Welcome to The Stew’s annual team elimination posts. Like our video-game posts of last year, these are best done in theme. This time? We’re going with “Game of Thrones.” Each eliminated team will join the “army of the dead.” But we won’t just talk about their demise. We’ll also highlight some positives, pick out a memorable moment, tell you their biggest need and let you know when the club might be good again.
Sorry, Minnesota Twins, but you won’t sit on the Iron Throne this season.
You rose from the ashes and made a name for yourself. And when everyone thought you were dead around the trade deadline, you made a triumphant revival and wound up in the wild-card game.
While the turnaround was excellent, and the youngsters finally grew together, the American League wild-card game revealed there’s still work to be done. But that’s OK. The Twins weren’t supposed to contend in 2017. They didn’t exactly go out and make aggressive moves last winter.
That shouldn’t be the case this time around. Minnesota got its first taste of the playoffs, and wants to ensure it wasn’t the last. Supplementing their young core with legitimate talent will be crucial now that they’ve broken the postseason seal.
Let’s take a deeper look at the year that was in Minnesota:
UNBOWED, UNBENT, UNBROKEN (aka WHAT WENT RIGHT)
A lot has to go right to go from 103 losses to the postseason. For the Twins, it can be traced directly to half-run improvements from the offense and pitching staff. Minnesota’s runs per game went from 4.45 last year to 5.06 this season, which was good for fourth best in MLB. Meanwhile, the pitching staff dropped its ERA from 5.08 to 4.64. On top of that, the Twins ranked fifth in the AL in defensive runs saved after being third worst in MLB last season. The Twins were good away from Target Field too, winning 44 road games for the first time since 1991. (Mark Townsend)
THE RED WEDDING (aka WHAT WENT WRONG)
The Twins actually sold themselves short at the trade deadline, trading away veteran Jaime Garcia to the Yankees, their eventual wild-card opponent, just six days after acquiring him from Atlanta. They also traded key reliever Brandon Kintzler to the Nationals. The Twins were 50-54 at the time, which put them 4.5 games behind the second wild card. It’s understandable why they weren’t optimistic, but there’s no doubt both pitchers would have helped in the wild-card game. A healthy Miguel Sano wouldn’t have hurt either. (Mark Townsend)
THE NORTH REMEMBERS (aka MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT)
The most memorable thing, in the grand scheme, that happened for the Twins was the breakout of Byron Buxton, their former No. 2 overall pick and former No. 1 overall prospect in MLB. Buxton had struggled in the big leagues until this season and then — especially in the second half — he became a force for the Twins.
It’s hard to pick even one highlight, so here are a couple great Buxton moments:
His speed and defense had always been a weapon, but his bat followed in 2017, which really helped the Twins get into the postseason. He hit .300/.347/.546 with 11 homers after the All-Star break. (Mike Oz)
WORDS ARE WIND (aka MOST IMPORTANT THING TO FIX)
Ervin Santana’s tragic wild-card start against the Yankees demonstrated one thing: He is not the ace they’re looking for. They probably knew that anyway, but it served as a reminder that the Twins weren’t expecting their magical season at all. Now they get a chance to act like a team that’s trying to compete. And even though nearly every team is looking for pitching, that’s what they have to do, too. The Twins need to plug holes in the rotation and in the bullpen, but if they have to fix just one, they should focus on starters. That is, if they can’t find a way to wrap Miguel Sano in bubble wrap. If they can figure out a way to keep him healthy, they can just punt the offseason. (Liz Roscher)
A DREAM OF SPRING (aka HOPE FOR THE FUTURE)
Most of the elite prospects are up, and they all flourished this year. Byron Buxton finally found an approach at the plate that worked for him, Miguel Sano hit for monstrous power when healthy and Jose Berrios flashed some nasty stuff. They are the future.
There’s some help coming, though. Infielder Nick Gordon put up passable numbers at Double-A and could debut next season. Same with pitcher Fernando Romero, who posted a 3.53 ERA at that level. Pitcher Stephen Gonsalves is technically a closer, but struggled at Triple-A. He could need more time there until he proves he can handle the final level of the minors.
First overall pick Royce Lewis is worth watching, but remains years away after being selected in the 2017 draft. (Chris Cwik)
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