What the Twins learned over the first half of the season was confirmed the past four days in Kansas City, during four taut games against the defending American League champions.
There are plenty of things the Twins could worry about, as they continue to slip in the standings.
There are no opponents they need fear.
The rise of the Royals as the Twins’ primary adversary in the American League Central is, for the Twins, a case of bad timing and ideal circumstance.
The Royals’ continued excellence is keeping the Twins out of first place. The Royals’ rise to AL power, without the benefit of or reliance upon payroll or power, demonstrates that the path to the World Series is smoother than it has been in decades.
As the Twins welcome back Ervin Santana from a performance-enhancing drug suspension, they can thank steroid testing for a newly leveled playing field.
There always will be players who try to find a pharmaceutical edge, and there always will be those who beat the system. But the elimination of steroids as a constant has also lessened the advantage of big-money and big-market teams, which is why today the American League standings have nothing to do with payroll and everything to do with baseball intelligence and young talent.
Young talent is the new PED — performance-enhancing demographic.
In the 2000s, primary steroid users tended to be veteran players who had figured out exactly how to use drugs to their advantage, and how to turn them into huge paydays. Those players were going to wind up with the biggest-spending franchises.
Today’s AL standings reward the best farm systems and front offices, and give parity a good name. Today the Twins are 4½ games behind the league’s best team, and six games ahead of the worst.
Their first homestand of the second half will feature seven games against teams competing with them for wild-card playoff spots. And as was the case over the past four games in Kansas City, the moments that win and lose games and decide races are just as likely to involve cutoff throws and middle relievers as home runs and highly paid stars.
During their last run of success, during the 2000s, the Twins knew they might have to beat the Yankees to advance, and the Yankees overwhelmed them with veteran players and power arms. There are no teams resembling those Yankees in today’s American League. With the return of Santana and the arrival of Miguel Sano, the Twins are good enough to beat anybody, and yet not that much better than anyone else.
The Royals have built the best record in the American League with exceptional fielding and a bullpen filled with power arms. As good as they are, the Twins should have a far superior lineup and rotation within the next year, presuming health and natural development for Sano, Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios.
Based on young talent already in the big leagues and the quality of their farm systems, the two teams that look most likely to become powerhouses over the second half of the decade are the Houston Astros, and the Twins.
Both possess power bats, power arms, athletic bodies and organizational depth. Both have front offices that know how to find and develop young talent.
The Twins went 4-6 on their road trip. They went 11-17 in June. They are not yet what the Royals have become, and their best prospects have not yet made the impact of the Astros’.
But in the new American League, an American League that can be won with gloves and bullpens, the Twins are positioned to soon become a force.
The 2015 Twins aren’t as good as the Twins teams that dominated the American League Central in the 2000s, but in the new American League, a league no longer ruled by PEDs and payrolls, they may not have to be.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On