A season should be considered a success if the team has made a turnaround from 100-plus losses the previous season, to making the Wild Card Game the next. This is exactly what happened to the Minnesota Twins, who finished 2017 with an 85-77 record, then were bounced by the New York Yankees by a score of 8-4 in the American League Wild Card Game. However, manager Paul Moliter was rewarded for his team’s tremendous effort and earned AL Manager of the Year.
The Twins were a solid offensive team. They weren’t an offensive juggernaut by any means, but they had the ability to hold their own against just about anybody, and it was evidenced by finishing in the top five in the AL in runs scored, triples, stolen bases, walks, team batting average, and total bases. Speedy center fielder Byron Buxton tallied nearly a third of the team total in stolen bases with 29 swipes of his own. He also led the team with six triples.
The pitching staff put a lot of pressure on the Twins’ defense throughout the year by pitching to contact. They struck out the second fewest batters in the AL and allowed 9.3 hits per nine innings. Starter Ervin Santana claimed most of the success of the pitching staff, especially early in the season, as he returned to All-Star form for the first time since his 2008 season with the LA Angels. Santana started the season as hot as you can be with a 7-2 record after his first 11 starts, and his ERA didn’t find its way north of 2.00 until he allowed seven runs to the Angels on a June 3 start with just four days rest. He finished the season 16-8.
Despite the added pressure from the pitching staff, the Twins’ defense was excellent. They finished the season tied for the best fielding percentage in the AL at .987, and committed just 78 errors, which was good enough for the second-lowest total in the AL. The Cleveland Indians were the only team better defensively.
It seems pretty clear where the Twins will need to improve to make the next step in the postseason in 2018. Starting pitching was a glaring issue for the Twins in 2017. When four pitchers with ERAs above 5.00 start a combined 67 games, there are going to be some problems. Starters Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish are still on the market, but the Twins don’t need to make that splashy of a move. Those two players would obviously help the staff, but Jason Vargas would actually make a solid impact on the Twins’ pitching. Coming off an 18-11 All-Star campaign, the 34 year old (35 on Feb. 2) seems to have found a solid groove as he’s approaching the twilight of his career, and I’m sure he’ll want to play for a contender for a shot to get back to the postseason before he’s done.
Photo by Brigham Berthold