You might remember, from back at the beginning of the NFL season, when we previewed each team by having a writer we liked write about their favorite team.
Well, we're less than a month away from the start of baseball — spring training is here! — so it's time to do the same thing in the baseball world. Every weekday until the start of the season, a different writer will preview his/her team. We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, Where Their Team Stands. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever.
Today: The Minnesota Twins. Your author is Aaron Gleeman.
As an eight-year-old in 1991, I was just starting to become a serious Twins fan when Jack Morris outlasted the Braves in the greatest Game 7 in World Series history. I had absolutely no memory of the 1987 World Series win over the Cardinals, but I'd certainly heard all about it, and so I just figured this type of ridiculously spectacular thing happened every few years. Turns out, not really.
The 1992 season wasn't bad, but things fell apart after that, right as I started to hit my formative years of fandom. From 1993 to 2000 — as I went from collecting baseball cards and wanting to be a major leaguer when I grew up to being ignored by girls and wanting to write about major leaguers when I grew up — the Twins reeled off eight straight losing seasons, rarely even sniffing .500. It was tough to take when combined with a dump of a ballpark and a measly payroll.
Things were ugly until 2001, when the Twins suddenly started winning more often than they lost, which has thankfully continued for six straight seasons. Along with four division titles in five years, the roster now includes the reigning Cy Young winner, MVP, and a St. Paul-born batting champion who recently broke up with Miss USA (the 2005 version, not the crazy, insanely hot one). Plus, there's supposedly going to be a new ballpark opening up in 2010. It took a while, but life as a Twins fans is pretty damn good again. With that said, there's one thing that's been bothering me.
They've never had a best-selling book written about them by Michael Lewis (or Billy Beane, if you believe Joe Morgan), but much like the A's, the Twins' recent success has been remarkable given their budget constraints. Unfortunately, the Twins also share a string of playoff failures with the A's. Of course, Minnesota's general manager is about as into sabermetrics as Pacman Jones is into wallets, so the reactionary national media hasn't made as big a deal over the Twins' postseason struggles.
Much like Will Leitch's love of all things Barbaro, every A's failure under Beane is well documented, yet I can't recall a single prominent writer applying the same type of scrutiny to what happens with Terry Ryan's Twins once October rolls around. Since 2000, Oakland has won 58 percent of its regular-season games, but is 11-16 in five trips to the postseason. During that same span, Minnesota has won 54 percent of its regular-season games, but is 6-13 in four playoff appearances.
Shocking as it may be, the A's have been more successful in the regular season and postseason. I'm a lifelong Twins fan, so my point here isn't that the Twins stink and the A's rule. It's just something I started thinking about while the A's swept my beloved Twins out of the playoffs last year, and it's stuck with me all winter. When the A's crap out in October, it's viewed as a mark against their organizational philosophy. When the Twins crap out in October it's viewed as merely a side note to their success.
I certainly don't want the Joe Morgans and Jay Mariottis of the world ripping on my team's general manager and organizational philosophies all the time, but on some level I'm a little jealous of A's fans. Seriously. The constant scrutiny and onslaught of criticism gives them something to fight back against, something to rally around. On the other hand, my fellow Twins fans seem somewhat content to just let the playoffs fade away into the rear-view mirror each fall.
Perhaps that's why, thrilled as I am about another baseball season being right around the corner, I can't seem to muster any great optimism for the Twins this season. With Johan Santana, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer leading the way, plus a tremendous bullpen anchored by Joe Nathan, they'll certainly be very good again. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if they emerged from what's suddenly an extremely tough AL Central to capture their fifth division title in six years.
But is that good enough any longer? This year's team is a strong one, built well through shrewd trades and the development of young players, just like the 2001-2006 versions were. However, as I look at the changes Ryan made to the roster during the offseason, I can't help but wonder if the pieces are simply in place for another good regular-season and another postseason flop. Or maybe I'm just bitter, because I honestly thought last year was the year.
After a horrendous start, the Twins managed to dig their way out of a deep hole by going 70-33 from June 9 on. They were baseball's hottest team, and for a while they had the two best pitchers in the world in Santana and rookie phenom Francisco Liriano. Then Liriano went down with a season-ending elbow injury, the bats and defense let them down when it mattered most, and the best-of-five ALDS matchup with the A's was over in three games.
Liriano's Tommy John surgery and Brad Radke's retirement means Santana is now alone atop the rotation. The good news is that the Twins have one of the top collections of young pitching prospects around and saw how great trusting young talent can be last season once they ditched Juan Castro and Tony Batista. Despite that, rather than trust their young arms, Ryan re-signed Carlos Silva and his 5.94 ERA, and brought in washed-up veterans Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz to re-enact the Castro and Batista roles.
Those three pitchers combined to go 26-36 with a 5.84 ERA in 456 innings last year, yet the Twins may end up committing three rotation spots and about 13 percent of their payroll to them. Having Silva (245 pounds) and Ponson (250) on the same staff as Boof Bonser (260) and Dennys Reyes (245) ensures the Twins of having the premiere collection of fat pitchers in all of baseball, but that's not exactly the type of thing that leads to postseason greatness.
It's possible that I've become spoiled by the team's recent winning ways — playoff success or not, the last five years sure as hell beat the days of Scott Stahoviak, Pat Mahomes, David McCarty, Pat Meares and 40,000 empty seats in the Metrodome — but at some point another 90-win season followed by another first-round playoff exit might cease being "they had a good season anyway." I guess what I'm saying is, I wish Joe Morgan would start harping on the Twins' playoff losses, so I wouldn't have to.
Oh, and fuck the White Sox.