After winning the AL Central in consecutive seasons, 2021 isn’t ending like the Minnesota Twins expected entering the year. Viewed as a potential World Series contender, the Twins fell down the MLB standings early and eventually became sellers as they rebuilt during the trade deadline.
There’s no doubt the Twins’ 2021 nightmare season will be remembered for the injuries, inconsistency and disappointment. But it doesn’t signify the end of Minnesota’s days of as a playoff contender moving forward.
Here’s why the Twins can bounce back to the extent of competing for the playoffs next season.
Minnesota Twins still have a lively offense
Even with Nelson Cruz gone, manager Rocco Baldelli still has an energetic and capable offense. Jorge Polanco is having the best season of his big-league career, with the switch-hitter launching pitches to all fields, slugging at a high level and reducing his strikeout rate.
- Jorge Polanco stats (2021): .273/.328/.511, 31 home runs and 91 RBIs
Luis Arraez has been one of the Twins’ most reliable hitters since breaking into the big leagues in 2019. He excels at putting the ball in play, demonstrated by him striking out or walking in just 19.7% of plate appearances.
When healthy, Byron Buxton has performed at an All-Star-caliber level. He’s a stellar center fielder with a smooth swing which has led to him sporting a career-best .294 batting average this season.
Miguel Sano swings a power bat. Max Kepler is a threat from the left side and has proven he can post quality numbers over a full season. Offensively, catchers Mitch Garver and Ryan Jeffers have pop from the right side. Veteran third baseman Josh Donaldson is a vacuum at the hot corner and an intimidating right-handed hitter.
It’s a well-rounded offense with power, contact hitting and a healthy balance of youth and veterans. It’s a matter of consistency from players like Sano and Kepler. The Twins’ offense needs 2021 to end because they still have all the talent and production on their resumes to once again be one of MLB’s best offenses. Sometimes you’re going to have a bad year.
Joe Ryan leads Minnesota Twins’ promising arms
The Twins’ rotation always seems to lack stability. It’s a recurring trend that continued this season, highlighted by the Jose Berríos trade and the injuries to Kenta Maeda and Randy Dobnak. Looking ahead to the offseason, it’s evident that this aspect of the Twins must be addressed.
On the other hand, the Twins have reason to be enthused by that remodeling. At the moment, they have young hurlers taking the hill every fifth day, which is ideal given them being out of playoff contention.
Bailey Ober has made 19 starts this season, often working out of trouble and keeping Minnesota in games. Maybe he’s part of the starting rotation next season? John Gant, who was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals for J.A. Happ, has served as both a reliever and starter in 12 appearances, finding some success in the latter.
Joe Ryan owns a 2.45 ERA across four starts, pitching efficiently and keeping runners off the basepaths at a high level. While they’re struggling mightily, young pitchers like Griffin Jax and Charlie Barnes are getting valuable starting experience at the MLB level.
All the while, top pitching prospects Simeon Woods Richardson, who was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays as part of the Twins’ return on Berrios, Jordan Balazovic and Jhoan Duran could be nearing their big-league debuts with the Twins. Meanwhile, Maeda and Dobnak have flaunted top-of-the-rotation potential in the past.
There’s a lot of young pitchers for the Twins to develop. One has to figure at least a couple of them pan out to be reliable starting pitchers.
AL Central leaves door open for 2022 competition
Missing the playoffs in an emphatic fashion after an encouraging season or two is familiar territory for Minnesota. After making the AL Wild Card Game in 2017 with a young team, the Twins missed the playoffs with a losing record the ensuing season.
After the down year, the Twins made some cost-effective and impactful free agent signings by adding Cruz and Marwin Gonzalez. A few years later, the franchise is in a similar position.
Now that they’re not worried about extending Berrios, Minnesota has some payroll flexibility. Maybe they add a proven reliever or two and a veteran outfielder for depth’s sake, as Buxton’s health woes drag on?
The Chicago White Sox are the new king of the AL Central, but they don’t block another team in the division from being a playoff hopeful. That’s due to the competition within the five-team cluster. The Cleveland Indians are stuck in mediocrity and the Kansas City Royals have a rebuild that’s going nowhere.
While the Detroit Tigers have made progress thanks to reliable starting pitching and position players with power, a rejuvenated Twins’ team can stymie Detroit’s progress in the standings. As for the rest of the AL, it’s unlikely that four teams finish 10 games above .500 in the East again, clogging the Wild Card race.
The Twins aren’t a shoo-in to be playing in the 2022 AL Wild Card Game, nor finish with a winning record. What they do have, though, is the resources and upside to bounce back. Taking care of business against those not named the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central and playing .500 against the rest of the AL gives the Twins a fighting chance.