The Twins’ 2018 season has been a disappointment so far, but there were also early warning signs that we might have expected too much from this team. With that as a backdrop comes this question: If the Twins continue on their below-.500 trajectory, how should we frame this season?
First take: Michael Rand
Let’s start with the history-based reason I was worried about this Twins season (and the impending Vikings season, too) from the get-go: More often than not in recent years, local teams have had a hard time duplicating success from one year to the next — particularly if the Season 1 success was a surprise.
The Twins’ 85-win season and wild-card berth in 2017 certainly were a surprise, and most surprises come about thanks to elements of good fortune and overachieving.
The Twins made some upgrades (on paper) going into 2018, but they were also due for a natural regression. The warning signs were there if we wanted to see them.
Chris Hine: Even before the season they were there — Ervin Santana’s finger, Jorge Polanco’s suspension. Maybe it’s because I’m new to the Twin Cities, so I’m not steeped in the pessimism that comes with being a Minnesota sports fan, but this seemed like a bonus year for the Twins.
Last season was a pleasant surprise, and another playoff appearance would have been a second win with house money, according to a lot of early-season win projections. The PECOTA projections from Baseball Prospectus had the Twins pegged as a .500 team and out of the playoffs.
To me, the year that matters more is 2019. Joe Mauer’s contract comes off the books. The Twins saved money by dealing Phil Hughes and they can choose to re-sign Brian Dozier or spend that money elsewhere. That’s when this team should be in playoff mode. This season might have been asking too much.
Rand: If I concede that point, though, I think that if the Twins continue on this path and end up even a few games under .500 at the end, this year should be viewed as a disappointment.
Even by “bonus year” standards, as you call it, and even burdened by duplicating unexpected success, as I outlined earlier, this should be a better team. It feels like the whole is not as good as the sum of the parts. Whether that’s chemistry or regression to the mean is debatable, but they have still underachieved.
Hine: Almost everything that could go wrong has. You just hope that what has gone wrong, namely the injuries and performance of Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, are things the Twins can fix. My optimism is based in part on those guys bouncing back to a semblance of what they were. If they can’t, I’ll join you and your fellow Chicken Littles.
Rand: We can say they have more than three months to fix this, but really they have about a month. If they’re still scuffling in mid-July, they’ll likely be sellers on the trade market. And if they deal top veterans — last year’s surge after the purge notwithstanding — their 2018 record could plummet even further.
Last word: Chris Hine
Then you just have to write off the record for the second half of 2018 and try again in 2019. If a sell-off happens, it will happen around the time the Vikings open training camp. You can then forget about baseball and commence worrying about the same thing happening to them.
More Rand: startribune.com/RandBall
More Hine: startribune.com/NorthScore