Twins president Dave St. Peter thinks the best is yet to come for his team and star DH Byron Buxton.
The Twins are in first place in the American League Central Division with a 17-12 record. They are three games ahead of the second place and defending division champion Guardians. They are already nine games in front of the fourth place White Sox who host the Twins for a series starting tonight in Chicago.
St. Peter was hoping for a fast start to the season and got one. “But I think we have our best baseball ahead of us. I am really excited about the makeup of this team and…the way it was constructed. I think it’s set up for a lot of not just regular season success but post season success. The best is yet to come.
“…We’re into May here now. You normally want to get to about 40-50 games (into the season) and then you’ll have a better sense of what type of team you have. So we got a little ways to go to get there but I like how we’re tracking.”
Byron Buxton has produced timely hitting, including Sunday when his three-run home run started a seven run third inning for the Twins in a win against the Royals. “I think his best is still yet to come,” St. Peter said. “I think he’s just scratching the surface. He’s such a talented athlete and I think he’s really turning into being a pretty gifted hitter.”
Buxton is 29 and in his ninth season with the club but he’s only been able to tease his potential because of so many injuries. Only once has “Buck” been able to play in more than 92 games. Caution surrounds the Twins’ management of him. Held back for only designated hitting so far, warmer weather and surer footing could prompt occasionally using his fielding gifts in center field.
Buxton’s athleticism on the bases has helped the Twins, too, but health concerns seem likely to limit his stolen base attempts. “…I am not sure stolen bases are ever going to be a big part of Byron’s game, in my opinion,” St. Peter said.
The Twins’ team batting average of .237 ranks seventh in the 15-team American League. The club is in a fourth place tie for home runs with 38 and is eighth in runs scored at 134. Minnesota is a plus 26 in runs over their opponents. Injuries have at time caused some of the team’s better hitters to miss games and the statistics may indicate the Twins can produce better offensively as the season progresses.
The Twins’ pitching depth will be tested in the coming weeks with injuries sidelining starters Tyler Mahle and Kenta Maeda. Mahle will be out about four weeks with expectations Maeda will return sooner.
Mahle has a a posterior impingement and a flexor pronator strain in his right arm. Maeda has a right triceps strain.
Mahle is 1-2 with a 3:16 ERA and his regular spot in the rotation will be taken tomorrow night in Chicago by Louie Varland. Bailey Ober started in place of Maeda on Saturday and gave up four hits in 5.1 innings in a game the Twins went on to lose. Maeda, who missed all of last season following Tommy John surgery, has struggled in 2023 with a 0-4 record and 9.00 ERA. Mahle knows past frustration, too, after missing a number of starts last season because of a shoulder injury.
The Twins’ ERA of .348 is fourth best in the American League. Nobody has been better for Minnesota than Sonny Gray, 4-0 with a 0.77 ERA. “His baseball acumen is through the charts,” St. Peter said. “He understands the hitters. He is obviously executing his pitches. So I don’t think anybody inside the Twins is surprised that Sonny Gray is having success. He has obviously been unbelievably dominant. …”
St. Peter said the Twins don’t think in terms of one pitcher being the staff ace or stopper. He believes Joe Ryan and Pablo Lopez, along with Gray, are capable of being the starter in the opening game of a playoff series.
Good news for the Twins regarding injuries is that utility player Kyle Farmer could return to the team later this week, or for sure when the Twins start their next homestand May 9. Farmer was hit in the face by a pitch April 12 and sidelined until recently but is rehabbing at AAA St. Paul.
Unusually cool weather this spring has hurt Twins home attendance. Minnesota ranks No. 22 of 30 teams averaging 18,492, per ESPN.com. “It’s been a tough April,” St. Peter said.
Because Target Field is located on a small site, the likelihood is about zero a roof would ever be added. But St. Peter points out Target Field is considered one of the best ballpark experiences in the country. He contrasted the ballpark and Minneapolis weather with iconic Wrigley Field and Chicago. “Nobody talks about putting a roof on Wrigley Field. They’ve dealt with all the same weather issues we’ve dealt with this April.”
Feedback has been positive among Twins fans regarding MLB’s rule changes that include a pitch timer. Shorter games and more action are positive trends for the Twins and other teams.
Fans are also approving of the club’s new uniform offerings. “The new brand look is doing very well at retail,” St. Peter said. “Very pleased and I agree…they do look fantastic. The most popular jersey is the Twin Cities jersey.”
Lou Nanne on the Minnesota Wild
Lou Nanne, the revered hockey authority who played for the North Stars and also served as GM and president during a long run with Minnesota’s first NHL franchise, believes the Wild is better than the Stars team that won last week’s Stanley Cup opening playoff series in six games. Stars goalie Jake Oettinger and teammates limited the Wild’s scoring including flagship performer Kirill Kaprizov who often had two or three defenders around him. It didn’t help, either, that Minnesota’s experienced center Joel Eriksson Ek played in only one game because of a lower body injury.
Why does Nanne consider the Wild better than Dallas? “I think they got a deeper team. I think they have more intensity, more grit. They have players that can play it (style) anyway you want. Unfortunately, for them their best players didn’t get on the scoreboard. Coming into the playoffs like Kaprizov had been out 14 games. Erickson-Ek was missing. …(Face) a hot goal tender in those playoff series, that team could win.”
Nanne praised rookie shutdown defenseman Brock Faber who in the month of April played for the Golden Gophers in the Frozen Four and then in two regular season and five playoff games for the Wild. Faber was traded to Minnesota by the Kings last year after Los Angeles had drafted him in 2020. Not only does it look like Faber will produce for the Wild for a long time, but he has leadership qualities that could one day result in being a captain of the team.
Nanne won’t make suggestions as to what GM Bill Guerin should do to improve the Wild during the offseason. “I have no idea. I am not going to be saying what changes they have to make. That’s up to Guerin and his staff. I did that for long enough. Everybody can second guess, have their opinions, but it’s going to be up to the brass to decide.”