Despite Playoff Sweep, Minnesota Twins Progressed in 2019
2019 should largely be viewed as a success for the Minnesota Twins. They beat out the Indians for the AL Central pennant and won 101 games, good for second in franchise history. A new coaching staff proved effective, and many young players took major steps forward. At the beginning of the season, Twins fans would have gladly signed up for 101 wins and an ALDS berth. A dominant regular season raised expectations, however, and fans were disappointed after another postseason sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees. Although their postseason struggles continued, the Twins have the potential to be a force in the American League for years to come.
The Twins lineup was historically dominant in 2019 and was unquestionably the driving force behind the team’s success. Power was on display all summer at Target Field, as the Twins mashed an MLB record 307 home runs. Offseason addition Nelson Cruz led the way with 41 home runs and a 1.031 OPS, and his clubhouse presence was just as important as his bat. His team option has already been picked up for next season, and he’ll be looked to as the leader on a team with World Series aspirations.
The addition of Cruz was not the only positive for the Twins lineup in 2019. Mitch Garver, for example, was one of the biggest breakout players in baseball. After posting a respectable .749 OPS and 7 home runs in his first full season, he mashed in 2019, finishing with a .995 OPS and 31 home runs. While his progression at the plate was more noticeable, Garver improved behind it as well. A similar season in 2020 would see Garver enter the discussion as one of the top catchers in the MLB.
Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler, and Byron Buxton took major steps forward this season as well. Polanco was one of the best offensive shortstops in baseball and was named to his first All-Star team. Kepler and Buxton both had career years offensively and continued to provide elite outfield defense. The Twins will need all three to produce in key roles as they look to make a postseason run in 2020.
The Twins pitching was solid in 2019, but ultimately not enough to shut down the Yankees in the ALDS. Their team ERA was 4.18, good for fifth in the AL, and a substantial improvement over their 4.50 ERA in 2018. Their team FIP of 4.02 suggests that the staff pitched even better than they were given credit for this year. Even though their pitching wasn’t dominant, this was still the best staff the Twins put together this decade.
The starting rotation was solid, if unspectacular, which was still a massive upgrade over recent years. The biggest pitching storyline of 2019 was the continued emergence of José Berríos into a true ace. Berríos posted career bests in ERA (3.68), innings pitched (200 1/3), and K/BB (3.82). He also was named to his second All-Star team at the age of 25, so the future appears bright for the talented Puerto Rican. Berríos was not the only quality starter on the roster, though. Jake Odorizzi was named an All-Star for the first time and posted a career-best 3.36 FIP, and Michael Pineda had stretches of dominance as well. Besides a team option on Martín Pérez, Berríos is the only starter under contract next season. With four of the five slots open, this offseason presents an opportunity to take the rotation from good to great.
The bullpen had its ups and downs throughout the season. After starting out strong, the bullpen became less effective in the middle of the year. Blake Parker, Matt Magill, and Mike Morin were released and replaced with younger options, and the relief corp was dominant the rest of the way. Taylor Rogers led the way in his first year as the team’s closer. Rogers posted a 2.61 ERA and racked up 30 saves, with 90 strikeouts in just 69 innings. Zack Littell, Devin Smeltzer, and Cody Stashak had fantastic regular seasons after midseason promotions. Trade deadline acquisition Sergio Romo proved to be a great setup man, with a 3.18 ERA in 27 appearances for the Twins. Veterans Tyler Duffey and Trevor May experienced breakout years and helped fortify the back end of the bullpen. Their back end quality and depth is something the Twins can build around this offseason.
The Twins’ success was largely due to many players experiencing breakout years. A young new coaching staff should take most of the credit for their progression. First-year manager Rocco Baldelli focused on building relationships with his players and trying to understand their human needs, an interesting contrast to his more analytical approach when filling out the lineup card. Baldelli implemented optional batting practice and gave his players plenty of rest, and was rewarded with a healthy, productive team. His assistants did great work as well. Many players had career years at the plate under hitting coach James Rowson, and first-year coaches Wes Johnson and Jeremy Hefner had the same effect on the pitchers. Bench coach Derek Shelton was a popular managerial candidate last offseason and is getting interviews again this year.
Given their relatively modest expectations, this was a great season for the Twins. After a decade filled with mostly terrible baseball, there is palpable excitement surrounding the team again. With a record setting lineup, 101 wins, and their first AL Central pennant in almost a decade, 2019 should be viewed as nothing but a success for the Minnesota Twins.