The Minnesota Twins went from back-to-back AL Central titles in 2019 and 2020 to a last-place finish in 2021. Now they're back on top.
The Twins clinched their first division title in three years with an 8-6 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Friday.
Minnesota is the first team in the American League to clinch its division, but it is also headed toward being the No. 3 seed in the American League with a record worse than all three current wild-card teams. The Central really was that bad this year.
Whereas the 95-59 Baltimore Orioles have only a 1.5-game lead on the Tampa Bay Rays and the 85-69 Houston Astros are in a three-team dogfight with the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners, the 82-72 Twins' main competition for much of the season was the Cleveland Guardians. The Guardians haven't been above .500 since July 27 and were a net seller at the trade deadline.
The Detroit Tigers, a team still sputtering through a rebuild, actually caught the Guardians this week, which is about all you need to know about this race. The Twins are a fine team, and being the only fine team in a bad division is sometimes enough to make the playoffs.
As things stand, the Twins will host the No. 6 seed — currently a tie between the Rangers and Mariners — in the wild-card round.
Strong pitching and just enough hitting won the Twins the Central
The Twins' rotation of Sonny Gray, Pablo López, Joe Ryan, Bailey Ober and Kenta Maeda doesn't sound like one of the best in baseball, but they were pretty much that during the season.
Minnesota entered Friday ranked third in MLB in ERA among starting pitchers and second in the FanGraphs version of Wins Above Replacement. The Twins led baseball in quality start percentage at 47%.
There might be some regrets about trading current NL batting leader Luis Arráez to the Miami Marlins, but López has held up his end of the bargain in last offseason's blockbuster trade. The left-hander leads the team in innings pitched in what has been the best season of his career.
Gray, a pending free agent, has been even better, with a 2.84 ERA and AL-best 2.85 FIP. Once maligned from his time with the New York Yankees, he has quietly become a highly effective pitcher, with a 3.24 ERA over the past five years.
The Twins' offense didn't offer a similar strength, but it was enough, especially in the power department. The team had 11 players clear 10 home runs, with none posting more than 25 (Max Kepler has the team lead with 22). The team even managed to overcome a significant step back from $200 million man Carlos Correa, who has posted the worst OPS+ of his career (min. 250 plate appearances) and recently hit the injured list due to left foot plantar fasciitis.