I did a write-up of the Twins' 2016 season around this time last year, and things were . . . bleak. The title of that post was "The Nightmare Is Over," for a little perspective.
This year, the Twins made history - going from 100+ losses in one season, to the playoffs the next. Let's take a look at tonight's lineup:
Leading off, Second Baseman Brian Dozier. While he may not hit for average or get on base at the rate of the great lead off hitters, he has managed to score over 100 runs in each of the last 4 seasons. For perspective, he's the only MLB player to do that. He's the Twins' All-Time Leader for homers by a second baseman, as well as the All-Time Team Leader in homers to lead off a game.
Batting second is the only guy on the active roster that was in the lineup for the last Twins' postseason appearance, First Baseman Joe Mauer. Joe, of course has all kinds of records as a catcher - the first catcher to win a batting title (he has three of those), AL MVP in 2009, a three time gold glover behind the plate, 6 All-Star games, the list goes on. This year has seen a rejuvenated Joe Mauer, hitting over .300 for the first time since 2013. His defense at first base has also been exemplary. He led AL first basemen in UZR, and had just 2 errors. He just surpassed 400 career doubles, and looks poised to collect his 2,000th career hit early in 2018. Also, that ball was fair, Cuzzi!
Batting Third, one of the more unlikely middle-of-the order bats, Shortstop Jorge Polanco. Polanco was hitting just .213 for the season on August 2nd, with just 3 homers. In the two months since, he's hit 10 homers and lifted his season average up to .256. Over the course of the season he firmed up his defense as well, after an "adventurous" first half.
Hitting clean up is Left Fielder Eddie Rosario. He burst onto the scene in Minnesota in 2015, hitting a home run on the first pitch he saw in the big leagues. He's made big strides at the plate this season, bumping up his batting average and OBP by 30 points each, drawing more walks in 2017 than his past two seasons combined. He also hit a career high 27 homers this year, good for third on the team behind Miguel Sano and Brian Dozier.
Batting fifth is Miguel Sano's replacement at the hot corner, Eduardo Escobar. "Mighty Mouse" has provided quite the lift filling in for the Twins' All-Star, cracking 21 homers of his own. During the month of June, Escobar crushed opposing pitching with a .354 average. Since September 1st, he's hit 9 homers and has been scorching hot, slugging .588. He's played decent defense as well, taking the sting out of missing one of the game's brightest young stars.
German Born Right Fielder Max Kepler will bat sixth for the Twins. Kepler has basically replicated his rookie season, though he played in about 50 more games this year, staying in the majors all season. His weakness to this point in his career - left handed pitching. Against righties, he's hit .261/.334/.475 with 32 of his 36 career homers. Against lefties, he's hit just .176 in his career, and this season just .152. Beyond that, He's been a plus defender in Left, and has a sweet line drive swing.
Byron Buxton will bat seventh and patrol center field for the Twins tonight. He's among the fastest players in baseball, and his defense is at times other-worldly good. His Defensive Runs Saved, Range Factor, and total Zone Runs led all CF. He stole 29 bases in 30 attempts. The one time he was caught? He actually overslid the base after beating the throw. He greatly improved his approach at the plate and had career highs in all categories, even after a brutal 4 for 49 start to 2017. Enjoy watching this superstar tonight!
Catching and batting eighth is Jason Castro. The long time Houston Astro signed with the Twins as a free agent in the off season, taking the place of Kurt Suzuki. Castro's calling card has been his ability to frame pitches. His numbers this season haven't really borne out that conclusion, though his defense overall has been a vast improvement for the team over seasons past since Mauer moved to First Base. His hitting has not been particularly noteworthy, however that's rarely the case for catchers (the Twins' opponent tonight being an exception, of course).
Batting ninth is the Twins' Designated Hitter, On Base MACHINE Robbie Grossman. Grossman broke his thumb in a collision with Buxton that looked a little like the photo above. Robbie missed a bit of time down the stretch, but returned in September and even saw some late season action in Right Field. As a Twin, he's reached base at a .372 clip - good for a top ten ranking among All-Time Twins.
No surprise here, the Twins have turned to their best starter to take the hill tonight, Ervin Santana. He led the league in complete games and shutouts this season, and made the All-Star team for the second time in his career. Watch for his slider - if it's on, the Yankees are in for a long night.
It's been a long wait for playoff baseball in Twins Territory, I'm hoping for an exciting game tonight!