Across all sports the term “underdog” is typically given to teams who lack elite talent but are good enough to be relevant. It is rare when a team leads their respective sport in most major statistical categories and fighting for the number one seed in the postseason to be given the “underdog” label. The 2019 Minnesota Twins are the exception to that rule.
As a fan, it is very easy and understandable to be blinded by emotion when talking about your favorite team. We all think our favorite team is the best - unless you’re a Marlins or Orioles fan but then you wouldn't be reading this anyway. Fans also tend to overreact to minor mishaps or punch a hole in the wall when their team doesn’t commit $45million over three years to a 31 year old reliever with declining peripherals.
This article will not be an emotionally driven rant about media biases and the Twins not getting respect because they’re a small market team. Rather, my goal is to present an objective analysis of how absurd it is that this team is already an “underdog” to make a deep postseason run.
Let’s first look at the current playoff odds of AL division leaders, provided by FanGraphs.
Houston Astros: (42-21), 99.9% chance of a postseason appearance, 20.1% chance of winning the World Series.
Minnesota Twins: (40-20), 96.5% chance of a postseason appearance, 7.7% chance of winning the World Series.
New York Yankees: (38-22), 95% chance of a postseason appearance, 12% chance of winning the World Series.
Now let’s compare how these teams have performed so far in terms of offense and pitching, beginning with offense. It’s no secret the Twins have crushed the ball this year and you may not be surprised to see them at the top of the AL, but here it is anyway.
Minnesota Twins: .272/.339/.510 .850 OPS, 114 HR, 14.7 WAR
Houston Astros: .271/.344/.478 .822 OPS, 100 HR, 14.5 WAR
New York Yankees: .257/.334/.448 .781 OPS, 97 HR, 8.7 WAR
You probably didn’t need me to tell you how good their offense has been. If you follow this team then you should (hopefully) already know that. There you have it though, of the current AL division leaders, the Minnesota Twins are the best offensive team. Now let’s look at pitching, beginning with starting pitching.
Minnesota Twins: 3.56 ERA, 1.28 HR/9, 1.16 WHIP
Houston Astros: 3.68 ERA, 1.55 HR/9, 1.06 WHIP
New York Yankees: 3.89 ERA, 1.65 HR/9, 1.22 WHIP
Let that sink in for a second - the Minnesota Twins not only have the best offense but one of the best starting rotations as well. Bullpen stats aren’t as favorable but they’re also not as bad as most people in Twins territory seem to believe.
Minnesota Twins: 4.67 ERA, 1.26 HR/9, 1.41 WHIP
Houston Astros: 3.32 ERA, 1.18 HR/9, 1.12 WHIP
New York Yankees: 3.74 ERA, 1.04 HR/9, 1.26WHIP
If you’re reading this then you likely follow baseball. If you follow baseball you likely already knew the Yankees have a great bullpen and the Astros turned Ryan Pressly into a super reliever - it’s okay to be sad about that one Twins fans, I’ll allow it. However, the Twins bullpen has been respectable and Taylor Rogers is emerging as a super reliever.
Let’s recap - of the three current AL division leaders, the Twins have the lowest odds of winning the World Series, according to FanGraphs. Minnesota also currently boasts the best offensive production among AL division leaders and their starting rotation has the lowest ERA and has surrendered the least amount of home runs per 9 innings. Also, if the season ended today, Jake Odorizzi is the AL Cy Young winner.
Their bullpen has been good but not great and ranks last among current AL division leaders but they’ve still gotten solid production from the bullpen. 10th best bullpen ERA in the league type of production - which by the way, is pretty darn good.
Here’s a quick look at how they stack up against all of MLB in pitching and hitting. Minnesota currently leads the league in the following offensive categories: AVG, SLG, OPS, and wOBA. They’re tied for first in wRC+ and HR. Minnesota has been an offensive juggernaut.
FanGraphs currently has the Twins ranked as the 4th best starting rotation in the league. They don’t lead the league in any statistical categories other than Wins - which for the most part is a useless stat when evaluating a pitchers individual performance - but their overall starting pitching production has been very strong. Any time you can rank in the top 5 of the league you’re doing something right - thank you, Wes Johnson.
Minnesota’s bullpen currently ranks 11th in the league, according to FanGraphs. Top 10 would sound a lot better but 11th is still pretty good. Considering the bullpen expectations were extremely low going into the season, being the 11th best bullpen in the league is a pleasant surprise.
If you have read this far you’ve hopefully learned or confirmed your own beliefs that the 2019 Twins are an offensive powerhouse with a top 5 starting rotation and a bullpen that ranks in the top half of the league - Go Twins!
Yet for some reason, of the current AL division leaders they have the lowest odds to win the World Series (only 7.7% if you can’t remember that far back). Chris Russo of MLB Network thinks Minnesota is a “regular season team that isn’t built for the postseason”. He’s not alone in that sentiment, either.
Most of the publications I have read and TV analysts I’ve listened to seem to echo the same feelings. They don’t believe the 2019 Minnesota Twins are legitimate World Series contenders and it’s shocking.
Most of the time when a team is this good they are a consensus World Series favorite - except that doesn’t seem to apply to the 2019 Minnesota Twins. Maybe it’s because the roster lacks household names. Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler, C.J. Cron and Mitch Garver aren’t going to be on the cover of Sport Illustrated anytime soon. The Astros, Dodgers, Red Sox and Yankees (when healthy) feature a lineup full of MVP winners, All Stars and future HOFers. This could be why the Twins are overlooked but that’s an idiotic reason.
Perhaps it’s because Minnesota has been relatively irrelevant since 2010 - other than the brief postseason cameo in 2017. The Tigers, Royals, White Sox and Indians have all appeared in or won a World Series over the last two decades. The Twins, on the other hand, haven’t reached the ALCS since they were defeated by Anaheim in 2002. Maybe everyone forgot about Minnesota and now that they’re a juggernaut they don’t believe it, but again, that’s idiotic.
Could it be because they don’t believe their current production is sustainable? This would be the least-idiotic reason to doubt this team. Jake Odorizzi has been a good but not great pitcher over his career. Now suddenly he’s a front runner for the AL Cy Young. Byron Buxton is putting together his best season as a pro, Jorge Polanco is an MVP candidate and up until his last couple starts, Martin Perez has been a completely different pitcher.
As I write this on June 6th, the Minnesota Twins currently have five position players with a top 10 WAR for their respective positions. Those five are Polanco, Schoop, Kepler, Buxton, and Rosario. Top 10 doesn’t do enough justice for Jorge Polanco, he has the highest WAR of all shortstops and the 9th highest WAR in the entire league. He’s on pace to win a batting title and possibly the MVP.
Minnesota is also one of only three teams in the league with two starting pitchers who rank top 20 in ERA - Jake Odorizzi (2nd) and Jose Berrios (20th).
It is very possible that this level of production from relatively unproven players is not sustainable but even that is a bit of a stretch. Byron Buxton was the number one prospect in baseball, so seeing him produce like this isn’t outrageous. Jorge Polanco has always been able to hit and he’s just now entering his prime at age 25. It’s not uncommon for players to have a breakout season after having spent parts of five years in the big leagues and over 1,000 career plate appearances. Jake Odorizzi and Martin Perez, however, are performing significantly better than they have over their careers which does make it harder to believe it is sustainable.
The 2019 Minnesota Twins are a legitimate championship contender. By no means am I saying they’re a lock for the World Series and will cruise through the postseason. It’s very possible they get bounced in the ALDS. It’s baseball, anything can happen but this is a very good baseball team that deserves more respect and should not be viewed a consensus underdog.
Thank you for reading! If you’d like more Twins news and articles follow me on Twitter @Gebo__