Jim Pohlad took over as Twins owner in 2009, and in his 10 years of ownership he has watched the team get swept by the Yankees in the 2009 and 2010 American League Division Series and watched them lose in the American League wild-card game to those same Yankees in 2017.
He has yet to see a playoff victory.
But the first half of this season has been one of the most surprising in franchise history as the club raced off to a 56-33 record before the All-Star break and then began a key series in Cleveland with a 5-3 victory Friday.
They are on pace to match the greatest record in Twins history, 102-60 by the 1965 Minnesota Twins, who lost the World Series in seven games to the Dodgers.
Pohlad said that even he couldn’t have predicted this kind of start to the 2019 season, but that’s baseball.
“Things can change a lot in a year,” he said. “We saw it happen in ’11 [when the Twins went 63-99]. After the successful 2010 season [when the Twins went 94-68], we went the opposite way. This year it has gone the opposite way of 2018. I can’t explain it. Maybe [Chief Baseball Officer] Derek [Falvey] or [General Manager] Thad [Levine] or [President] Dave [St. Peter] or you can explain it, but I can’t.”
Even with the great start, Pohlad is no different from many Twins fans. He is concerned that the club went 9-11 over its final 20 games before the All-Star break.
“I think we all know that the season is long and there is going to be ups and downs,” Pohlad said. “I mean, am I worried? I get worried any time we lose a game, even one.”
What about the fact that the AL Central leaders started the post-break schedule with a three-game series against the second-place Indians, a team on their schedule 13 times in the second half?
“Cleveland is a great team, a great organization, and they have some great young players that are really producing for them right now,” the Twins owner said. “Maybe people didn’t think they were going to produce so quickly, but it is happening because they are such a good organization. They are definitely a competitor.”
Yes, the Twins have watched a division lead that at one point stood at 11½ games dwindle, but they still hold a division lead and are more than 20 games over .500.
The biggest question this month is what kind of moves the Twins will make around the trade deadline.
Pohlad said that payroll isn’t as big a concern to the club as what kind of assets the Twins would have to give up to acquire a big name.
“I don’t really think, especially in these trade deadline deals, that money is the issue,” he said. “It’s what you have to give up, really, and it’s not what you have to give up in terms of money, it’s what you have to give up in terms of players.”
And while he thinks the team could use strengthening in some areas, he said for the most part he likes the current club.
He also said that Falvey and Lavine are going to make those calls, not him.
“They certainly don’t ask my opinion on specific player s,” he said.
Pohlad added that at this point he has a lot of faith that the baseball operations department knows what it’s doing in terms of building the Twins’ kind of club.
“I have said nobody is a magician, but they are just assembling the right team and that is in their baseball operations department and in the dugout with the manager and the coaches,” Pohlad said. “I think the coaches, as a group, including the manager, are totally on the same page about what has to be done to develop players and get the most out of them.”
Does he think having Joe Mauer’s $23 million salary off the books will make it easier to bring in a star player on a deadline trade?
“Joe was being paid a lot of money, but he was worth that,” Pohlad said. “I think we would be an even better team if Joe was on our team right now. But not having that salary certainly, I’m sure, from Derek’s and Thad’s standpoint [has] helped.”
Target Field upgrades coming
With Target Field filled with fans again — the team drew 110,537 to the three-game series with the Rangers over the July 4th holiday — Pohlad said the 10-year-old stadium is due for major upgrades that fans will notice.
“Our goal is to keep it always in A-plus shape,” he said. “We are getting to the point where items that were installed new in 2010 are beginning to wear out. The prime example of that is the scoreboard and the control room. We’re going to have to spend a lot of money on that to replace all of that equipment, including the main board.”
He also said that there was never a doubt in his mind that if the club produced a winner, fans would come.
“Clearly we are happy about that. There is nobody that wouldn’t be happy,” Pohlad said. “The fans are responding. We kind of thought they would always respond to a good team and a winning team, and they are. And the weather has been great, too.”
• Minnesota United managing director Bill McGuire said a number of prominent families in the Twin Cities are part owners of the club. That includes the Pohlad family and Taylor family plus the Mithun, Binger and Kelly families. “These are all Minnesota people,” he said.
• Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck on how he viewed the program’s June recruiting: “We had 16 commits in the month of June. I think that’s one of the biggest months we have ever had in our program history, not just at the University of Minnesota but me being a head coach and our staff being together. Sixteen commits in the month of June. I would consider that an epic June.”
• Al Kuehner, the Twins’ grounds manager, has an incredible story. He started working with Dick Ericson back at Met Stadium in Bloomington in 1975 and has lasted 44 years with the Twins. He told me recently about the changes in groundskeeping from Met Stadium to the Metrodome and now at Target Field. He said he has no plans of retiring. He is considered one of the best in the business.
• ESPN released its 2019 Football Power Index and has the Gophers ranked 28th in the nation and fifth in the Big Ten and finishing with an 8-4 record.
• Las Vegas opened the year with the Twins’ over/under win total at 84.5. Now it’s at 94.5, the biggest jump in baseball.
• Pro Football Focus had the Vikings’ offensive line ranked 25th in the league in its preseason evaluation and had this to say: “Taking [Garrett] Bradbury in the first round of the 2019 draft opened a lot of doors for the Minnesota Vikings, including pushing Pat Elflein out to guard. … Returning tackles Riley Reiff and Brian O’Neill will need to step it up, though, with the NFC North edge defender group getting even stronger this offseason.”