Having learned long ago that the online comments section on Star Tribune stories is a place to go for the loudest voices, but not necessarily the consensus opinion, I was nevertheless struck (though not surprised) upon reading the salvos offered up earlier this week by readers reacting to news that the Twins are going to be offering "subscription" style season tickets to boost diminishing attendance.
"Why would anyone pay hard earned money to watch AAA level baseball," one reader wrote.
"They can easily fix the attendance downturn by winning," offered another.
OK, so listen: The angst that has built up over the past eight years is real. But maybe there's a need to separate the first four years of that run — 2011-14, all of them 90-loss seasons — from the most recent four?
Aside from the "Total System Failure" year of 2016 — not that the Twins get a free pass for that disaster — three of the past four seasons have ranged between slightly below average and above average. And yes, that includes the 78-84 mark the Twins put up last season, a disappointment in relation to their wild-card postseason appearance of 2017 but not a disaster.
As such, there seems to be a disconnect between the product fans are expecting to see in 2019 and the one that outside sources are projecting they will see — particularly considering the upgrades the Twins have made in the offseason.
You might not want to believe it, but the 2019 Twins have improved a good deal from last season. They have a good chance to have a winning record, and contending for a wild-card spot is a reasonable expectation.
Before you get mad, let's check some evidence:
• In the PECOTA projection system used by Baseball Prospectus, the Twins are tabbed to finish 82-80. That's not great, of course, but it's worth noting that it puts them in the playoff contention mix. Four teams — the Astros, Yankees, Indians and Red Sox — are projected to win 90-plus games. But no other AL team is projected to win more than 85.
• Betting odds are even more in the Twins' favor. Bovada set the over-under on Twins victories at 84.5 — tied with Tampa Bay for the fifth most in the American League.
That's not to say the second wild card should be the end of the Twins' aspirations, but it is to say this is more evidence that it's realistic for them to contend for at least that much. Along those lines: Bovada only has Cleveland's over-under at 90.5 — just six games better than the Twins in the AL Central.
• Before MLB's winter meetings, Bovada had the Twins at 75 to 1 odds to win the World Series. Their current odds after several offseason signings — the Twins are No. 8 in MLB in offseason free-agent spending this year — are 50 to 1.
• Both Bovada and PECOTA expect improvements from the bottom three teams in the AL Central, which isn't hard since the Tigers, Royals and White Sox all lost at least 98 games last season.
The Twins went 33-24 combined against those three a year ago — not bad, but actually worse than the rest of MLB by winning percentage. If the Twins are going to improve in 2019, they might have to perform better against those three teams, even as the Tigers, Royals and White Sox marginally improve.