Twins Winning But No ‘Cartwheels’ Yet
With a 26-16 record and 4.5 game lead in the American League’s Central Division, the Twins are one of baseball’s surprise teams after completing about 25 percent of the 162-game schedule.
Minnesota has won five straight and is 22-9 since April 21. The Twins, who finished last in the division in 2021, are 14-8 at home and 12-8 on the road. Minnesota is 13-3 against division opponents, 6-5 versus the AL East, 7-6 against the West and 0-2 versus the National League.
Despite early success club president Dave St. Peter told Sports Headliners recently he’s not going overboard. “It’s a long season. Nobody is doing cartwheels or doing victory dances yet.”
The Twins have dominated division opponents and can build on that now. They swept the Royals in a road series last weekend and play only division games thru June 2, including a home-stand against the Tigers that started last night with a ninth inning win, 5-4. Minnesota had an improbable comeback win in Kansas City Sunday, rallying from a 6-0 deficit for a 7-6 victory. It was the kind of win that is often part of a championship season.
Yes, the Twins’ schedule hasn’t been daunting. The Central Division is no powerhouse, although the White Sox were ranked among baseball’s most talented clubs before the season. The Sox, who the Twins swept in their only series so far, are one of four teams on the Minnesota schedule with a winning record currently. The Twins lost all three games to the Astros, went 0-2 against the Dodgers and won two of three versus the Rays.
Probably most impressive has been the consistent defensive performance. The Twins don’t falter much in the field and beat themselves. With regularity Minnesota fielders make pivotal and sometimes spectacular plays. The stellar defense starts with a middle core at catcher, shortstop, second base and center field. Most rivals can’t match Minnesota’s defensive personnel in that group.
The hitting has been spotty and at times the Twins struggle to score but that has been a problem for most MLB clubs. Speculation about a less lively baseball, the impact of a shortened spring training and unfavorable weather are all subjects offered up to explain the production drought in the majors. Still, the Twins have done more than many clubs with timely hitting and their lineup includes Byron Buxton who is among the league leaders in home runs and Luis Arraez is hitting a nifty .349 with a .876 OPS.
The Twins appeared almost desperate for pitching help before the season but overall results from both starters and relievers is exceeding expectations. “Some of our pitchers have had success,” St. Peter said. “Some of our pitchers have had some struggles but we think that there is more depth here.
“And the good news is I think we’re really excited about the young core that we’re developing. Some of those guys are already at the big league level; some are fast approaching the big leagues, whether they be at Double A or St. Paul (Triple A). So we like our chances of having more of a home grown pitching staff. That’s always the goal and I think we’re positioning ourselves for that in 2023 and beyond.”
In 2021 the Twins were coming off a season-shortened 2020 when they won their division. Expectations were high but the Twins finished with a 73-89 record. There was pessimism during the summer the local favorites were headed toward a major rebuild of the roster and could be a losing team in coming seasons.
St. Peter, front office leaders Derek Falvey, Thad Levine and manager Rocco Baldelli made an assessment. “We talked openly and honestly about the state of our system,” St. Peter said. “Where our major league team was and where our farm system was, and where we were. Ultimately within the construct of that conversation it was pretty clear that ownership, along with Derek, Thad, Rocco and others, felt like we had a path toward competing in 2022.
“And thus the plan was enacted to re-sign Byron, to sign him to an extension, and try to work over the course of the offseason to put this team in a better position to rebound from a really tough 2021. I know there was a narrative that we were going to rebuild, but that was never the focus internally.”
Injuries have already forced the Twins to use many players not on the opening day roster. Technology has played a role in contributing both to injuries and their prevention in baseball and other sports. Advancements in training push the human body to extremes not known in the past, while medical diagnostics provides accurate analysis regarding injuries. The result is injuries sidelining players today that wouldn’t have done so decades ago.
With an injury comes caution from the player, his agent and team. “Players are not encouraged to play through injury like I think they once were,” St. Peter said.
Mike Grant talking about his father Bud Grant who turned 95 last Friday: “Everything that has gone on in his life, he remembers every one, and he remembers everything. That’s a real blessing to have that, you know.”
Former University of Minnesota regent Michael Hsu, a leading proponent of monetization for college athletes, attended a Washington D.C. symposium last week featuring three panel discussions. The topics: unionization, Name, Image and Likeness, and a college athletes bill of rights.
The Sack Symposium is named after Allen Sack, a national expert in the college sports culture. Sack was a backup tackle at Notre Dame to former Vikings’ great Alan Page. Sack’s college roommate, former U athletic director Joel Maturi, also attended the symposium.
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor told Sports Headliners he is open to retiring Kevin Garnett’s jersey. Garnett has been critical of Taylor but the owner says the organization is open at anytime to honoring the NBA hall of famer and has extended past invitations. “So we’re leaving that up to him,” Taylor said. “But I would be as nice and helpful to him as I would be (to) anybody. It’s kind of on him right now.”
The Gophers, averaging 2,899 per home date, finished No. 7 in attendance among the nation’s Division I wrestling programs this year, according to figures from the National Wrestling Media Association. Minnesota has been top 10 in attendance since 2002.
Iowa led all programs, averaging a capacity 14,905 in its arena. That’s a record for the Hawkeyes who have been national attendance leaders since 2007, per NWMA.