by Erik Ritland
Check out Part I: On the Twins New Approach here.
Part Two: It’s Going to be Bad, Unless...
There are few reasons to be excited about the 2017 Twins. Aside from an offensively inept pitch-framing catcher, this is the same team that lost 103 games last year. Nothing was done to improve the worst starting pitching staff in baseball, the bullpen looks like it’ll be the same mediocrity with a few different names, and their lineup is still above average but inconsistent. While I don’t begrudge the team for not aggressively filling these holes so early in a rebuild, that they didn’t address any of their problems in the off-season means that there’s no reason to think they’ll be any better this year.
That is, unless a lot of things go right.
As far as position players, several young Twins Opening Day starters could have break out seasons. Buxton, Sano, Polanco, Rosario, and Kepler are talented and have shown varying degrees of potential. If each of them begin to reach it – and that’s a huge if – they could be the foundation of a successful team.
That’s not all that needs to go right, though. This just in: Joe Mauer is no longer an MVP caliber talent. But he could make a positive impact if he hits .280, drives in 80 or so runs (depending on how much he plays…) and strikes out a little less than he did in 2016.
It’s hard to put a positive spin on the Twins terrible pitching situation, but I’ll give it a shot. Team “ace” Ervin Santana is talented and has his moments, but he would be an average two or decent three on any other team. Santiago and Gibson are decent back of the rotation guys, Mejia has potential but probably wouldn’t break camp with most teams, and Hughes still hasn’t shown that he’s fully recovered from his myriad of recent injuries (I wouldn’t be surprised if Duffy takes his spot in the rotation early in the season).
If Santana harnesses his best stuff, Gibson and Mejia break out, and Santiago and Hughes dig deep and find what made them above average starters in the past, the Twins could do a lot better than expected. Again, that is five huge ifs that all need to happen, which seems unrealistic. Especially considering all the things that need to go right on the offensive side as well.
The 2017 bullpen is narrowly better than 2016, which is barely a compliment. Instead of terrible arms like Buddy Boshers, Pat Greene, and JR Graham, they have adequate ones like an aging Craig Breslow and something called Matt Belisle (okay, so he has a decent MLB pedigree, but still). The odds of their success may be even less than that of the starting pitchers or lineup.
And yet…stranger things have happened. There were several years from 2000-2010 that the Twins went into seasons with a less-than-stellar team on paper but outperformed all the negative predictions. And all the question marks – young players that could break out, veterans that have had success, some new faces and a new approach – are better than simply having a bunch of players that are just bad and have no potential.
Still, there are too many things that need to go right for the Twins to have success in 2017. I predict 70 wins, maybe less if they start selling at the trade deadline.
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He was also Lead Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik's music via his Patreon account, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.