Early projections about the 2021 Twins, along with early reviews about their offseason moves, have generally been favorable.
Baseball Prospectus projects the Twins to again win the AL Central fairly handily, with a 90-win season — about five wins more than Cleveland and seven more than the White Sox. Within that projection is balance: the fifth-most runs scored in the American League (795) and the third-fewest runs allowed (738).
Adding Andrelton Simmons to anchor the defense, while also nabbing J.A. Happ, Alex Colome and Matt Shoemaker should help that latter number. Resigning Nelson Cruz for the middle of the lineup should help stabilize the former number.
But those of us who have watched the Twins excel in the last two regular seasons — and indeed over a lot of seasons in the past two decades, save for a hiccup in the early part of the 2010s — are rightfully greedy. Regular season success is nice, and getting to the playoffs is the prerequisite for having the chance at postseason success.
The Twins, though, are dogged by an 18-game playoff losing streak dating back to 2004 — one that includes five losses over the last two seasons with a roster that is largely intact again in 2021. It leads to an important question: Have the Twins made enough upgrades, both internally and externally, to expect anything will be different in October if they are fortunate enough to arrive there again?
La Velle E. Neal III and I tackled that question via a roster analysis on Wednesday's Daily Delivery podcast.
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La Velle's conclusion: The Twins seem like they are one power arm short of being truly dangerous in the bullpen. My conclusion: The Twins are one really good starting pitcher away from being truly dangerous.
That might not seem like a lot, but in October it can mean everything. It can mean your starting pitcher locking down a game against another team's ace. It can mean a strikeout in a key situation instead of a hard hit ball or even just a ball in play, when anything can happen.
FanGraphs projects exactly one Twins pitcher will finish this season with an ERA below 4: reliever Taylor Rogers.
The Twins haven't been undone by any single thing during this run of playoff infamy, but it is instructive to note that their only two playoff wins since 2003 — 3-1 and 2-0 wins over the Yankees — were started by Johan Santana and finished with strong bullpen work.
In an ideal world, the Twins' postseason rotation would have someone else either right above or right below Kenta Maeda. Jose Berrios is the No. 3. Michael Pineda and Happ battle for No. 4. And in an ideal world, there would be a guy coming out of the bullpen throwing unhittable gas at the moment the game might turn.
The Twins don't seem to have those guys — at least not yet. Maybe one or both develop internally. Maybe the Twins get to July, see they are a real contender, and make one or two big trades to add those pieces.
I do not wish to fast-forward to that time or all the way to the playoffs. It is fun to see how seasons play out and to be proved wrong.
But for now, the view looks like this: If the Twins' roster is basically the same at the end of the season as it is now, it's hard to see how the October streak of ineptitude ends.