‘We’re due’: Why Minnesota Twins are best bet to end Midwest’s World Series drought


Minnesota Twins general manager Thad Levine didn’t wait to hear the next part of the sentence when he was told MLB’s two Central divisions have never gone longer without a team in a World Series than the current six-year drought.

“You know what that means?” he interrupted — then barely paused before adding:

“It means we’re due.”

Levine presumably was referring to the entirety of the 10-team landscape in the two Midwest divisions. But he might as well have been referring to his own team, which is the only AL Central team to never reach the World Series since the division was established in 1994 — its last appearance coming three years before that.

And had he waited for the rest of the sentence during that conversation on a recent afternoon, he would have heard the suggestion that maybe, finally, his Twins look this year like the Central team from either league most likely to represent the Central in the Fall Classic since both the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland (then) Indians played seven games (plus an inning) in 2016.

The only other team in the 19-year history of the Central divisions did the Midwest divisions go six years without a team in the Series was 1998 through 2003 — in large part because the New York Yankees owned the AL pennant for five of those seasons.

Both Central divisions were in it three times since then including the Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros (then in the NL Central) in 2005 and the St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers in 2006.

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“I believe in this team,” star slugger Byron Buxton said, calling the feel with this year’s group “100 percent” different than last year.

“It’s definitely special,” he said.

This group certainly looks more special, with deeper pitching, than any team in either Central division — its bolstered rotation leading the way with the top starters’ fWAR in the game and the second-ranked rotation ERA, behind only the world-leading Tampa Bay Rays.

Minnesota Twins’ depth already on display

It’s why they’ve been in first place, despite already reaching into their newfound depth, since beating the White Sox in a series at home a month ago — and the biggest reason why they might offer the most formidable challenge to the Rays and defending-champion Astros in the race for this year’s American League championship.

Along with this reason: Levine has built a deeper hitting and fielding roster — despite trading away the reigning AL batting champ — led by a healthy (so far) Buxton and a new plan for keeping him that way.

And don’t forget the manna from heaven in the form of All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa’s failed physicals with the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets that opened the road back to Minnesota on a six-year, $200 million free agent deal.

Throw in the additions of well regarded catcher Christian Vazquez, fresh off a World Series championship with the Astros, along with swing-miss-and-launch slugger Joey Gallo, Gold Glove center fielder Michael A. Taylor and productive role players in Kyle Farmer and Donovan Solano, and it’s no wonder Buxton says this team looks and feels different.

“I think the teams that are off to fortuitous starts are exceptionally reluctant to look too far ahead and cognizant you’re always the proverbial one or two injuries away from your fortunates changing dramatically,” said Levine, who approached that last two offseasons with that in mind — doubling down on depth over the past winter after injuries took a big toll on the Twins’ 2022 efforts.

That included trading batting champ Luis Arraez to the Miami Marlins for 180-inning starter Pablo Lopez — a few months after a deadline trade secured depth starter Tyler Mahle through 2023 — with starter Kenta Maeda also due back from Tommy John surgery.

“I’d say the lion’s share of our time right now is spent evaluating what’s the next line of defense, but also what’s the line after that and the line after that one,” Levine said.

It’s already proven to have a huge impact on the season, with Mahle out for the season after just five starts (3.16 ERA) for Tommy John and Maeda battling triceps soreness after just four starts.

That meant the guy who started the season at Triple-A despite making the third start of the season for the Twins in 2022 — Bailey Ober — is already back.

And thriving.

Ober already ranks third on the team in bWAR after just four starts, sandwiched among a top four of nothing but starting pitchers: Sonny Gray, Joe Ryan and fourth-ranked Lopez.

“Our starting pitching has been the biggest strength of our team so far this season, and that’s including some of our guys already missing some time and having to call some others up to do the job,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “As a group they’ve been excellent. They’ve been magnificent even.

“But I think we have a lot of growth still in us. We have a lot of work to do.”


Looking at the Twins’ impressive wins so far

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A few days after that, the Twins won a home series against the upstart Cubs in which they scored a Target Field-record 29 runs for three games — including 16 on Sunday to hand Cubs Opening Day starter Marcus Stroman (2.28 ERA entering the game) his shortest outing since a sore hip forced him out of a game in June 2021. 

They knocked him out with two outs in the third, tagging him with six of the 16.

That followed a series win against a San Diego Padres team that ramped up again over the winter after a National League Championship Series appearances — making it four wins in five games against a pair of teams that spent more than $300 million each over the winter for new players.

“There’s a lot of guys in here that know exactly how good they are,” Buxton said. “It’s a lot of guys that know how much better they can be. So everybody is always pushing each other day in and day out to be that 1 percent better.”

And none of that might even be the most impressive thing about the Twins’ big start to a promising 2023 season of especially high hopes.

If all that starting pitching, hitting balance and depth, and Gold Glove-caliber fielding up the middle don’t suggest how ready the Twins might be to return to the World Series for the first time in 32 years, consider an April that included:

  • The franchise’s first season series victory over the Yankees in 22 years — a stretch that also included three postseason matchups that all went to the Yankees.
  • A series win over the Astros at Target Field after getting swept by the eventual champs in all six meetings — including manhandled in all three games in Minnesota.

“Those are championship teams that know how to get to the playoffs and win,” Buxton said. “To be able to come out and win games like that, it just shows how unique and special we are, and something for us to also build off of.”

Buxton was 7-years-old the last time the Twins won the season series against the Yankees. Correa was 6; Lopez, 5.

“The vast majority of our players have no idea about the history with the Yankees,” Levine said. “Our fans remind them every single time they’re playing. Our employees wear it like a weight around their shoulders. 

“So the fact we were able to go into Yankee Stadium, split a four-game series, then come home and win the series and, ultimately, by so doing win four out of seven games — something we hadn’t done in over 20 years — it seems small, but I think it’s significant.” 

The Astros series, too, he said, especially after the way last year went — something many of the players do remember.

“Those are two of the best franchises the last decade’s seen in the game,” Levine said. “These are small things that you can look back at the end of the season and say these are galvanizing moments that led to something more significant.”

How significant those benchmark wins might be later, how much all the Twins good pitching means now, how healthy Buxton has been able to be, how “due” this team (or anyone else in the Midwest) might be, they have three-quarters of a season left to prove it.

“Our group is not satisfied in any way because we’ve played a good month of baseball,” Baldelli said. “And I like that.”

Gordon Wittenmyer covers Major League Baseball for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @GDubCub.

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