One of the most exciting, but maybe not surprising stories in baseball this season has been the hot start of the Minnesota Twins. They currently have a vice grip on first place in the American League Central division and show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. First-year manager Rocco Baldelli has led his club to an impressive 42-21 record, which is the third best record in all of baseball, and a 9.5 game cushion between them and the Cleveland Indians for the top spot in their division.
For the last several years the Twins have been categorized as a team that was “on the rise”, with the emergence of young standouts such as Jose Berrios, Jorge Polanco, and Byron Buxton. However, the club did not possess the necessary complimentary pieces around those young players to help the team rise to new heights and become a legitimate threat in the American League Central.
Thanks to a busy and successful offseason, those pieces have arrived in the Twin Cities in 2019, and they are making a world of difference. After a disappointing 2018 season, General Manager Thad Levine and Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey, got straight to work with the goal of changing the identity of the Minnesota Twins. Their first move was to let go of Paul Molitor, who had managed the Twins over the previous four seasons, compiling an overall 305-343 record during his tenure. Both Levine and Falvey cited the need for a “younger voice” at the helm to better guide the influx of young talent coming up to the Twins’ major league roster.
Former major leaguer Baldelli was hired to replace Molitor heading into the 2019 season. The choice echoed Levine and Falvey’s wishes for a younger voice, as Baldelli entered the 2019 season as the youngest manager in Major League Baseball. With a new manager in place, the Twins’ brass set to work on reshaping the team’s roster via free agency, and several new names were brought in to don the red, white, and navy blue for Minnesota.
Those new names include the likes of Nelson Cruz, Marwin Gonzalez, Jonathan Schoop, and Martin Perez, all of whom have had a major impact through the first two months of the 2019 season. The Twins spent a total of $49 million in the offseason on free agents while also signing two of their biggest young stars, Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco, to five-year contract extensions worth $35 million and $25 million respectively. They also claimed first baseman C.J. Cron from the Tampa Bay Rays, who rather shockingly placed him on waivers after his impressive 2018 season in which he smacked 30 home runs and drove in 74 runs.
The Twins’ active offseason turned a lot of heads around baseball, especially when compared to their division rivals, the Cleveland Indians. Baseball Essential’s own Tom Dorsa broke down the surprising and ultimately disappointing lack of activity in the offseason from the Indians, and they are paying the price for it as we near the midway point of the season.
Revamped and reloaded, the new-look Minnesota Twins have taken the American League by storm thus far in 2019. Nelson Cruz has already cracked 11 home runs, and would likely have more had he not spent significant time on the injured list. Along with Cruz, the Twins’ lineup is chock full of dangerous power hitters, as Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario, and C.J. Cron have also provided plenty of pop. As a result, Minnesota currently leads all of Major League Baseball in home runs, with the team having already smashed a whopping 121 home runs through the first two months of the season.
It is not just the explosive offense that has led to the Twins’ fast start, as their starting rotation has been equally as impressive. Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi have been stellar thus far, both holding 8-2 records, with Berrios sporting a 3.14 ERA and Odirizzi flashing a microscopic 1.96 ERA to his own credit. Martin Perez, whom had struggled mightily with the Texas Rangers through his first seven season, is currently 7-2 with a 3.72 ERA and has become a reliable member of the Twins’ starting rotation. Minnesota’s starters have compiled a collective 3.63 ERA, which ranks fourth in all of Major League Baseball.
The red-hot start from this Twins club has many in the Twin Cities looking ahead towards the playoffs which, unfortunately, has been the stuff of nightmares for the Twins and their fans over the last decade. The Twins have not won the World Series since 1991, and they suffered through an 11-year playoff drought before finally making it back to the postseason in 2002. That year the team made it to the American League Championship series, but were eliminated by the eventual World Series Champions, the Los Angeles Angels. Minnesota made the playoffs five times through the 2003-2010 seasons but never made it past the divisional round. The New York Yankees, otherwise known as “The Evil Empire”, eliminated the Twins four times during that stretch. The Yankees also knocked Minnesota out of the playoffs in 2017, defeating the Twins 8-4 in the win-or-go-home Wild Card game.
The recent playoff history of the Minnesota Twins has left many fans traumatized, particularly when they see the Bronx Bombers waiting for them as a potential match-up. However, this Twins ball club is driven by new leadership and an entirely new cast of characters who are determined to buck the trend that was set in the early 2000’s. The mix of experienced, battle-tested veterans to go along with young, rising stars has given the Twins a completely new identity and motivation. Minnesota will serve as an intimidating and dangerous opponent for any team as the 2019 season rolls on, and a potential trip to the postseason could yield entirely different results than what fans have seen from years passed.