by Pedro Moura
By FOX Sports MLB
Somehow, Minnesota Twins entered Wednesday in a tie for first place in the American League Central. But this season was by no means smooth for them.
Their pitching coach decided to leave in the middle of the season. Their prized offseason acquisition, Carlos Correa, hasn’t quite taken off. The starting pitcher they acquired right after Correa, Chris Padduck, soon needed Tommy John surgery. Their former No. 1 overall pick, Royce Lewis, tore his ACL for the second time just weeks after finally making it to the majors. Their biggest current bull, Miguel Sano, also tore up his knee.
But with just under two months to go, no team is better positioned to win their division than the Twins. Here are three reasons why they are AL Central favorites.
1. Their offense is deep.
The Twins’ favored day-to-day lineup includes eight players coming off above-average offensive seasons, though many enter 2022 without enough experience. The only weak point is at catcher, where neither the injured Ryan Jeffers nor Gary Sanchez have found their form. Even there, however, both players were roughly league average at their respective positions.
There are several reasons behind this success. In the offseason, the Twins acquired hitting coach David Popkins from the Dodgers, where he quickly made a name for himself, first as a player-coach and then as a coach. He’s only 32 years old and in his first season working with major league hitters, but he comes from the same underdog coaching tree as Robert Van Scoyock and the Dodgers’ Craig Wallenbrock.
In Los Angeles, Van Scoyock quickly became known for helping several young players succeed. Similarly, in Minneapolis, staff describe Popkins’ impact as immediate. Nick Gordon and Jose Miranda, former prospects who have lost their luster, are flourishing under the tutelage of a young coach.
Infielder Luis Arraez has also proven to be a unique contact offense. It doesn’t hurt that Byron Buxton already has the second-most appearances in his career in his eighth season. Buxton, 28, has declined from his hot start, but with his elite defense and tremendous power, having him on the field in any form is a boon. He’s hitting barely .220 with an on-base percentage hovering around .300, but he still hit 40% better than average.
2. They made significant additions to the deadline.
Few teams have earned that many chips before this month’s deadline. The Twins parted with significant prospects to acquire right-hander Tyler Mahle and relievers Michael Fulmer and Jorge Lopez. Their moves don’t compare to San Diego’s flashiness or aggressiveness, but they’re making a big bet on the talent already assembled at the expense of the far future.
“They’re putting the right product on the field so we have a better chance to win,” Correa told FOX Sports. “So far it has worked. This series against the Blue Jays where we split, I think without the bullpen help that we added at the deadline, it would have been a little harder to hold that offense for three innings like we did.”
Correa was referring to the 10-inning win the Twins recorded against Toronto on Aug. 5. Male started and finished six innings. From there, manager Rocco Baldelli was able to turn to his two most reliable first-half assistants earlier than he otherwise would have. Lopez then had one save chance in the ninth, but Fulmer pitched a scoreless 10th and the Twins quickly realized the victory.
Correa said he came to Minnesota confident the Twins would make such additions — because managers Ted Levine and Derek Falvey assured him they would.
“I wanted to make sure I was going to go to a team that wanted to make a statement,” he said.
This season hasn’t been a standout, but it holds the potential to be one. And that’s already a significant rebound from a disappointing 2021 for Minnesota.
3. The competition is easy.
Heading into Tuesday, the AL Central’s top three teams — all within three games of one another — had won exactly five of their previous 10 games. For good measure, the fourth place Kansas City Royals did the same. This is the 2022 AL Central for you: the middle school.
The White Sox have the talent needed to win this division, but their talent has not lived up to expectations. The Twins are also helped by the fact that just as the White Sox were finally getting healthy, they lost Tim Anderson to a potentially season-ending injury. Neither the Rangers nor the White Sox added significant talent at the trade deadline either.
So, it made sense for the Twins to try to win the division in 2022. Correa could opt out in a few months.
But they could make a statement earlier.
Pedro Moura is a national baseball writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the Dodgers for three seasons for The Athletic, and before that five seasons covering the Angels and Dodgers for the Orange County Register and LA Times. He previously covered his alma mater, USC, for ESPNLosAngeles.com. The son of Brazilian immigrants, he grew up in suburban Southern California. His first book, How to Beat a Cracked Game, was released this spring. Follow him on Twitter @pedromoura.
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