No true Twins fan could be surprised that they lost to the Yankees in the one-game Wild Card Playoff last night. Their only legitimate hope was that Ervin Santana would regain his early-season form and throw a near-shutout, which was a possibility. When he missed with his first two pitches, however, and proceeded to walk the leadoff batter, after having been given a three-run lead to work with, you sort of knew that wasn’t going to happen. When he then gave up a three-run homer to the Yankees’ fourth batter, the game’s outcome was no longer in doubt.
Still, it was encouraging, and exciting, to see the Twins start the game with a home run by Brian Dozier, a home run by Eddie Rosario and base hits by Eduardo Escobar and Max Kepler off Yankee ace Luis Severino. These guys, you felt, are for real and have a bright future. The fun stopped when we reached the bottom third of the order, which went hitless all night – surprisingly, in the case of Robbie Grossman, discouragingly for Jason Castro, and worryingly for Byron Buxton, who did get an rbi by beating out his double-play grounder. Buxton is still, we hope, a work in progress. He started to strike out less in the season’s second half, but he has to develop into a better contact hitter, or at least continue to improve his bunting.
The Twins also developed a surprisingly efficient bullpen out of very little, and except for a four-pitch walk with the bases loaded by Alan Busenitz they held their own last night. The problem, going forward, is starting pitching, and when you look at the starting rotation of the few good teams in the Majors – the Indians, Red Sox, Astros, Dodgers, Nationals – you can see how far the Twins are from seriously contending for a title. Yes, the Twins made the Playoffs, but they did so by beating up on the Tigers: none of the 10 teams they beat out had even a .500 record!
Santana, you feel, will never again have as good a year, and he trailed off considerably as the season wore on. Berrios has a live arm with the stuff to excel, and maybe he will. This year the Twins patched together a rotation with Kyle Gibson (terrible then good), Bartolo Colon (soon to be 45 years old), Adelberto Mejia (seemingly destined to be a journeyman, at best) and a parade of disappointments from their farm teams. Trevor May could return from his injury, but beyond that it is hard to see where the arms will come from. While it is almost routine now to find relievers who outshine their pedigree, there is little precedent for unknowns becoming dependable starters. Maybe take a big gulp and trade Miguel Sano? He has always been deemed the team’s future, but the Twins hit better once he was injured; his strikeouts are troubling; and he hasn’t kept healthy for long.
We’ll watch with interest as the new front office makes moves over the winter. The Twins, at least, are suddenly worth watching.