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How the Twins Front Office Addressed Past Playoff Weaknesses

jorge polanco alex colome luis arraez
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#1 Nick Nelson

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Posted 17 February 2021 - 08:40 PM

With pitchers and catchers reporting to camp on Thursday, a new baseball season is upon us. The arrival of 2021 brings a mix of emotions for Twins fans, who are generally heartened by back-to-back division titles and an intriguing offseason, but impatient in the midst of an 0-for-18 postseason slump.An AL Central title is almost table stakes for the Twins this year. It says much about this team that the shortened 2020 season felt somewhat disappointing even though Minnesota took the division with a .600 winning percentage.

That's where we were at. Personally, I'm pretty pleased that the front office has built a club that looks well positioned to fend off a credible threat from the White Sox and defend its budding division dynasty, but I get it – for many fans, the proof is in the postseason pudding.

While I'm sure Derek Falvey and Thad Levine would agree it's important not to wildly overcompensate for what occurs in the small sample of a few October games, their offseason strategy does suggest that past playoff shortcomings were top-of-mind in their efforts to retool.

We've seen this play out in a few areas.

Infield Defense

There were many contributors to Minnesota's all-too-familiar futility in the 2019 and 2020 postseasons, but defensive lapses in the infield loom large in memory. CJ Cron's failure to secure an off-target DP relay from Luis Arráez in New York was rough ...



But last year's Jorge Polanco flub at shortstop in the most crucial of moments was even more painful:



The signing of free agent shortstop and defensive specialist Andrelton Simmons almost feels like a direct response to these two plays specifically. Polanco's inadequate arm at short has cost the Twins on this and plenty of other occasions. And while Arráez wasn't primarily responsible for either miscue ... his limitations didn't help in either instance.

Now, the Twins install an all-world defender at short, while sliding Polanco over to a position for which he's much better suited. The Twins are high on his fit at second. At the same time, Arráez goes from being a so-so defensive second baseman to a so-so defensive utility man, adopting a role where his bat and versatility become even more valuable.

It would also be helpful, of course, if Josh Donaldson is healthy enough to play at third in the playoffs. But the Twins are controlling what they can control, and we'll get to planning around JD's risk factor shortly.

Back End of the Bullpen

Taylor Rogers was unreliable last year, and he's back. The need for him to get straightened out is obviously paramount. His stumble in a Game 2 appearance against Houston was troubling (albeit ultimately inconsequential).

But Rogers' postseason struggles with the Twins have nothing on those of Sergio Romo, who had assumed a role as co-closer by the end of 2020.

In Game 1 against Houston last September, Romo entered to open the ninth inning of a tie game, then proceeded to load the bases and walk in the go-ahead run (an ignominious distinction!) before giving way to Caleb Thielbar who let two more of the inherited Romo runs score.



It was Romo's first time pitching in the playoffs since Game 3 of the 2019 ALDS, when he let the Yankees pull away with two ninth-inning runs to complete a sweep.



The irony of it all is that Romo brought with him to Minnesota the mythos of a postseason legend. He's got three rings, and was a renowned late-inning force during San Francisco's amazing run of championships in the early 2010s. It was a surely a big factor in the playoff-bound Twins acquiring him in 2019 (and bringing him back in 2020).

When push came to shove, Romo couldn't deliver. Now, the Twins turn to Alex Colomé, who similarly centers his approach on a single spinning pitch, and doesn't dominate hitters in a conventional sense. Last year, Colomé's K-rate dropped to a new low, but his performance was as consistent as ever.

The market at large seems to be betting against Colomé, given his contract. The Twins meanwhile are betting he can be what Romo wasn't: a reliever who lives up to the legend. It's a short squeeze, I guess? I need to stop reading about GameStop and the stock market.

Based on all available evidence, the Twins are taking a good gamble. For what it's worth: Colomé has thrown two scoreless innings in the postseason, both with Chicago last year.

Contingency Plans

The unavailability of Donaldson in last year's playoffs forced the Twins to start Marwin González and his miserable .606 OPS at third base in both games. Meanwhile, the perpetual unavailability of Byron Buxton forced them to start Jake Cave twice in the 2019 ALDS, and to call up Alex Kirilloff with zero MLB experience to start Game 2 against Houston in 2020.

Donaldson and Buxton will continue to be question marks, and the Twins can hardly count on them being on the field in October. But the team's fallback options have dramatically improved.

Part of this is just time and development playing out within the system. Kirilloff should be a seasoned big-leaguer by the time this year's playoffs roll around. Brent Rooker, Trevor Larnach and others could factor as legit corner outfield depth, giving the Twins an array of quality options should Max Kepler be needed in center.

Moving Arráez into a floating utility role provides a huge upgrade over the greatly diminished González. While he's lesser defensively than Marwin, Arráez is actually an asset in the lineup and arguably an essential fixture. In general, having a definitively starting-caliber player in that 10th-man role sets the Twins up for a variety of contingencies.

In the event that everyone's healthy when the playoffs come around ... that'd present an interesting dilemma. But it's a bridge the Twins will be happy to cross when they get there.

First, they need to get there. A full 162-game season lies ahead and the Twins will face even stiffer competition in the Central, after the much-improved White Sox very nearly clawed the division away in 2020.

This Twins team is built for success in the postseason, but more importantly, it's built to endure the long haul of a six-month season and come out on top. The improvements above will serve them well on both fronts.

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#2 Danchat

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Posted 17 February 2021 - 08:57 PM

Last year the plan was "let's load up on players with prior playoff experience"... which I thought was a good premise, but it certainly didn't pan out. Hopefully this year's plan will lead to finally breaking the 18 game streak. Perhaps we'll see a Trade Deadline acquisition or two when the time comes.


#3 Linus

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Posted 17 February 2021 - 08:57 PM

They have built a very solid team that should be a factor in the playoffs. This is not a World Series team however. They needed to upgrade their pitching and they haven’t.
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#4 Darius

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Posted 17 February 2021 - 09:45 PM

The lead is being buried. Instead of pretending like it was just luck of the draw, live and learn kind of thing.....why aren’t they getting roundly criticized for putting together a bullpen that relied on the rotting corpse of Sergio Romo in the ninth inning of a playoff game? Everyone could see that guy was cooked. Awful decision making and roster management.

Replacing May with Colome doesn’t get this team over the hump. We’re now seeing them trying recycle the skeletal remains of what used to be Hansel Robles, fresh off an ERA over 10. Why? Because he was a bargain....gee, I wonder why. How much you want to bet we see him blow it in a huge spot?

Then, next year, they’ll again make a couple of inconsequential moves....we’ll again pretend that they’re the brilliant American Pickers out there finding diamonds in the rough, and things are going to be different.
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#5 h2oface

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Posted 17 February 2021 - 10:22 PM

You sold me. ;) Looks like a done deal. :huh: Lookout, Dodgers.:P

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#6 gunnarthor

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Posted 18 February 2021 - 01:29 AM

Eh. TD is getting to be a bit too homery. This should be a make or break year for the FO and it doesn't look much different than other offseasons. Potentially strong offense that's going to strike out a lot, with a low OBP. No ace. Bullpen heavy pitching staff loaded with quantity over quality and games with 5+ pitchers. Boring baseball.

 

We've had to rely on guys like Littell, Romo, Arreaz, Stashak etc in the playoffs. This is the least I've cared about a Twins team going into a season in over fifteen years.

 

I'm also not sure much of the premise of this article is accurate. While defensive stats are pretty hard to pin down and last year was only 60 games, fangraphs rated the Twins defense pretty well, especially at short stop. I don't think Simmons, now 31 years old, is going to be a huge upgrade like others do. Yeah, they had a few bad moments in the playoffs but we managed two runs in two games because our offense was not good last year. And we still owe Donaldson 71m over the next three years. Uff-da.

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#7 SoDakTwinsFan4

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Posted 18 February 2021 - 02:17 AM

As a fan I'm giving 1 more chance to both Buxton and Donaldson to stay in the lineup before I call them each a bust. I've never liked Roger's as a closer, & I'm not confident in his abilities going forward. Still hopefully optimistic about 2021. If the Twins make the playoffs, I hope Baldelli learns from past managerial decisions.
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#8 ToddlerHarmon

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Posted 18 February 2021 - 02:31 AM

Did they address the lack of baserunners?

I'm optimistic about the season, but I worry that we rely on hitting mistake pitches. They are hard to come by in a short series against the top of a playoff staff.
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#9 Doctor Gast

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Posted 18 February 2021 - 05:55 AM

I think we have a good chance of getting to the post season but it'll be tough to regain the central title. Twins has improved overall but CWS has a pretty good team and their very good rotation has gotten better. If Broxton can come through with his hitting and if everyone can stay relatively healthy we got a good shot of progressing in the playoffs. Our defense has greatly improved and our BP has improved, hopefully if we can pick up an impact arm before the trading deadline and improve our clutch hitting, we can win the Championship. I'm optimistic
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#10 rv78

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Posted 18 February 2021 - 07:00 AM

I like the addition of Simmons for defensive purposes but wasn't the lack of offense the reason for playoff futility? Especially last year? Offensively they are replacing Rosario with Kirilloff. The verdict is still out on that move. If Polanco is sliding over to 2B then theoretically they are replacing Arraez with Simmons and Marwin with Arraez. Doesn't seem like much of an upgrade offensively. They did nothing to improve backup positions at CF or 3B. Yes Arraez is better offensively than Marwin if he has to play for Donaldson at 3B for an extended period of time but defensively they go backwards if that happens. They still only have one person for CF and he only plays partial seasons. Cave and Kepler are not who we want to see there for long stints. Maybe Celestino or Lewis can be called upon but there again you have unproven commodities. 

Pitching, can we expect Maeda to have a full season performance like he had in 2020. I doubt it. Berrios continues to be hit or miss. Big Mike will be Big Mike, you kind of know what you are going to get with him, a solid #3 starter. Is Happ going to be better than a healthy Odo? Probably not. And Dobnak at #5 is a hope and a prayer. The bullpen with the addition of Colome replacing May isn't an upgrade. I'd call it a wash. Adding Robles, Anderson, and Gibaut and relying on Smeltzer, Thorpe, Stashak, are hardly worth getting excited over. I'd give the FO a C- for their off-season moves. 

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#11 Platoon

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Posted 18 February 2021 - 07:29 AM

Lots of talk about lack of offense here about a team who’s lineup is supposedly an offense I’ve juggernaught. That seems misplaced, until you take the Toddlers comment above into consideration. Hitting mistake pitches. It’s true that hitters rely on them for success, and to pad stats. But those pitches are fewer and farther between in the playoffs as the mistake prone pitchers disappear into an early off season. Then your own pitching staff and defense come into prominence. There is no way around the fact that the Twins middle IF defense and catching defense has been subpar, and this flaws make their average pitching even more so. It’s not easy to seriously upgrade starting pitching, regardless of how much you spend. It’s by far the hardest position fill. 

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#12 AceWrigley

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Posted 18 February 2021 - 08:09 AM

Sometimes you never know how it's all going to work out until you play the games. It's a good thing that we can even look forward to a championship season rather than mediocrity.

 

I'm a Blackhawks fan and thought this season would be awful with the injuries to Nylander and Dach and the missing of Crawford and Toews but the kids are playing like their hair is on fire and the whole team has responded with inspiring hockey. I don't know if they'll win anything but it sure is fun to watch.

 

I'm kind of hoping this for the Twins and they play inspiring baseball. 0-18 in the post season is an embarrassment and this year would be a good time to crush that.

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#13 adjacent

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Posted 18 February 2021 - 08:18 AM

 

 

 

 

We've had to rely on guys like Littell, Romo, Arreaz, Stashak etc in the playoffs. This is the least I've cared about a Twins team going into a season in over fifteen years.

 

I think you are forgetting 2011-2016. Boy, those were teams with lack of expectations. And still we watched them.

Regarding this year, I am not too big on predictios because seasons usually are defined by the unpredictable. Yes, Buxton got injured all these past years, but that doesn't mean that he is going to get injured this year. Someone else that has been healthy all these years can get injured and affect the team in unpredictable ways. So, play ball! I am ready

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#14 KFEY93

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Posted 18 February 2021 - 08:30 AM

 

Eh. TD is getting to be a bit too homery. This should be a make or break year for the FO and it doesn't look much different than other offseasons. Potentially strong offense that's going to strike out a lot, with a low OBP. No ace. Bullpen heavy pitching staff loaded with quantity over quality and games with 5+ pitchers. Boring baseball.

 

We've had to rely on guys like Littell, Romo, Arreaz, Stashak etc in the playoffs. This is the least I've cared about a Twins team going into a season in over fifteen years.

 

I'm also not sure much of the premise of this article is accurate. While defensive stats are pretty hard to pin down and last year was only 60 games, fangraphs rated the Twins defense pretty well, especially at short stop. I don't think Simmons, now 31 years old, is going to be a huge upgrade like others do. Yeah, they had a few bad moments in the playoffs but we managed two runs in two games because our offense was not good last year. And we still owe Donaldson 71m over the next three years. Uff-da.

They hated him because he told the truth. 


#15 nicksaviking

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Posted 18 February 2021 - 08:34 AM

I don't think Romo and Rogers in the pen were the issue so much as how they were used. I like most of what Baldelli does, but the bullpen was lights out last year EXCEPT for Rogers and Romo, yet Baldelli still went back to his two "closers" in the tight spots time and time again, including the playoffs. I think they need to go with the "hot hand" approach and not defer to veterans or go off of what somebody did for you last year. As blasphemous as it might sound to a manager, if say young guys like Alcala and Stashak are mowing everyone down, those are your high leverage guys. If Duffey has a stretch where he's getting knocked around, bump him down to mop up duty.

 

But really, a team can't go 0-18 in the playoffs because they are fundamentally flawed in some manner, I mean these are teams that have enough talent to make it to the playoffs. It has to be almost entirely mental. So either keep the players away from Minnesota fans and our contagious defeatist attitudes or get them some top of the line sports psychologists?

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#16 gunnarthor

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Posted 18 February 2021 - 08:48 AM

 

We've had to rely on guys like Littell, Romo, Arreaz, Stashak etc in the playoffs. This is the least I've cared about a Twins team going into a season in over fifteen years.

 

I think you are forgetting 2011-2016. Boy, those were teams with lack of expectations. 

That's not true. 2011 was a huge expectation year. We just came off the magical 2010 season, Liriano and Young were going to take the next step to be elite players, Morneau would be back from his concussion, Mauer, Cuddy, Kubel were still in their prime. Man, was I excited for that year.

 

2012-2014 were pretty bad but I cared about those teams and the Twins minor leaguers. I cared a lot. I probably posted more in those years than any other time. And 2015 we just missed the playoffs and saw a lot of what Sano and Buxton could be. That made 2016 even more exciting.

 

This year I think we are a lock for a playoff spot and don't think we will win a playoff game. I think we will be forced to watch boring baseball where we hope for a HR and watch 9-12 pitchers in each game. 


#17 Dman

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Posted 18 February 2021 - 08:52 AM

What a bunch of Debbie downers.This team plays division winning baseball and it's not good enough? It is as worse than the years they couldn't touch 500 baseball? I bet you all are the one's that said the 87 Twins were gonna be crap and couldn't even win the division.Its baseball, all kinds of crazy things are going to happen that no one predicted.Did you have the Rays beating the Yankee's and Houston and one game away from a world series last year?I know I didn't.The mighty Yankees with Cole etc got beat and they almost beat the loaded Dodgers.Sure there are flaws and weaknesses on this team but it is a good team.We also are close to getting an infusion of new young talent from the farm so in my mind things have never looked better for the future of this club.Put the negative thinking away and enjoy the season.

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#18 Nash Walker

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Posted 18 February 2021 - 09:06 AM

#Break18


#19 Original_JB

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Posted 18 February 2021 - 09:12 AM

#competitive #justmakethepostseason #battle 


#20 mike8791

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Posted 18 February 2021 - 09:36 AM

Nick, great article!This is why you are my favorite TD writer - you try to look beyond the superficial and delve into what the underlying issues are!!There tends to be too much homerism on this site but articles like this are a refreshing change.You have hit the salient point of the 2021 team:are they better positioned to succeed in the playoffs?

 

Hard to quarrel with the widespread opinion that the 2021 Twins are well positioned to make the playoffs, given the 2 or 3 bottom feeders in the division and the new additions that, at the very least, make this year's team at least as good as last year's.No doubt IF defense is vastly improved.This weakness in the last couple of years has been instrumental in playoff defeats, though not nearly as much as hitting woes and the bullpen.

 

But this is where I have to diverge from your story line a bit.The bullpen does not seem to have a shutdown reliever, one who can come in late in the game and not allow any runs to score.Yes, Colome is better than Romo but after two years, the Sox saw enough to dump him for a real closer in Hendricks.Roger's just cannot be considered an elite ninth inning arm, nor does he have the durability to pitch well in consecutive games.So give the FO a C grade in upgrading the pen; at best, this might be as good as last year's bullpen, unless some unheralded player steps forward.

 

On the offensive side of the ball,the team could take a big jump forward if Buxton/Donaldson are healthy for 140 games or so, but as you note, past performances point to this being an unlikely scenario.I, for one, am uneasy about Araez's utility role.With his OB skills, he is a key to a successful offense.How will his

super-utility role affect his hitting?Could be unsettling - or not??

 

One other big factor that others on this post have noted regarding our playoff futility: leadership.Under Gardy, who seemed to give in to the Yankee Stadium jinx, the team just looked flat during the aught playoffs..Just no spark!DOA!! This was partly a reflection of the manager, lack of competitive fire and resilience.The two best players, Mauer and Morneau, wetre hardle leader-types.Similarly, under Rocco, except for Cruz, this team looked defeated the last two postseasons, even with their record-setting 2019 record-setting HR barrage.Again, no fire in the lineup.Too nice.Maybe Rocco is a little too laid back, maybe the lineup was pressing too much, who knows?But the psychology of losing seems to have permeated this team, unlike the 87/91 teams under Kelly along with firebrands like Gaetti, Puckett, Knoblach, Morris and Hrbek. 

 

Could this lack of fire possibly reflect mgt. who has refused to make a "big" move at the trade deadline that could have pushed the team over the top for the stretch run?For example, many of us feel we do not have a top shutdown ace for the playoffs(Maeda might be the best in a while but how will he hold up in a full season?) What would the addition of a Snell or Darvish have done for this 2021 team's confidence?Same for even a Hendrick's, Rosenthal or Yates signing?If managment doesn't go all out to win, what message does this send the players?Here in Chicago, with some big moves the past two seasons and the addition of a no-nonsense, playoff-experiencedLaRussa,expectations are sky high. Can we say the same in the Twin Cities?

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