With Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano on the disabled list, the Twins have won six of their past seven games, finishing a two-game sweep of the proud Cardinals with a 7-1 victory Tuesday in St. Louis.
While a one-week referendum on a baseball team is never definitive unless it occurs in late October, the manner in which the Twins have righted themselves represents one of the more positive developments for the franchise since Torii Hunter & Friends saved the team in the early 2000s.
For once, the Twins might have more pitching than they need.
And for the first time since Buxton and Sano became dueling top prospects, they might have been replaced as the two players most integral to the Twins’ future success.
This is an unusual development for a franchise that needed Les Straker as a third starter in the 1987 World Series, that needed a 36th-round draft pick named Scott Erickson to deliver his one dominant season for them to win in 1991, that has traditionally struggled to support quality position players with a professional rotation.
The rise of Jose Berrios and Fernando Romero, combined with the acquisitions of Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn and the latest resurgence of Kyle Gibson, gives the Twins the best starting pitching staff they’ve had since Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano led a top-heavy rotation in 2006.
In 2006, Liriano and Santana gave the Twins the best 1-2 punch in baseball. Liriano’s slider and Santana’s changeup were close to unhittable, and Liriano’s fastball and Santana’s fastball and slider were outstanding as well.
Before he was injured, Liriano was 12-2 with a 1.96 ERA. Santana finished 19-6 with a 2.77 ERA and won the Cy Young Award, in a hitter-friendly season in which 11 players hit 40 or more home runs.
Berrios and Romero might not prove to be as dominant, but they should receive more help. In 2006, the next-best ERA from a regular Twins starter was Boof Bonser’s 4.22. (Boof Bonser!)
Here is one stab at the Twins’ current pitching depth chart: Berrios, Romero, Odorizzi, Lynn, Gibson, Ervin Santana (returning in a few weeks?) and Stephen Gonsalves (5-0 with a 1.30 ERA at Class AA and AAA this season).
Starting pitching depth is crucial for at least four reasons:
1. Pitcher injuries remain one of the biggest variables in the game. The Twins could handle a pitcher injury or two, which is rare in modern baseball.
2. Depth should ensure that the Twins receive plenty of innings from their starters, meaning their bullpen should not be overworked.
3. Having starting pitching means not having to trade for starting pitching, which is expensive and risky.
4. Having starting pitching gives the Twins trading chips should they reach the trading deadline out of contention, or decide they need to upgrade another position.
And while the Twins’ pitching is increasingly promising, their position-playing depth remains impressive. Two of their top prospects are shortstops — former No. 1 picks Nick Gordon and Royce Lewis. Jorge Polanco will return from a PED suspension at midseason. Eduardo Escobar might be the Twins’ current MVP. And Brian Dozier is the Twins’ most accomplished player.
If Lewis becomes an outfielder, the Twins’ depth there will be impressive as well, considering that Eddie Rosario might be the team MVP since last July, Buxton is the best-fielding center fielder in the game and Max Kepler continues to hint at future stardom.
Depth does not guarantee immediate success. The American League is stacked with powerhouse teams this season. Even making the playoffs will be a challenge for the Twins.
But the arrival of Romero and the Twins’ weeklong resurgence have displayed a new organizational strength. They are no longer hoping that someone such as Carl Pavano or Phil Hughes will lead their staff. They have dynamic young arms to go with their dynamic young position players. The Twins, for once, might be deep and strong at the game’s most pivotal position.