The final AL Central team we preview in our monthlong series looking at all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2017 season is the Minnesota Twins, who came in last place in the division last season.
After winning 83 games in 2015, the bottom fell out for the Twins in 2016 and they ended the season with a 59-103 mark that was — by far — the worst record in the majors, nine games worse than any other team. Things got off to a bad start earlier this month when P Trevor May, who was expected to compete for a spot in the rotation, suffered a torn UCL that will likely require season-ending Tommy John surgery. The team didn’t make any notable moves this winter, with the most significant possibly being the addition of light-hitting C Jason Castro to take over starting duties behind the plate. He’ll be joining veteran 1B Joe Mauer and young players like DH Kennys Vargas and OF Byron Buxton on the offense. SP Ervin Santana leads a starting rotation that includes SPs Hector Santiago and Kyle Gibson.
The Twins finished with the 10th-worst batting average in Major League Baseball last season, .251, but their 200 home runs placed them in the top half of the league and 13 more than the MLB average. Their .738 OPS was just below the league average. 2B Brian Dozier led the offense with a .268 average and 42 home runs, tied for the third-most in the majors. He ended the season with a .886 OPS. 3B Miguel Sano, who takes over the position full-time in the absence of Trevor Plouffe, who is now with the A’s, hit .236 last year with 25 home runs, the second-most on the team. Mauer hit .261 with 11 home runs, which was more than he hit the previous year despite playing in 16 fewer games. In 92 games, Buxton hit .225 with 10 home runs. OF Max Kepler hit .260 with the 17 home runs.
Pitching is where the team really struggled last season, finishing with a 5.08 ERA, the worst in the American League and second-worst in MLB, and 1,191 strikeouts, which was the fifth-fewest in the majors. As you’d expect with the team with the worst record in the majors, the Twins had the fewest saves with just 26, fewer than 18 pitchers recorded individually. Santana was the best of the bunch, posting a 3.38 ERA with 149 strikeouts in 181.1 innings. Gibson put up a 5.07 ERA with 104 strikeouts in 147.1 innings. And it just gets worse from there in the rotation. In the bullpen, RP Brandon Kintzler posted a 3.15 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 54.1 innings while recording 17 saves — not numbers representative of a good closer.
Looking ahead at 2017, there’s not much reason for optimism because they didn’t add any significant pieces to their roster in the offseason. If some of the younger players, particularly Buxton, can improve their stats the Twins may get some extra wins that they would have lost last year, but that’s not likely to cause a big improvement in their record. One thing the Twins have going for them is the eventual return of RP Glen Perkins, who had 30-plus saves each season from 2013-2015 but pitched in just two games in 2016 due to labrum surgery. He probably won’t be ready at the start of the season, but he should get the closer’s role back upon his return, and should do better at the end of games than Kintzler did last year.
The best the Twins can hope for this year is probably to avoid losing 100 games. Not exactly a lofty goal, but it’s probably the most realistic goal they can set with the roster they have. They’re probably going to win a few more games than last year because it’s hard to win fewer than 60 games in a season, but they will again be down there as one of the worst teams in the majors.