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Behind Enemy Lines: We meet again, Twinkie Town

AL Central rivalries, or cold weather BFFs?

Chicago White Sox v Minnesota Twins Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

We know these guys, these Minnesota Twins. We will see an awful lot of them this season. But that doesn’t mean we necessarily recognize the team taking the field. There have been plenty of changes to the Twins roster over this red-hot offseason, so we thought what better time than now to ask for a little expert insight into what’s going well for the current AL Central division leaders.

With that goal in mind, we went to our sister site Twinkie Town and chatted with managing editor Benjamin Jones to talk about Byron Buxton, Akil Baddoo, and that major scheduling change that’s coming in 2023.

BYB: The Twins are currently sitting on top of the AL Central, which I think we can both agree is probably a bit unexpected. What do you think has led to their initial hot start this season?

TT: I’m going to try my very best to not only talk about Byron Buxton in these questions, but Buck is quite literally the whole team. As he goes, so do the Twins. If you want statistical evidence of that, just take a look at this Passan Tweet. That trend has continued this year, as the Twins are 6-4 with Buxton and 2-4 without him. Your team’s success riding on a player as injury prone as Buck is nerve-wracking, to say the least, but he’s our guy and we love him.

While others may find it unexpected for the Twins to be on top of the Central, I don’t think any Twins fans do. With the Buxton extension, Correa signing, and their pitching additions, it was clear they were gunning for the playoffs. How well those moves play out is still to be determined, but Twins fans expect this team to be in the playoffs and likely compete for the division crown.

BYB: Which players have been performing better than expected, and conversely, which have been doing worse than you might have hoped?

TT: Have you heard of a young man by the name of Byron Buxton? Buxton leads the AL and is third in MLB with 1.3 fWAR (in just 10 games!!), he’s tied for the league lead in home runs, he has a .351/.415/.946 slash line, good for a 1.361 OPS. In case you missed that in the jumble of numbers, HE’S SLUGGING .946!!! Also, he’s the best defensive center fielder in baseball. I don’t know if this can be considered better than expected; he’s been one of the best players in the world when he’s played over the last few years, but this is beyond my wildest dreams.

Also better than expected: the Twins’ starting pitching. Twins starters are currently second in the AL with a 2.64 ERA, which has been a major victory for a staff comprised of a rookie (Joe Ryan), a former 12th round pick in his second year (Bailey Ober), three reclamation projects (Dylan Bundy, Chris Archer, Chris Paddack), and the steady but currently injured Sonny Gray.

As for the under-performers, pretty much every hitter in the lineup outside of Buxton and Luis Arraez has been awful. Carlos Correa, Jorge Polanco, Miguel Sano, Ryan Jeffers, Trevor Larnach, Gary Sanchez, and Nick Gordon all have more than 30 PAs and a below-average OPS. I’ll give a particular terrible shout-out to Miguel Sano, who has played in 15 games and is hitting .083 with a .370 OPS. He’s normally a slow starter, but this is another level of bad. Nowhere to go but up, I suppose!

BYB: The Twins made quite a few big moves before the season got started, some seemed to be building a contender while others were kind of head-scratchers. With almost a month of play into the season, how are those moves feeling in retrospect?

TT: I feel pretty good, overall. If you look at the moves in total, the Twins essentially gave up Mitch Garver, Taylor Rogers, Josh Donaldson, Ben Rortvedt, and prospect Chase Petty in exchange for Gary Sanchez, Gio Urshela, Sonny Gray, Chris Paddack, Emilio Pagan, some mid-level prospects, and used the money freed up from the Donaldson trade to sign Carlos Correa. I would make those moves every single time.

The one that hasn’t looked great is Rogers for Paddack and Pagan. Rogers is an elite closer, but was under his last year of team control. So swapping him for three years of Paddack is an easy decision. However, the Twins have had a couple of late-game collapses already, and may need a bullpen overhaul (a la the 2021 Atlanta Braves) if they’re going to truly contend this year. The exception is Jhoan Duran, who is perfect.

BYB: Has that Byron Buxton home run from Sunday landed yet?

TT: It did, but it actually landed directly in Joe Mauer’s bedroom a few miles away.

I screamed at the crack of the bat. He is a god walking (or in this case, hitting) among men. I watch the replay to help myself fall asleep at night. If you can’t tell, I am at a literal loss for words from that moment.

BYB: Which under-the-radar player should the Tigers be a bit worried about this series?

TT: Is Luis Arraez still under-the-radar? I’m going to say no and call my shot elsewhere. I think Trevor Larnach has a big series. He’s been hitting the ball hard since his call-up a few weeks ago, but has run into some bad luck with the wind blowing some balls back in the park and hitting line drives right at defenders. He’s been taking good at-bats and is due for a breakout.

Be on the lookout for the previously mentioned Jhoan Duran out of the bullpen as well. His fastball can hit 102 and his “splinker” (an interesting splitter-sinker combo) has some of the best movement in the majors. Duran has closer stuff and should be pitching in the ninth before long, but for now, the Twins are deploying him as a multi-inning fireman. He’s a joy to watch every time he takes the mound.

BYB: Which Tigers player are the Twins most worried about this series?

TT: The Twins themselves are probably most worried about Javy Baez, Austin Meadows, and even Miguel Cabrera, who are each off to good starts. But Twins fans are terrified of Akil Baddoo.

Ever since the Twins let David Ortiz go, fans have been terrified of the “next Ortiz” who plays great against them and leads their new team to the promised land. Well, that’s basically what Baddoo looked like against Minnesota last year. In 17 games, Baddoo hit .313/.353/.594 while driving in 15 runs. He didn’t have more than 6 against any other opponent! Was it justified to leave Baddoo off the 40-man roster and lose him in the Rule 5 draft? Absolutely. Will he haunt my dreams anyway? Without a doubt.

BYB: Are you excited for the 2023 schedule change that will see fewer inter-division games, or will you sort of miss seeing the same teams 19 times a season?

TT: I may be in the minority, but personally, I am not a fan of the schedule changes. Rivalries make sports more fun and interesting, and you’re losing opportunities to play teams you hate (or maybe just really want to beat). The Dodgers were in Minneapolis earlier this season and everything about it felt wrong. I found myself wishing we were playing one of our AL Central rivals instead. I don’t hate Trea Turner. I have no ill will towards Max Muncy. I want to be terrified of Akil Baddoo hitting a walk-off infield single. I want to pretend to be mad when Javy Baez flips his bat out of Comerica Park, and then be happy when Byron Buxton does the same thing. There’s enough people taking fun and passion out of the game, we don’t need the schedule to do the same.


Many thanks to Ben for taking the time to chat with us. If you want to read more of his work and see what the Twins are up to, head over to Twinkie Town.