The Minnesota Twins Had What They Need to be True World Series Contenders

Sonny Gray, Minnesota Twins
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins beat the Houston Astros on Saturday and they’ll go for a series win this afternoon at Target Field. Yesterday, Jose Miranda tied an MLB record for consecutive hits (12), Byron Buxton and top prospect Brooks Lee — who is hitting .467 with a 1.204 OPS since making his MLB debut last week — both went deep and drove in two runs each.

In other words, the bats are going right now and there is no end in sight. The MN Twins have scored 33 runs in their last three games (that is not a typo), leaving many of us to completely forget about this team’s offensive woes back in spring. The best part of this offensive explosion, though, is that their biggest contributors — Buxton, Carlos Correa and Royce Lewis — are leading the charge.

After the All-Star break, when Lewis returns from the IL, good luck pitching to the Twins. Find me another MLB offense with the type of fire-power as a healthy Correa, Buxton, Lewis and Lee. Then, surround them with talent a mix of playoff-stained veterans (Farmer, Kepler, Santana) and “2nd tier” young talent (Miranda, Larnach, Wallner). Without a doubt, the 2024 Twins lineup is built for a World Series run.

Don’t you miss the Minnesota Twins 2023 starting rotation

But there is just one problem. The strength of the Twins’ 2023 team, the same strength that led to their deepest playoff run since 2004, now looks like a postseason liability. Minnesota’s starting rotation last season — especially near the top with Pablo Lopez, Sonny Gray and an emerging Joe Ryan — was one of the best in baseball.

Combine a great starting rotation with dudes like Jhoan Duran in the back of the bullpen and you end up with a pitching staff that led the AL in strikeouts and finished 4th in team ERA.

A look at the numbers, though, shows that no MN Twins starter was better than Sonny Gray in 2023. His 2.79 ERA, 152 ERA+, 2.83 FIP all led the team. His 183 strikeouts to just 55 walks was 2nd best, only to Pablo Lopez. Gray also finished 2nd in the 2023 AL Cy Young race.

NameAgeERAGSIPHRBBSOERA+FIPWHIPH9HR9BB9SO9
Pablo Lรณpez273.6632194.024482341163.331.1558.21.12.210.9
Sonny Gray332.7932184.08551831522.831.1477.60.42.79.0
Joe Ryan274.5129161.23234197944.131.1698.61.81.911.0
Bailey Ober273.4326144.122291461243.961.0677.81.41.89.1
Kenta Maeda354.2320104.117281171014.021.1698.11.52.410.1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/7/2024

Sonny Gray doing Sonny Gray things in St. Louis

So naturally, after one of the greatest pitching seasons in franchise history, the Minnesota Twins let Sonny Gray walk in free agency, where he signed a 3-year contract with the St. Louis Cardinals for $25 million per year ($5M more per year than what he was making here. How has he been with the Cards? Oh, you know… same old Sonny.

In 16 starts this season, Gray has recorded 115 strikeouts to just 24 walks. That’s 92.2 innings pitched, with a 3.30 ERA, 115 ERA+, 1.036 WHIP, 2.97 FIP and 11.2 SO/9. He is a legitimate NL Cy Young candidate (just like the AL Cy Young candidate he was last season) that we apparently didn’t need.

What did the Pohlad family do with the $20 million per year they saved by letting Sonny Gray walk? Instead of reinvesting it into additional talent, they ate it, pointing to lost TV revenue as an excuse to cut player payroll. They traded Jorge Polanco too, and did the same thing with that savings. In total, the Pohlads cut $30-$35 million out of the roster, from where it was in 2023.

Pablo Lopez riding 2024 struggle bus

So now, here we are. We’ve made it to the halfway point of the 2024 MLB regular season. Carlos Correa is playing like the superstar he is paid to be, Byron Buxton has stayed mostly healthy and the Minnesota Twins’ top hitting prospects, Brooks Lee and Royce Lewis, look like two of the best bats in the big league lineup.

Unfortunately, pitching has been inconsistent, especially at the top of the rotation where Pablo Lopez has struggled to find the form he has had in the past two summers. His ERA has ballooned over 5.00, his ERA+ down to 79, both far and away the worst of his career. Home runs allowed (17) have especially been a problem.

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Thank the baseball gods that Joe Ryan has taken a huge step forward this summer, and he had another good outing on Saturday, throwing 110 pitches in 6.2 innings, allowing 3 runs and striking out 8. But do you trust him as the No. 2 guy in a playoff rotation? Do we currently trust Pablo Lopez to be a No. 1?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t much matter how we feel about either Joe Ryan or Pablo Lopez, because there is nobody else in the Twins’ organization who can even hold their jockstraps. And we haven’t even gotten to who would be the No. 3 starter, come October.

Who will be the Minnesota Twins’ No. 3 starter in the playoffs?

Sure, Simeon Woods Richardson has pitched well for a rookie, and hopefully he can continue that today against the Astros. But this is his first year ever as an MLB starter. He didn’t even start the regular season in the big leagues. He can’t be trusted as your third starter in a playoff series. Bailey Ober… he might be a better option?

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Wouldn’t it make you, a Twins fan, just giddy thinking about this lineup in a playoff series, backed up by a starting rotation of Pablo Lopez, Sonny Gray and Joe Ryan (like what they had last season)? Oh, what could have been, right?

Instead, the Minnesota Twins desperately need a high-end (and high priced) starter at the trade deadline, if they are going to imagine themselves as true championship contenders in the American League. Offense is great, but once you get to the postseason, the teams with the best starting rotation usually advances.

If you are hoping the MN Twins find top-of-the-rotation help before deadline, don’t.

Beyond Pablo Lopez, they no longer have any starters who have proven themselves on that stage. And Pablo is currently on one of the worst seasons in his career. How are they going to find help for the rotation? That’s the question that the Pohlad family is probably too cheap to answer.

Related: Minnesota Twins Reportedly Calling Up Matt Wallner

How are the Twins going to find an AFFORDABLE no-brainer, game one or two playoff starter by July 31? Good luck answering that question. Trying to answer it is exactly what brought me to write this article. I cannot see a future where the Twins find what they need by the trade deadline.

And the worst part about that reality, is that we shouldn’t even have this need in the first place. Had the Pohlads been willing to pay Sonny Gray, or at least replace him with another top-rotation starter, I’d be writing about how little the Twins need to add this month, because they’d already have a true World Series contender on their hands.

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