from Pedro Moura
FOX Sports MLB Writer
In a way, Minnesota Twins entered Wednesday in a tie for first place in the American League Central. But it hasn’t been a smooth season for them by any means.
Their coach decided to leave in the middle of the season. Their prized offseason acquisition, Carlos Correa, hasn’t exactly been playing. The starting pitcher they acquired right after Correa, Chris Paddack, soon required Tommy John surgery. Their former choice no. 1 overall pick Royce Lewis tore his ACL for the second time weeks after finally making it to the majors. Their leadoff hitter, Miguel Sano, also tore up his knee.
But with just under two months left, no team is a better bet to win their division than the Twins. Here are three reasons why they are AL Central favorites.
1. Their offense runs deep.
The Twins’ preferred everyday lineup includes eight players producing comfortably above-average offensive seasons, though many of them entered 2022 without enough experience. The only weak spot is at catcher, where neither the currently injured Ryan Jeffers nor Gary Sánchez have found their form. Even there, though, both players have been roughly league average at their position.
There are several reasons behind this success. In the offseason, the Twins poached manager David Popkins from the Dodgers, where he had quickly made a name for himself, first as a player-manager and then as a coach. He’s only 32 years old, and this is his first season working with major leaguers, but he comes from the same former outfielder coaching tree as the Dodgers’ Robert Van Scoyoc and Craig Wallenbrock.
In Los Angeles, Van Scoyoc quickly became known for helping several young players succeed. Similarly, in Minneapolis, employees describe Popkins’ impact as immediate. Nick Gordon and José Miranda, former prospects who had lost their luster, are thriving under the tutelage of the new coach.
Infielder Luis Arráez has also emerged as a contact striker with unique skills. It doesn’t hurt, either, that Byron Buxton has already racked up the second-best hitting streak of his career — in his eighth season. Buxton, 28, has fallen off his hot start, but because of his elite defense and tremendous power, having him on the field in any form is a boon. He’s barely hitting .220 with an on-base percentage hovering around .300, but he’s still hitting 40% better than average.
2. They made big pitching additions at the deadline.
Few teams entered as many chips before this month’s deadline. The Twins parted with key prospects to acquire right-hander Tyler Mahle and relievers Michael Fulmer and Jorge López. Their moves don’t compare to the splash or aggressiveness of San Diego, but they represent a significant gamble on the talent already assembled at the expense of the distant future.
“They’re putting the right product on the field for us to have a better chance to win,” Correa told FOX Sports. “It’s worked so far. That 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 more difficult to carry that offense for three innings like we did.”
Correa was referring to a 10-inning win the Twins scored against Toronto on Aug. 5. Mahle started and finished six innings. From there, manager Rocco Baldelli was able to turn to his two most reliable relievers from the first inning earlier than he otherwise would have. López then blew a save with a run in the ninth, but Fulmer pitched a scoreless 10th and the Twins quickly turned the victory around.
Correa said he arrived in Minnesota convinced the Twins would make such additions — because managers Thad Levine and Derek Falvey assured them they would.
“I wanted to make sure I was going to a team that wanted to make a statement,” he said.
This season hasn’t been a statement, exactly, but it holds the potential to be one. And it already represents a significant rebound from Minnesota’s disappointing 2021.
3. Competition is easy.
Entering Tuesday, the AL Central’s top three teams — all within three games of each other — had all won exactly five of their previous 10 games. For good measure, the fourth-place Kansas City Royals had done the same. That’s the 2022 AL Central for you: in the middle.
The White Sox have the talent needed to overcome this division, but their talent has not played up to expectations. It also helps the Twins that just as the White Sox were finally getting healthy, they lost Tim Anderson to what could be a season-ending injury. Neither the Guardians nor the White Sox added significant talent at the trade deadline.
It was smart, then, for the 2022 Twins to take a swing at a division title. Correa could retire within months.
But they could make a statement before that.
Pedro Moura is the national baseball writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the Dodgers for three seasons for The Athletic and, before that, the Angels and Dodgers for five seasons for the Orange County Register and LA Times. Previously, he 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 Broken Game, came out this spring. Follow him on Twitter @pedromoura.
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