molitorSo much has changed for the Twins in 2017 compared to 2016 that it might be hard to remember some of the talking points that dominated the discussion mere months ago.

We tend to have short-term memories when a team that was 25-54 on July 1 last season is 25-18 on May 25 this season.

Much has been made of the Twins’ defensive improvement, Miguel Sano’s offensive dominance, Ervin Santana’s pitching brilliance and Jose Berrios’ sudden emergence (among other story lines).

But let’s not overlook manager Paul Molitor in this equation.

Molitor, remember, is working as a rare “lame duck” — in the final year of a three-year contract. It’s not like college football or basketball, where coaches routinely get deep extensions to make recruits feel a sense of stability, but it is still unusual for a professional head coach or manager to be in Molitor’s situation.

When former Twins GM Terry Ryan was fired last July, owner Jim Pohlad made the equally unusual statement that whomever took over the seat could eventually replace Molitor if they wanted, “but for 2017, Paul will be our manager.” It was natural to wonder if that statement would handcuff the Twins’ search for new personnel bosses and/or create an awkward situation for Molitor.

Stories after Derek Falvey and Thad Levine were hired suggested that Molitor was eager to work with them and open to organizational changes they wanted to implement. Still, there was a sense of “will the new guys want to hire their own manager?” hanging over the Twins.

Instead, at least through nearly two months, Molitor has guided the Twins into first place in the AL Central with a style that seems to complement Falvey and Levine’s emphasis on both analytics and relationships.

He’s generally pushed the right buttons with a mix-and-match lineup while making gut decisions — like leaving Ervin Santana in to finish off a shutout in a 2-0 victory at Baltimore — that have worked out. I can’t remember the Twins scoring a run this season without seeing Molitor on the top step of the dugout doling out congratulations.

When things went off the rails in last year’s 59-103 season, it was fair to criticize Molitor. Now it’s equally fair to praise him. This is his third season — one good, one bad, and one in progress that looks pretty nice.

Maybe 2016 was the outlier, not 2015? If so, we should expect to see more of Molitor beyond 2017.

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