In order to beat out Cleveland (leading the division by one game entering Friday), and Chicago (trailing Minnesota by a game and a half), the Twins will need contributions from across the roster. But they'll really need their cornerstone stars to step up and lead the way.
I took a shot at ranking the 15 players who are most critical to the team's success in these final 46 games.
1. Luis Arraez
If the Twins are gonna win this thing, they need the offense to do the heavy lifting. Even in a best case scenario, the pitching staff will probably only be good enough to play a supporting role. Arraez is – as they say – the straw that stirs the drink. He might not be as explosive or electric as some others on this list, but he's been the most consistent hitter on the team all year long. Continuing to grind down opposing pitchers day in and day out will be paramount to the Twins playing consistent baseball.
2. Carlos Correa
Is the best from Correa yet to come? That's what the Twins are banking on. Correa's been fairly underwhelming for much of the summer but we all know what he's capable of – it's been demonstrated time and time again. The past couple series have offered hopeful signs that the shortstop is beginning to catch fire; he went 8-for-19 against the Angels and Royals, although seven of those hits were singles, and we're still waiting on some big signature moments. Now is the time for Correa to make good on the front office's $35 million investment.
3. Byron Buxton
At full strength, Buxton would be atop this list, but the knee injury that has continually limited his performance and availability figures to be a reality the rest of the way. Buxton's impact is greatly reduced when he's hitting well as a DH as opposed to hitting amazingly as a center fielder. Even still, his elite power and clutchness will be vital. The Twins need him on the field as much as is reasonably possible.
4. Tyler Mahle
The front office spent big to acquire Mahle at the deadline for a reason: they needed a frontline starter who could go toe-to-toe with high-octane lineups. The presence of a similar caliber starter in Sonny Gray somewhat lessens the importance of Mahle in isolation, but both are key, which is why they're right next to one another below the team's top stars. Needless to say, the outlook for Mahle's shoulder weighs heavily right now.
5. Sonny Gray
Gray is arguably a slight step behind Mahle in terms of quality and upside, but they are more or less interchangeable, and about equally important on their own. If this analysis were extended into the postseason, where the impact of top starters is heightened, these two might be #1 and #2 on my list.
6. José Miranda
Some will surely argue that I've got Miranda too low. There's no doubt he's crucial to this lineup, and has been the offense's savior for the past couple months. But realistically, we've got to expect a bit of regression, and the team's dependence on Miranda will hopefully be lessened by the top three carrying the load, as well as bats like Trevor Larnach and Kyle Garlick potentially returning to the fold.
7. Jhoan Duran
Another guy who would've ranked much higher on this list before the trade deadline, which speaks to why the front office's moves were so very necessary and so important. Duran remains the team's best reliever – and one of the best in the league – but the team's hopes are not quite so singularly hinging on his continued health and effectiveness with Jorge López and Michael Fulmer in the fold.
8. Jorge Polanco
He's firmly fifth in the pecking order in terms of offensive contributors, but Polanco is a veteran fixture who's shown the ability to get hot and go on torrid runs to propel the offense. I'm not necessarily expecting one now, given that he's been steadily good-not-great this year and is currently dealing with a knee issue, but as a guy who will bat at the heart of the order everyday (if healthy), Polanco is obviously someone the Twins need to perform.
9. Jorge López
Closers are critical during a stretch run. That's a lesson Twins fans have learned the hard way before. (Sorry LaTroy.) López has a unique ability to impact outcomes given his role, though I suspect Duran will routinely pitch in more decisive spots. Obviously López could totally derail things if he blows a few more saves, but the presence of other high-leverage options gives Rocco Baldelli a fallback should trust be shaken.
10. Max Kepler
This feels like a big moment for Kepler. He's been with the Twins for seven seasons. He's had his ups and downs, with some legit high points, but has been a complete zero in the postseason (0-for-15 in the 2019/20 ALDS). Following a good start this year, he's fallen into a dire midseason lull, slashing .199/.281/.290 since the end of May. Kepler could really put a new spin on his legacy here by flipping a switch and making a big positive difference the rest of the way. Of course, I don't expect it, based on his recent track record, and that's why he's 10th on this list despite his potential for two-way impact.
11. Joe Ryan
I've cooled quite a bit on Ryan, who has a 4.73 ERA/4.63 FIP since the end of April, and hasn't gotten through six innings in a start since July 1st. He's a mid-rotation starter with strikeout stuff and a propensity for giving up hard contact. The righty is clearly not on the same level as Mahle or Gray, but also a clear cut above Dylan Bundy and Chris Archer, making him integral to the rotation's sustainability – especially if Mahle has to miss time.
12. Caleb Thielbar
After seven appearances this year, Thielbar had a 15.19 ERA. It doesn't get much worse than that. Since then he has a 2.43 ERA and 51-to-11 K/BB ratio in 37 innings. It doesn't get much better than that. His last two appearances have demonstrated Thielbar's ability to play the fireman role, and right now he's got more trust than any Twins reliever not named Duran or López. He also brings the unique ability to neutralize lefty hitters, who have a .499 OPS against him this year.
13. Michael Fulmer
Fulmer is a very solid setup man, and having him fourth in your bullpen hierarchy is a major luxury. You've got to have guys who can reliably bridge the gap from the middle to late innings if you want to rattle off wins, and thus Fulmer's veteran stability is very valuable.
14. Griffin Jax
Everything stated about Fulmer above basically applies to Jax, except that he's a rookie who's been struggling lately. Given how much the Twins lean on their bullpen for innings, they simply need all of these relievers to get it done in the final weeks. One thing I really appreciate about the deadline deals is that they took some pressure off of Jax, who's still acclimating in his first year as a full-time reliever.
15. Nick Gordon
Circumstances have pushed Gordon into an everyday role, more or less – and he's been capitalizing, with a .309/.356/.489 slash line since the start of July. That's as good as anyone could have reasonably expected from Royce Lewis or Alex Kirilloff, whose voids the fellow first-rounder has been left to fill. If he can keep doing so, he'll be an instrumental factor in the team's success.