Left Side, Strong Side: The Bar Has Been Raised
Image courtesy of © Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsAs has been noted many times over the years, outside of back-to-back years of Pedro Florimon (2013 and 2014) making the Opening Day lineup the Twins had a different player playing the position ever since Cristian Guzman left the team. Barring any injuries or suspensions, Jorge Polanco should start on Opening Day for the second consecutive season at shortstop for the Twins in 2020 and will have been the starter three out of the past four seasons.
While third base has had a bit more consistency, it can certainly be argued the the performance level hasn’t been quite what it could or should be there either. Trevor Plouffe had some seasons of note while he held down the hot corner from 2013-2016, but it can be argued that the Twins haven’t had a real difference maker consistently at that position since Corey Koskie was playing.
This coming season looks to be the first in a long time the Twins will look to return both starters at those two positions. Both of those players have the potential to be real difference makers on a competitive club. For nostalgia's sake, let's just remember some of the names that have seen some notable time at those positions for the Twins. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Brian Buscher, Mike Lamb, Jamey Carroll, Tony Batista, Joe Crede, and we could keep going but I can hear the cringing as I type so I will stop there.
The 2019 Polanco-Sano pairing could be the best performances from those two positions in a season since the 2001 Koskie-Guzman pairing both attracted MVP votes. There is no debate that offensively Polanco and Sano were as good a duo as any this century for the Twins. Polanco’s .295/356/.485, .841 OPS, and 22 home runs paired with Sano’s .247/.346/.576, .923 OPS, and 34 home runs is something that certainly raises the performance level of those positions.
Positions that often were defense-first when Twins rosters of the past were assembled. Defense may be the one place where we can pick apart this duo in comparison to duos of the past. Now Polanco has done a lot to improve himself. Turning in a +1 DRS in 2019 at shortstop.
It is Sano’s defense that is the biggest blemish of this tandem turning in a -5 DRS in 2019. That is why many of us will continue to wonder if or when the Twins will be forced to move Sano across the diamond to first base. For the time being his offensive production has continued to outpace any defensive liabilities, but when sporting World Series aspirations every little edge needs to be gained and defense at third could be one.
Defensive change or not, we are witnessing something that we haven’t seen for some time. The floor for production of the 2020 left side of the infield is much higher than it has been in for most of the century. That raised level is just one of the many markers that show how far the Twins have come and forms part of the foundation that will allow the Twins to look at making some bigger moves this offseason.
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