ratio of 8 to 1 ranks 2nd among that group. There is also this incredible stat, shared with us by Twins Daily writer Matthew Taylor.



2. Deep Starting Rotation

Beyond Kenta Maeda, this starting rotation goes very deep with starting pitchers that I would be comfortable with starting Postseason games. Jose Berrios has really found his form after a slow start, and Michael Pineda has looked sharp in his return after the suspension. Additionally, the Twins can rely on Rich Hill and Jake Odorizzi (assuming he returns as planned) to give them quality innings as well.

In years past, the Twins starting rotation has been their Achilles Heel against the Yankees lineup who can feast on some of the weaker arms the Twins have had to throw out there in years past. As a collective, the Twins ERA from the starting rotation finished at 3.54, which ranked 2nd in the American League. By contrast here is how the starting rotation has fared in seasons that the Twins made the Postseason, since trading away Johan Santana.

Attached Image: 7CAEF4D3-4A04-45BD-B681-2D8E06AF871E.png

2010 and 2019 were the only two seasons where the Twins even had decent starting rotations. However, the 2010 staff (outside of Francisco Liriano) was built on pitch to contact pitchers, who all struggled to strike people out. Meanwhile, in 2019, the starting rotation was propped up on the performances of Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda (who wasn’t even on the Postseason roster as he was suspended). Now, not only do you get Pineda this time around, but you also add in Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill to give the Twins a complete one through five.

3. Bullpen Depth

Another thing that the Twins have lacked in year’s past is a plethora of reliable options out of the bullpen. Throughout the 2000’s, the Twins bullpen essentially started and ended with Joe Nathan. There was usually one, maybe two other reliable arms other than Nathan, but that was about it. In 2010 and 2017, the bullpens had a few guys who would make okay 7th or 8th inning guys but lacked a relief ace that is so valuable in the Postseason. The only year where the Twins had a strong bullpen going into the Postseason was 2019, where the Twins went four deep with Taylor Rogers, Sergio Romo, Tyler Duffey and Trevor May.

This year, the bullpen depth has been kicked up a notch. While outside of Duffey, the big four from 2019 aren’t pitching at the same high level this year, they are still strong options to get big outs in the Postseason. Additionally, Rocco Baldelli can turn to other arms out of the bullpen like Matt Wisler, Caleb Thielbar, Cody Stashek, Tyler Clippard and Jorge Alcala. Collectively, those five pitchers combined for a 2.44 ERA across 99 and 2/3 innings pitched this season, with none of them having an ERA above 3.00. This gives the Twins as many as nine relievers that they can turn to when needing to get big outs in October.

4. Byron Buxton Should Be Available

Byron Buxton’s health has been a major talking point for about as long as he has been a major leaguer, and for good reason. His inability to stay on the field for extended periods of time has had a huge impact on the Twins. Since 2015, Buxton’s rookie season, he has played in 431 games, and has missed 439 games. In the 431 that Buxton has played in, the Twins have a record of 243-188 (.564 win percentage). In the 439 games that he has missed, the Twins have a record of 199-240 (.453 win percentage). Additionally, in each of those six season, the Twins have had a better record with Buxton than in games without Buxton, in case anyone wants to say the Twins just happened to be better teams in the years that Buxton was healthier and it wasn’t a lot to do with Buxton.

In the two seasons that the Twins have made the Postseason since Buxton’s MLB debut, Buxton has played in a total of just 4 innings. In 2017, Buxton was pulled from the AL Wild Card game after hurting his back on a spectacular catch in the second inning, and he did not play at all in the 2019 Postseason. While it is still up in the air if Buxton will be available for Game 1 after taking a fastball off the helmet in Friday night’s loss to the Cincinnati Reds, the reports from the team make it seem like he is doing well and should be available.

5. No Road Games in Front of Yankee Fans

How much of an actual impact this has is subjective, but there is no denying that going into a hostile Yankee Stadium to begin the Postseason can be quite the intimidating experience. In fact, the Twins won’t have to play any road games this entire Postseason, as they will host a three-game series against the Astros in the Wild Card round, and then any games beyond that will be at neutral site games. However, playing at Target Field, even without fans has to be seen as an advantage, as the Twins went 24-7 in games played at Target Field this year.

While it is no guarantee that these differences will actually lead to different results for the Twins in this year’s Postseason, they certainly can’t hurt. While Twins teams of the past have had some glaring weakness that eventually lead to their Postseason demise, it is hard to pinpoint a specific weakness on this year’s ball club. Sure, the offense has been a bit of a disappointment at times, but when they have had a healthy Josh Donaldson and Byron Buxton in the lineup that has certainly not been the case. Hopefully, for the Twins sake, both of those players are ready to go for Game 1 on Tuesday against the Astros.

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14 Comments

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SoDakTwinsFan4
Sep 28 2020 09:26 AM

Great points in a well written article. I personally think the case could made that Rich Hill should be the number 3 starter. Its a good problem to have 

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MMMordabito
Sep 28 2020 09:50 AM

#6 ... The Twins are probably the second favorite team of 14/15ths of the league and fan bases through Thursday.The Astros need to be kicked quickly from this tournament.Unleash the hate!!!!

I agree with all the points, except for one.That Buxton should be healthy.Once that ball hit him in the head, although appeared to be glancing blow, I assumed he would be out for postseason again.Until he is on the field and makes it through a full game, I will assume he will not be there.  

 

The pitching is much better than it has been in most recent post-seasons, and after the first round depth will be very important.You cannot just go with 3 starters like in years past.Also, bullpen depth will be tested because no off days until WS means no back to back games multi innings get an off day to rest like in past.Teams that overuse pen and rely on just a couple guys will be tested later on.  

 

I still do not want to see the Yankees no matter where.There is just something about them in post-season, that Twins play terrible.Maybe with better pitching this year, that can strike guys out, will make a difference.Not playing at Yankee stadium will be huge too.  

 

It will be interesting to see the neutral site games because both, for ALDS and ALCS are known for being pitcher parks.WS site not sure since it is first year, would have to look up how it played out most of the year. 

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theBOMisthebomb
Sep 28 2020 11:13 AM
I am hopeful. Yet, will believe it when I see it.

 

There is also this incredible stat, shared with us by Twins Daily writer Matthew Taylor.

 

That's a cool stat, although it's worth remembering that overall league batting average is near an all-time low, which means WHIPs are naturally lower.

 

The league this year hit just .245, lowest in the modern era since "year of the pitcher" 1968. Compared to Pedro's 2000, where MLB non-pitchers hit .275, the highest mark of the modern era!

 

Combined with the small sample of 2020, and this isn't surprising that the 2020 leaders look good in this stat. Of the top 10 lowest WHIPs among qualified starters since 1961, 3 were in 2020, another was in 2019, and another 2015. Still good pitchers, and good seasons, but I'm not sure how to compare them historically.

    • DocBauer, kenbuddha, MN_ExPat and 1 other like this

Question:would you rather have bullpen "depth" or a lights out closer?Playoffs tend to be low scoring affairs.With the solid rotation we have, give me a Joe Nathan any time.

 

1. The Twins Have an Ace Pitcher

Ever since the Twins traded away Johan Santana after the 2007 season, the Twins have been unable to find an Ace starting pitcher, even for so much as a single season. Sure, the Twins had Ervin Santana, who at times felt like an ace in 2017, but all of his peripheral numbers suggested otherwise, and that got exposed by the Yankees. Jose Berrios has been on the verge of breaking out into an ace for a few years now but has appeared to settle in as a very strong number two pitcher, which is just fine.

This year, Kenta Maeda has been exactly the Ace that the Twins have been looking for all this time. Maeda’s 2.70 ERA and 3.00 FIP both rank 5th among qualified starting pitchers in the American League this year, while his strikeout to walk ratio of 8 to 1 ranks 2nd among that group.

Liriano was absolutely an ace for a single season in 2010 using this criteria. He ranked 14th in the AL in ERA, and 2nd in FIP.

 

Even that difference in ERA rank is distorted by 2020's heavily unbalanced schedule. Maeda only faced 1 team ranked better than 20th in runs per game, CHW for 2 starts out of his 11 (18%).

 

By comparison, Liriano had 21 such starts out of 31 in 2010 (68%).

 

Maeda is a very good pitcher having a very good season, but I don't think it's possible to draw a line that marks him as a ace right now but excludes 2010 Liriano. (At least not until Maeda carries us to the World Series! :) )

 

3. Bullpen Depth


Another thing that the Twins have lacked in year’s past is a plethora of reliable options out of the bullpen. Throughout the 2000’s, the Twins bullpen essentially started and ended with Joe Nathan. There was usually one, maybe two other reliable arms other than Nathan, but that was about it. In 2010 and 2017, the bullpens had a few guys who would make okay 7th or 8th inning guys but lacked a relief ace that is so valuable in the Postseason. The only year where the Twins had a strong bullpen going into the Postseason was 2019, where the Twins went four deep with Taylor Rogers, Sergio Romo, Tyler Duffey and Trevor May.

This year, the bullpen depth has been kicked up a notch. While outside of Duffey, the big four from 2019 aren’t pitching at the same high level this year, they are still strong options to get big outs in the Postseason. Additionally, Rocco Baldelli can turn to other arms out of the bullpen like Matt Wisler, Caleb Thielbar, Cody Stashek, Tyler Clippard and Jorge Alcala. Collectively, those five pitchers combined for a 2.44 ERA across 99 and 2/3 innings pitched this season, with none of them having an ERA above 3.00. This gives the Twins as many as nine relievers that they can turn to when needing to get big outs in October.

 

No offense, but "started and ended with Joe Nathan" seems like the kind of thing a clueless national media figure would say about the Twins bullpens of the 2000s. :)

 

Before Nathan even came here, the 2002 playoff bullpen had 5 very good pitchers. 2004, 2006, and 2009 probably did too, at least by this criteria. (Be sure to look beyond K/9 which has been increasing league-wide.) 2010, Nathan was hurt yet our pen may have been 6 deep that postseason. Bullpens were largely a strength of the Gardy/Anderson years, and generally did not hold us back in the postseason either (outside of a single-game blow-up by Rincon in 2004, and another by Nathan in 2009).

 

The 2019 and 2020 bullpens may indeed be deeper, although starters are throwing less now too -- successful postseason pens of the 2000s didn't need to be deeper than 5.

 

Also note that, like the Maeda vs Liriano comparison above, the 2020 pen so far has only faced 1 team ranked above 20th in run per game which might be boosting their stats relative to pitchers who faced a more balanced schedule of opponents.

Hill is pitching decently right now, but I don't think there's much doubt that Maeda, Berrios and Pineda are the three best Twins starters right now and have the best chance for giving the team 6-7 quality innings. Hill is probably maxed out more like 4-5.

 

Hopefully Berrios and Donaldson can go for Game 1 and be themselves; that is definitely the other big thing (beyond Maeda) that could be different from last year: the team being relatively healthy.

    • DocBauer likes this
Pitching hasn’t been a concern all season, even with the suspensions and injuries along the way.

I will still say the offense scares me. Buxton, Sano, and Cruz being red hot most of the year masked a lot of problems at the plate. Now we’re in SSS season and need others besides them to step up.
    • DocBauer likes this

 

Question:would you rather have bullpen "depth" or a lights out closer?Playoffs tend to be low scoring affairs.With the solid rotation we have, give me a Joe Nathan any time.

Very few closers are truly "lights out" and in modern MLB, with starters pitching so few innings, you need bullpen depth.

    • MN_ExPat likes this
1] Maeda has watched his game up to another level. For 2020, he has pitched like an ACE. Will be be that good in 2021 over 30 starts and 180-190 IP? Hopefully, but right NOW he's about as good as it gets.

2] Yes, Berrios struggled early on, seeming to work on SOMETHING or affected by the short ramp up I'm not certain. But he has been pitching lately about as well as expected, hoped for, and as he has done for each of the past 2 All Star seasons before a late fade. Again, he rebounded at the end of 2019 and changes in routine will hopefully take hold in the future. But thjs guy is GOOD. Pineda looks like the same guy we wished we had in the playoffs last year. Hill is doing exactly what he was signed to do, provide a real lift, and experience, as we hit the playoffs. Dobnak struggled late, but generally performed well and shows promise. But let's be honest, Odorizzi is the better pitcher and looked good in his last start before his cut/blister. I don't even know if we'll need a 5th SP, but I like our chances there as well or better than anyone.

3] I'm going to agree to disagree SLIGHTLY here and echo a few comments made above. There is no Nathan, unfortunately. And many of those past teams had some good, productive RP. In fact, some of those teams had better pen depth than the rotation. But I DO AGREE that this pen goes 7-9 even 10 deep when you factor in possible SP providing additional depth. Most have at least some post season experience now, albeit limited. A couple bad appearances late shouldn't diminish optimism based on what they did during the season.

4] I also remain concerned about Buxton, and Donaldson, until I see them on the field. And the Twins have been a little loose when it comes to reporting injuries, which is their right. Since Buxton's helmet strike seemed to be glancing, and Donaldson's calf injury was reported as a "tightness", both were removed and then sat with no additional information following, I am going to assume for now they are good to go and sat for precautionary reasons.

I am hopeful but very guarded at this time.

5] Not travelling to NY to play in that environment is probably a good thing. I'm not 100% convinced NOT playing them at home in the 1st round is necessarily a good thing. But I sure am glad that for now, we don't have to keep beating the dead horse that is ghosts of the past.

Our pitching is the best and deepest it has been in recent memory. Out defense has absolutely improved. We have experience all across the roster to varying degrees. We still finished, I believe, with the 4th most HR in the AL and 9th most runs scored. We are not impotent offensively. Still, my biggest concern for the playoffs IS the offense. Like the dreaded Yankees, and other teams, our depth has been tested. And yet we are tied for the 2nd best record in baseball and tied for the 4th best record overall.

CAN the offense come through? If Buxton, Donaldson and Arraez are in the lineup, I think we can. If 2 or all are out, I'm really concerned. It's one thing to have depth, it's another to count on that depth when everything ratchets up another notch to playoff levels.
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twinbythebay
Sep 28 2020 06:01 PM

There's also the simple fact that this is the first time the Twins have been favored in a postseason series since... I don't even know when! I don't think they have been favored in any series since 2000; even in the one series that they won (2002 vs. the A's) they were pretty heavy underdogs. I think they are clearly the better team in this series, but anything can happen in the postseason, especially in a three game series.

 

There's also the simple fact that this is the first time the Twins have been favored in a postseason series since... I don't even know when! I don't think they have been favored in any series since 2000; even in the one series that they won (2002 vs. the A's) they were pretty heavy underdogs. I think they are clearly the better team in this series, but anything can happen in the postseason, especially in a three game series.

I suspect they were favored in 2006 vs the A's, but I haven't been able to find definitive proof yet. But there's this:

 

https://www.sportsod...sa=mlb&a=al&o=r

 

Yes, Liriano was injured, but we still had Johan and home field advantage. And Oakland was a huge Pythag over-performer that year.