5 Reasons Why This Twins Team is Different
Image courtesy of © Ken Blaze-USA TODAY SportsOn 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.
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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