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Make it rain up in here, Derek.   http://www.startribu...rket/562665252/
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Silver Linings Amid September Storms

I got married on Saturday. The past weekend was the most blissful and meaningful of my life – the sort that brings renewed perspective to relative frivolities such as sports.

As I sit here on this cool, rainy Monday afternoon, catching up on the deluge of ill-boding Twins news that I've been barely able to internalize in recent days, I might otherwise find myself feeling blue. But right now, nothing can wipe the smile off my face. So I thought I'd share my good vibes and help shine a light of optimism on a team facing some serious adversity.
Image courtesy of David Berding-USA TODAY Sports
From the big-picture view, one should feel very pleased with the franchise's current state of affairs. This year has undeniably been a success, and for those who suggest that a quick demise in the playoffs would change that, I hope you know how silly it sounds.

The Twins have already won more games than in any of the past eight seasons. They set the major-league home run record in five months. Minnesota's lineup has put forth a combination of good, great, and historically unprecedented performances. The new coaching staff has been spectacular by any result-based measure, and the front office that assembled it is now routinely mentioned among the game's most sophisticated and advanced.

In the grand scheme, this has been a phenomenal season and there's no doubt we'll remember it for years to come. But here, with the postseason only weeks away, it's also completely fair for fans to be thinking about the small picture. The right here and right now. Minnesota has put itself in tremendous position with 88 wins and a 5.5 game division lead here on September 9th, but there are a number of negative harbingers clouding the skies at exactly the wrong time.

The Twins have won two series against teams with .500+ records since the end of June, with one of those coming against a fading Boston team on the brink of elimination. The Michael Pineda suspension is obviously a monumental gut-punch, and leaves the rotation filled with starters who've failed to build up much confidence of late. A medley of key injuries have befallen the position-player core. Things are undeniably trending in a bad direction.

With that said, here are nine things you should be feeling good about as we gear up for the final three weeks of the schedule.

1. The Twins have two All-Star starting pitchers.

It hardly seems relevant right now given the way they (especially Jose Berrios) have pitched since, but he and Jake Odorizzi were among the league's best pitchers over the first three months of the season. And Odorizzi has quietly settled back into a hell of a groove, with a 3.05 ERA and only two home runs allowed over his past eight starts.

From mid-June into July, Odorizzi was out of sorts, giving up loads of homers and generally struggling to get through five innings. But in recent weeks he's returned to form, and Saturday's effort against Cleveland was one of his finest all year. The ups and downs serve as a reminder of the roller-coaster nature of MLB's marathon season. Which is all the more reason we shouldn't give up on Berrios. He's not so far removed from looking like a frontline ace.

This seems a good time to mention that in 2018, Berrios went through a similar (albeit less extreme) swoon in the latter half of the summer, but rebounded with a 3.28 ERA and one homer allowed in his final four starts, allowing a .174/.282/.221 slash line. In his final start, he tossed seven innings of one-run ball with nine strikeouts against the White Sox.

Finally, while losing Pineda at this point understandably feels like a grave development, let us not forget that the Twins sprinted to their amazing start in April and May with him as the least trusted member of the rotation. They've shown they can do it without him.

2. The bullpen is long and strong.

The present shortcomings of the rotation are made somewhat more palatable by the strength of the bullpen in recent weeks. Yeah, the whole Sam Dyson fiasco sucks, but in spite of it, Minnesota relievers hold the following AL ranks since the trade deadline:
  • 2nd in FIP (3.90)
  • 2nd in WAR (5.8)
  • 2nd in HR/9 (1.19)
  • 3rd in xFIP (4.22)
  • 4th in K/BB (3.26)
  • 5th in SIERA (4.21)

Taylor Rogers is elite, and is – crucially – getting plenty of rest here in the late stretch of the season. Trevor May is pitching as well as he ever has. Sergio Romo provides a vital veteran infusion. Tyler Duffey has quietly emerged. Brusdar Graterol is here, representing an extremely intriguing wild-card factor. As much as people want to fret about the rotation, we should all recognize the bullpen's astounding (and much-needed) turnaround. We've seen how bullpen depth can come into play during recent playoff runs. The Twins outshine several other playoff-bound clubs in this regard.

3. Offensive depth is why they're here.

You don't set MLB records for total home runs, and number of players with 20+ home runs, without widespread contributions, and that's just what the Twins have gotten. While we will know more soon, it seems likely the Twins will have to proceed without the totality of Byron Buxton's impact (and maybe with none of it). Max Kepler is dealing with a worrisome shoulder situation. Nelson Cruz's wrist has begun barking again. Marwin Gonzalez has been sidelined for some time with an abdominal issue. Jake Cave and Miguel Sano are banged up too.

It's a grim situation in the trainer's room right now, but the Twins still have an awful lot of weapons available even when they're shorthanded. And there is a glimmer of good news on the health front...

4. They'll likely have the luxury of resting their ailing players down the stretch.

It would've been nice if the Twins took care of business against Cleveland at Target Field, rather than dropping five of seven in the last two series, to effectively put this thing out of reach. We're not quite there yet. Still, a magic number of 14 with 19 games left to play puts the Twins firmly in the driver's seat, and they're one good week away from being able to essentially coast, with a cakewalk schedule against bottom-dwellers in their final 13 games.

Rest isn't a cure-all, but it sure helps, and is probably the only potential remedy for ailments like Kepler's sore (but not structurally damaged!) shoulder, or Cruz's wrist, or Sano's back. Thanks to their depth and the diminishing urgency to win, the Twins should be able to practice a lot of caution in the twilight of the season.

5. Kyle Gibson is capable of dominance.

The main outcome of Pineda's suspension is that it significantly elevates the importance of Gibson, who's currently sidelined while dealing with his own medical issue. Berrios and Odorizzi were going to slot among the team's top three playoff starters even with Big Mike around. Now, Gibson will likely step back into that picture.

I can presume, from experience, that this item will be the most controversial of the nine listed here. For whatever reason, many Twins fans seem to harbor an inordinate level of resentment toward the right-hander, who has toiled in this organization for a decade and has finally realized the quality of his stuff after working very hard to do so.

Yes, Gibson's been rough lately, and inconsistent for much of the season. But this isn't a man wilting mentally in the moment; it's a guy dealing with some truly terrible health-related misfortune. He opened his season coming off an E. coli battle and, as we've now learned, he has been battling ulcerative colitis throughout the summer. This daunting affliction has clearly affected his weight and strength, most recently causing a jarring drop in velocity, and so to me it's impressive he has still managed to post the seventh-highest swinging strike rate among AL starters while vaulting his K-rate to a new career high.

That speaks to the underlying quality of his raw stuff, which likely ranks as the best in the rotation. When Gibson is truly on his game he can overpower a good lineup. I don't know if we'll see that side of him again this year, in light of the circumstances, but at least the problem has been acknowledged and the team is taking some steps to try and get him right.

6. Eddie Rosario is lurking.

It's been a frustrating year for Rosario. He's lost all semblance of plate discipline and as a result he's become a fairly easy out amidst a lineup that offers few. He just keeps swinging more and more frequently out of the zone, and his production has steadily declined as a result.

But let us not forget: when he's locked in, there might not be anyone more dangerous. He loves big stages and big moments; the three-run blast at Yankee Stadium in the 2017 Wild Card Game lingers as an unforgettable highlight in a mostly forgettable game. He's still got time to turn it on and find his zone again.

7. The postseason is an unpredictable beast.

I know it's easy for Twins fans to feel a sense of dread about the playoffs, given the complete lack of success this franchise has experienced in October since 1991. As unfavorable developments stack up, it can be tempting to feel like failure is inevitable in an ALDS tilt against the Astros or Yankees.

But past letdowns against New York are now irrelevant. They just are. Houston's intimidating rotation guarantees nothing. The Twins are, at the end of the day, a tremendous team, poised to approach or surpass 100 wins with one of the greatest offenses in MLB history. They've shown resilience and tenacity against both the Yankees and Astros this year. This isn't a piranha pack bringing knives to a gunfight. Even if in a weakened state, the Twins are going to have a shot in a short postseason series.

8. No matter what happens, the playoffs are awesome!

I've heard people say they'd rather not make the playoffs than get swept out in the first round again. It's an amazing sentiment to me. I get such a deep sense of jealousy when watching postseason action from the outside – a constant reality over the past eight years. This team deserves a spot on the national pedestal, and all the attention and recognition that comes with it. Win or lose, the experience will be important for a young core that figures to mostly stick together for a long time. Which brings me to my final point.

9. This is only the beginning.

It's fair to say this is a unique opportunity for the Twins. You can't assume they'll be in this kind of position again next year, or the year after. But from that ol' big-picture view, they really are just getting started. Many key players are under control through multiple prime years to come. Their minor-league system ranks among the league's best. Rocco Baldelli might win Manager of the Year as a rookie skipper, while his first-year pitching coach Wes Johnson already has a solid case as the most impactful in the game. In their third year, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have put forth one of the best teams in franchise history, all while focusing on long-term contention above all. Based on what we've seen, I have immense faith in their ability to build around this core and develop players effectively.

The future is bright for the Minnesota Twins, no matter what happens in the coming month. That doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't feel concerned about the small-picture, and disheartened by this recent string of events. But as I was heartily reminded over the weekend, perspective is important. Taking a step back, Twins fans should be feeling awfully good about where things stand, and even in the short-term, there's more reason for optimism than it may presently seem amidst a storm of bad news.

  • brvama, Dantes929, bdodge22 and 10 others like this

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23 Comments

Congratulations, Nick!

    • Jerr, Oldgoat_MN, Wyorev and 1 other like this
Congratulations.
Keeping a happy marriage takes a lot of work from both sides, it doesn't come easy or naturally.

That said, it works if both are committed to putting in the work.
My wife and I have been together 20 years, and I'll tell you that there is nothing better than having a partner you can trust and count on. I can't imagine trying to make it through this crazy world without that support.

Good luck to you and your spouse!
    • Heinie Manush, Oldgoat_MN and DocBauer like this

Thanks for writing this. Amid the grim injury and suspension news, it's good to remember that we're lucky to be complaining about the playoffs at all!

    • Jerr, Heinie Manush, Dantes929 and 5 others like this
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theBOMisthebomb
Sep 09 2019 05:36 PM
How about a deep postseason run to validate the regular season? Meaning at least participating in a long ALCS of at least six games or doing better than that. Losing in the ALDS or the wild card round would feel like failure on many levels. It just would and talking about the future to long suffering Twins/Minnesota men's professional teams is foolhardy. These recent developments are cause for concern.
    • bighat likes this
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tarheeltwinsfan
Sep 09 2019 05:50 PM

Congratulations and best wishes to you both. And thank you for a very positive and uplifting article.

    • Jerr, Dantes929, Oldgoat_MN and 2 others like this
Congratulations Nick!

Well said, I could quibble with your assessment of Gibson’s stuff, but agree with the sentiment that he is better than he’s been lately.

I’m optimistic for the outlook on the rest of the season and look forward to the post season!
    • SQUIRREL, Oldgoat_MN and Wyorev like this

We have seen over the past decade or so in the men's pro leagues, young and relatively unknown teams that have become playoff-bound division champions, only to be beaten. But they ride that wave of success to eventually become world champions and dominant in their sport for several years. The Warriors and Astros come to mind. This current Twins team can achieve that too. Perhaps this is not their year to win it all but they are laying the foundation like those other teams have done.

    • DocBauer likes this

How about a deep postseason run to validate the regular season?

The Twins currently have the third most wins in the AL. Assuming this holds up, validation of the regular season will have Houston and New York playing for the right to be in the World Series.

Congrats!
    • dbminn likes this
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theBOMisthebomb
Sep 09 2019 08:35 PM

The Twins currently have the third most wins in the AL. Assuming this holds up, validation of the regular season will have Houston and New York playing for the right to be in the World Series.

Maybe. There is a reason why they play the games. Another Gardy era style sweep out of the LDS is not acceptable. Moral victories should be something not considered. The Twins took the season series from the Astros.
As you noted the Twins haven't competed well with winning teams for quite some time, long before the injury bug bit them. Most teams have that bug. Cleveland and the Yankees got the early version. While I doubt it was intentional, I look at this team as one built to win during the season. Offense and depth sustain you during a long season. Quality sustains you in the playoffs. And some luck. The strength of the team was there OF defense, which due to injuries is in jeopardy. To me the next best thing they have going for them is the bullpen. It's been very good of late, although Rogers struggles with repeated use is concerning. The just don't think the offense will be as impactful as one might think. Recent games against some decent arms show the Bombas somewhat less frequent. But of all your points, I like #9 the best. The Twins are building an operation to legitimately compete in the context of their market situation. That's where the success and the fun will come from eventually.
    • rkevin likes this
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Richard Swerdlick
Sep 10 2019 05:49 AM

Thanks for talking me off the ledge

    • Oldgoat_MN and Don Walcott like this

Congrats, Nick.I hope that you and your lifetime mate will have a wonderful future.  

 

Count me among those who isn't convinced we will even make the playoffs.We probably will, but really need to get a few of these guys back to get that job done.

 

Once in the playoffs, anything can happen.I have commented many times this year that I wished the Twins would extend Gibson.Yet even I have been questioning that wisdom.Now that I am aware of what he has been dealing with since his illness last winter, I feel for him.Hopefully, a couple weeks off will get his batteries recharged and he will get the job done these next few weeks and beyond in the playoffs.Then, hopefully, the Twins will sit down and get him extended to fill our #3 or #4 starter slot in 2020.  

 

Again, congrats Nick.

    • JD Green likes this

Congratulations to you and your partner, Nick.

Also this has been such a fun regular season from the Twins. It far exceeded any expectations I had coming in, and while I hope they finish with a bang and win it all, I am prepared for that not happening, in part due to the late injury bug.

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tarheeltwinsfan
Sep 10 2019 07:36 AM

 

The Twins currently have the third most wins in the AL. Assuming this holds up, validation of the regular season will have Houston and New York playing for the right to be in the World Series.

Well said...another way of saying what you said is: "It's why you play the game". Play ball !

This is a great article and mostly reflects my thoughts.I am happy the Twins are up 5.5 games in September. I thought going into the last 10 games the two teams would be very close and the advantage the Twins had in schedule in that time would carry the day.This is fun people. Division titles aren't supposed to be easy.All I asked of the season was for September games to be important and they certainly are. The fun is in the journey. Playoffs are a crap shoot. If the Twins make the playoffs they most likely will play the Yankees and the most likely result is that we lose 3-2. Next most likely is that we win 3-2.Third most likely is that we lose 3-1. Fourth most likely is that we win 3-1. You get the drift. If following a team that competes, and by competes, I mean maybe wins and maybe loses upsets you because when losing you find it unacceptable then maybe stop and reflect whether you would be better suited for cheering on the Globetrotters against the Generals. As far as being built for the regular season vs playoffs, there is maybe some validity but mostly it is a crapshoot where players either step up or they don't and either things fall your way or they don't.Kirby wasn't likely to be a playoff hero and the Twins weren't likely to succeed in the playoffs when they won it all but they battled and things went their way. What about the Yankees makes you think they are built for success in the playoffs but we are not?Their best starter has an ERA of 3.96.Everyone else in their rotation has an ERA over 4.2. Believe it or not, even without Pineda we would have a starting pitching statistical advantage over the Yankees.  

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MMMordabito
Sep 10 2019 07:50 AM

Sorry, the bag of rose-colored glasses being passed around ran out when it got to me.  

 

I smell 3-0 or 3-1 exit in the divisional series.

First of all, congrats to you and the Mrs.

 

At one point in time, the Astros were the worst team in baseball. They started building and made the playoffs. If memory serves correctly, they didn't go far the first year, but look what happened since. For the Twins this year, however far they go, it is an important big step. 

Congrats. It has been a fun year so far.
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Don Walcott
Sep 10 2019 10:22 AM

Congratulations!

 

One more potential positive: the defense seems to have gotten over a swoon. That one game against the Red Sox, they had 4 or 5 web gems on MLB highlights, and generally they seem to be playing better now. If they can keep up their concentration, and play defense the way they are capable, it will really help out the pitching in the playoffs.

    • Dantes929 likes this
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operation mindcrime
Sep 10 2019 11:15 AM
Congrats! \m/

 

Sorry, the bag of rose-colored glasses being passed around ran out when it got to me.  

 

I smell 3-0 or 3-1 exit in the divisional series.

Said most fans in 87.Said most fans of every wild card before their team advanced.Of course you might be right.Twins aren't going to be favoredbut I wouldn't even watch if I thought most of the actual players felt like you do. Being a fan of a team that advances despite the odds is so much more satisfying than being a fan of a team that advances because of being a heavy favorite. Of course the underdog advances less often.That;s what makes it sweeter.

Big congrats from afar, and very impressed you were able to put cogent thoughts about baseball together only mere hours after the nuptials!

 

Your contributions help make this site a very special corner of the inter-nets. And many good wishes to you both.

 

This beautiful song from The Boss popped into my head when I read your intro.

Enjoy:

 


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