MINNEAPOLIS - Originally published on TwinsDaily.com
In 2006, after 60 games, the Minnesota Twins were 27-33. They were fourth in the division, and 10 1/2 games out of first place.
Under the parameters of the planned 2020 season, they'd have been dead in the water.
Of course, as we now know, that '06 team ended up with 96 wins, the second-highest total (behind 2019) of any Twins team since the 1970s. Over the next 60 games, those pesky piranhas went 43-17, moving from seven games under .500 to 20 above.
Given our recency bias as fans, it can be easy to fall back on the image of this current Twins club as an impervious regular-season team that will weather any circumstance and emerge on top. It's a valid perception, really. The 2019 Twins were amazingly consistent and slump-proof. Their longest losing streaks of the season were four games (once) and three games (once).
It was the second winningest team in franchise history – a charmed season the likes of which we rarely see. Realistically, we can't expect things to go quite so smoothly again, even though the group is mostly intact (and even bolstered).
While the 2006 team is obviously an opposite extreme in terms of variance, it's a more conventional example. Ups and downs are inherent to this game. It is extremely common for teams to over-perform or underperform in a two-month sample. In fact, it's more or less expected.
And 60 games is a helluva short season. In '06, Tony Batista was still the Twins third baseman after 60 games and Juan Castro was still their shortstop. Meanwhile, you can basically triangulate the turning point in Justin Morneau's MVP campaign to Minnesota's 60th game, against Baltimore, where he homered twice and drove in five. Before that day he'd hit .235/.295/.444; from then on he'd go .364/.414/.616.
For a variety of reasons, the 2020 Twins figure to be much less volatile than that scrappy bunch from 14 years ago, in part because they're much more soundly built, and not featuring the likes of Batista, Castro, and Rondell White as planned Opening Day starters. But there's no assurance that injuries or poor performance wouldn't have manifested in the early part of a full schedule, and now that reality looms extra large, should the season proceed as the league intends it to.
For a more pertinent example as it relates to this year's team, let's look at Mitch Garver in 2019. There was one 60-game stretch for the Twins (5/11-7/19) where he started only 23 times, and made 121 plate appearances, missing three weeks in the middle with an ankle sprain on top of the ample rest he saw as part of the team's strategy. Garver's production when on the field during this stretch (.250/.331/.528, 8 HR, 34-to-10 K/BB, 0.8 fWAR) was solid but certainly paled in comparison to his season in full.
This goes to illustrate how one single injury, and typical rest patterns, can significantly reduce the impact of key players over such a sample. But it also brings to mind an interesting question about how managerial philosophies might differ in this proposed 60-game mad dash.
Rocco Baldelli and the Twins were quite purposeful about how limiting Garver's work behind the plate in 2019, and they clearly expressed their intent to do the same in 2020. But with far fewer games (all heightened in importance), and reduced concern about preserving players like Garver late into a marathon season, will the Twins soften on this stance? The concentrated nature of the schedule will also need to be taken into account.
It's one of many subjects that will be interesting to ponder, as we now (finally) have the ability to discuss a defined plan and timeline for returning to play. There are plenty of other matters to work through before that can actually happen, but as things stand, Major League Baseball and its players appear united in their commitment to making this strange, shortened sprint of a season happen.
The Minnesota Twins, with their abundant depth, flexible talent, and cutting-edge management, are well poised to dominate such a format, with results that could harken back to that 2006 club upon hitting its stride.