Twins owner Jim Pohlad didn’t hold back his enthusiasm when asked about his team clinching its first playoff spot in seven years on Wednesday night.
“We’re very excited — and we’re very excited they made it to this first step,” Pohlad said.
And while he added that he hadn’t necessarily expected the Twins to make the playoffs this season, he also didn’t believe that last year’s 103-loss squad was anywhere near as bad as their record indicated.
“Expectations is probably a bad word; we certainly knew they were capable of [making the playoffs],” he said Thursday. “We said all along that we didn’t believe that the team last year, that its record did not evidence the quality of team that it really was.
“This year, clearly some things have gone right for us. Some players have really played well and way above expectations individually, and that’s made the whole thing really good.”
Still, I simply can’t believe the rumors that Jeff Pickler, the coordinator of major league development for the Twins who was in the Dodgers organization before coming to the Twins, could be the next manager if Paul Molitor isn’t brought back following the phenomenal job he did this season.
When Pohlad was asked about Molitor, he had this to say: “I think you know that I really believe, and it’s probably obvious, that the manager is a very important part of the team and team chemistry and all of that. I think Paul has been that.”
There’s no doubt that Molitor, who Sports Illustrated selected as its AL Manager of the Year on Wednesday, wants to come back. He has done a fantastic job. He lost his closer Brandon Kintzler, in a trade, along with a decent starter in Jaime Garcia, when executives Derek Falvey and Thad Levine seemed to give up on the season at the trade deadline.
Molitor then lost his best offensive player in Miguel Sano to a leg injury and battled through other injuries on the roster, but still did a miracle job with this club, which is now the only team in baseball history to lose 100 games in one season and make the playoffs the next.
Let’s face the facts, there is no doubt that Pohlad wants Molitor back, but apparently Falvey and Levine have the right to name the manager in the future.
When asked if he wanted him back, Pohlad said: “I don’t know that anybody has even talked about that stuff right now. I was in Cleveland for Tuesday’s game and all Derek and his staff were talking about was the playoffs.”
It’s incredible that this Twins team ranks third in the American League and fourth in all of baseball in runs scored. But Pohlad said that’s just a testament to their character.
“The term has been used and used a lot: resilient,” Pohlad said. “They for sure have that. Unquestionably they played well and have beaten the teams that they should beat. It has been a total team effort.”
When it came to losing Sano, who had 28 home runs and 77 RBI when he went on the disabled list on Aug. 19, Pohlad said that the team rallied without him. But he is still missed.
“I think that reflects that it has been the whole team, rather than one individual player,” the Twins owner said. “Although we’re certainly not going to say that not having Sano in the lineup, that we’re not missing something, because we are.”
When asked to talk about the incredible play of center fielder Byron Buxton, who will surely be named a Gold Glove winner, Pohlad said what has really impressed him is how everyone on the team is also amazed by his play.
“It’s probably harder for me to talk about that kind of thing,” he said of the advanced stats surrounding Buxton’s play. “I clearly understand that he’s a unique baseball player but to truly appreciate what he’s able to do, I mean, I think you have to be one of them — teammates, Paul, Derek, etc. I’m amazed by it, but when I see that they’re all amazed by it, too, that makes it even more impressive.”
Perhaps even more important for the team was the way Buxton turned on his offense late in the season, hitting .320 with 12 homers, 37 RBI, 44 runs scored and 14 stolen bases over 60 games since July 4.
One other player Pohlad was asked about was Joe Mauer, who is having his best season since 2013, because he is finally healthy from lingering concussion issues.
Mauer is hitting .305, eighth-best in the American League, and his .381 on-base percentage is fifth-best. But he has really been on a tear lately, hitting .376 since Aug. 10 over 45 games as the Twins worked to clinch their fourth playoff birth of his career.
“I can believe [he’s had success] because we know Joe is capable of it and capable of even more,” Pohlad said. “He has been really great and a really important part of the team.”
When asked if he plans to keep him around, Pohlad said they surely do, because he’s under contract next season.
Future is bright?
The best thing for Pohlad and Twins fans is the fact that this club isn’t going anywhere, as they have only four pending free agents — Hector Santiago, Bartolo Colon, Matt Belisle and Dillon Gee. The club also holds an option on Glen Perkins.
“I think there is a huge upside,” he said. “Every year is different. This has been a really good year and things have gone really well for us.”
Is he looking forward to what this team is capable of?
“I think we are. A lot of these players are probably, from an age standpoint, a few years away from their prime,” Pohlad said. “I think that bodes really well. It may be that pitching we have to add a little bit in the future, but you can point to some individual pitching performances on our staff that have gotten us to where we are now. Without those performances, we wouldn’t be in this wild-card playoff.”
And when it comes to beating the Yankees, the Twins’ likely wild-card game opponent on Tuesday, does he think they can do it?
“I don’t think they can, I know they can,” Pohlad said. “I’m sure the Yankees feel they can beat us. We’ll see. It’s a toss-up.”
Yes, this team has performed miracles all season and you never know if pitcher Ervin Santana has one of his super pitching performances, anything can happen. And even though they were swept in New York just a week ago, the Twins did win two out of three against the Yankees at Target Field earlier this season.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. on Monday and Friday and at 9:30 a.m. on Sundays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org