Over the course of 2021 the Minnesota Twins have found more ways to lose in 32 games than most teams can accomplish over the course of a full season. If going into the year it was assumed this club would be good, a complete 180 this early doesn’t seem fair. The problem? Are these players actually good?
Here’s the deal, Rocco Baldelli’s bullpen has been bad. It’s among the worst in baseball across more than a handful of categories. He’s dealing with a group that the front office banked more on development than production, and regression has hit everyone not named Taylor Rogers. Despite a winning record in nine-inning games, this team gets crushed the minute relief help comes in.
Although the lineup has shown signs of life at times, the length of it is immediately called into question when looking at assumed producers. I think it was a fair assessment to assume 2020 Mitch Garver wasn’t right. Jorge Polanco dealt with an ankle injury, and Max Kepler clearly left something to be desired. Fast forward a year however, and that trio is as confusing as ever.
The backstop that broke out in 2019 probably was never going to resurface for the Twins. What Garver did that year was truly unreal, and for a late-blooming catcher, probably unrepeatable. It should’ve been assumed that Minnesota’s catching tandem could be among the best in baseball this season with how Ryan Jeffers looked in his 2020 debut. Garver hasn’t caught up to the fastball again though, and despite a .748 OPS, has just not really put it together yet.
Moving from shortstop to second base was going to be huge for Polanco defensively. A surgically repaired ankle also gave the Twins middle infielder a clean bill of health. He seems to be staying in on swings more than he did a year ago, but the results still leave plenty to be desired. Polanco’s .679 OPS is just north of his 2020 mark, and while he does have a 97 OPS+ on the season, a .236/.306 average and on-base percentage is not where the Twins can afford him to be. Extended in 2019, he really hasn’t been a good player since.
In the outfield there’s been more uncertainty than ever this season. Alex Kirilloff was left off the roster to start 2021, and Byron Buxton is now again on the shelf. Kepler has always been the mainstay from a health perspective, but his production has gone missing for the better part of the past two years. Just recently getting on the longball board this season, Kepler owns a disappointing .664 OPS through his first 22 games. The average is hovering near the Mendoza Line, and the .855 OPS from 2019 looks to be from an alternate universe.
The reality for Rocco is that the players he was counting on have by and large been there this season. In mass quantities however, they’ve fallen flat. It’s great that Byron Buxton looks like an MVP candidate, Josh Donaldson is a monster, and Nelson Cruz is ageless. Behind that though, it’s really hard to see anything that suggests this team is good anywhere but on paper. Assume producers need to start coming through, and it’s this trio that may be chief among them.
There’s still time for the 2021 Minnesota Twins to turn things around, but it’s getting late early, and it only gets darker if the light switch doesn’t flip for some guys very soon.