The Twins’ first trip to the playoffs in a decade shows how long it can take to build a winner, and also how old managers and front office executives often take the fall for underperforming teams while building foundations for the future.
Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine deserve all the credit for bringing in players like Nelson Cruz, C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop, Marwin Gonzalez and Jake Odorizzi.
They also have had great support from owner Jim Pohlad in building out their technology staff and adding a number of big coaching hires, starting at the top with Rocco Baldelli, who is the first rookie Twins coach to reach the playoffs since Ron Gardenhire in 2002.
But the fact is that both Bill Smith, who was general manager from October 2007 to November 2011, and Terry Ryan, who had a second stint as general manager from 2011 to 2016, deserve a lot of credit for this club, too.
Smith’s leadership has especially come under a new light after his era was widely criticized.
The simple fact is that Smith signed Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler and Miguel Sano as amateur international free agents in 2009. On top of that, he drafted Eddie Rosario in the fourth round of the 2010 amateur draft out of Puerto Rico.
Those four players have been the face of this Twins team and their growth as players is laying the foundation for this club not just this year but for the next decade.
The other biggest stretch of player acquisition that really impacted this season was when Ryan returned as general manager and got to work.
Ryan drafted Byron Buxton at No. 2 overall in the 2012 draft, and later in the first round added Jose Berrios at No. 32 overall. In the fifth round he selected Tyler Duffey out of Rice University and in the 11th round selected Taylor Rogers out of Kentucky.
In December 2012, Ryan made a deal that sent center fielder Ben Revere to the Phillies for starting pitcher Vance Worley and minor league reliever Trevor May.
In June 2013, Ryan selected Mitch Garver out of the University of New Mexico in the ninth round of the draft and five months later signed Luis Arraez as an international amateur free agent out of Venezuela.
There’s a real possibility that when the Twins take the field for the Game 1 of the American League Division Series, Berrios will start the game, Rosario and Kepler will be in the outfield, Sano, Arraez and Polanco will be in the infield and Garver will be behind the plate.
It isn’t to say that Falvey and Levine don’t deserve a ton of credit for this squad and its construction, but in baseball more than any other sport, building a winner often has several architects, and Ryan and Smith deserve credit for their roles in this club.
Rebounding from Week 17
The Vikings have won two of their past four contests against the Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago by a combined six points.
Those close victories are about as much success as the Twins have ever had in Chicago, a place where they have really struggled.
Dating back to 2001, the Vikings are 3-15 on the road against the Bears, and they enter Sunday’s game as two-point underdogs.
But this year is an even bigger contest than years past for Mike Zimmer’s club, because there is a question hanging over this game that stretches back to last season, when the Vikings lost their Week 17 home matchup to the Bears and missed the postseason.
Throughout the offseason, the talking points from the Vikings players have been that this is a brand-new season and that last year is over.
But if this team wants to prove that it is going to take over the NFC North, the Vikings have to win this game, especially after their loss at Green Bay.
Last year, quarterback Kirk Cousins really struggled against the great Bears defense as the Vikings went 0-2.
But their performance in Week 17 was what led to all of the changes in the offseason, with the Vikings completely changing their offensive coaching staff.
In that game, they were never in the contest and the offense looked miserable.
Cousins passed for just 132 yards on 33 attempts while being sacked four times. The running backs had just 63 rushing yards on 15 attempts.
The performance was so bad that many people wondered if Zimmer and General Manager Rick Spielman would keep their jobs.
But the Vikings front office decided that the problem was with the offensive coaching staff and went out and made big changes.
So far this season, the changes are working. The Vikings rank first in the NFC in rushing yards after finishing dead last in 2018. And while Cousins had a bad game at Lambeau Field, for the most part he has done a great job managing the offense in their victories.
But this week will be a big test, and will show just how far they have came from last season and that miserable ending.
• The Twins had the second-largest attendance increase in Major League Baseball in 2019, trailing only the Phillies. They gained 334,955 fans compared to their 2018 totals, a difference of 4,135 fans per game. They finished the season with 2,294,152 fans, the 10th-highest total in franchise history.
• Vikings DE Everson Griffen on Bears defensive end Khalil Mack: “He’s a freak. He’s quick, he’s fast, and you know he really doesn’t use a lot of moves. People think to be a great sack master like he is or something that you have to have multiple moves. You stick to that move that is good for you, then you have a counter. That’s what he does best.”
• Pete Prisco of CBS Sports ranks the Vikings 12th, writing, “They can run it and play good defense. That’s the Mike Zimmer way. But they have to get more from their passing game.”
• Pro Football Focus ranks Kirk Cousins 25th in its quarterback ratings, second to last in the NFL for qualified QBs. In last place is former Vikings quarterback Case Keenum. “It’s been a disastrous start for Cousins, who is tied for the highest percentage of turnover-worthy plays in the league [6.3%],” PFF said.
• Pro Football Focus had three Vikings on its All-NFL team for Week 3: running back Dalvin Cook, tight end Irv Smith Jr. and kicker Dan Bailey.
• Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky went 2-0 against the Vikings last year despite throwing for just 328 yards and one touchdown with two picks.
• It’s strange that the Gophers can rank 32nd when it comes to their 2020 football recruiting class but rank only eighth in the Big Ten.
• Wisconsin men’s basketball has the fifth-best recruiting class for 2020, according to 247 Sports. The Badgers trail only Kentucky, Duke, Virginia and Xavier. Their highest-ranked recruit is Ben Carlson out of East Ridge at No. 82.