By: Abby Altman
“Defense wins championships”.
This quote has been around for decades, and although originally spoken regarding football, it can be applied to most sports, and baseball is no exception.
Pitching is one of the most important aspects of the game of baseball, and the Minnesota Twins have not known the comfort of a good pitching rotation for several years.
At the beginning of the 2023 season, the Minnesota Twins have surprised the entire MLB with the strength of their pitching and the strength of their lineup, both good and bad.
The Twins have a few stars on their lineup, including Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton, who have proven that their bats are worth big bucks. After trading the AL batting title winner Luis Arraez in the offseason, the Twins got rid of seemingly the best bat in their lineup.
Since the start of this season, the Twins lineup has been slow to get the bats moving. Of the 35 games played so far this season (at the time of this writing), Minnesota has scored 5 or less runs in 23 of them.
Regardless of this, Minnesota’s 19-16 record leads the AL Central, with the Twins 2.5 games ahead of the 2nd place Cleveland Guardians.
The Twins have their starting pitching rotation to thank for this.
Minnesota’s starting 5 leads the league in innings pitched with 197.5, and is 2nd in the league in combined ERA with an average of 3.19.
Sonny Gray leads the entire MLB with a 1.35 ERA, followed closely by Joe Ryan, who is 12th in the league with a 2.45 ERA and is 8th in the league in innings pitched, with 44 through 7 games.
To start the season, Minnesota’s rotation consisted of Pablo Lopez, Sonny Gray, Joe Ryan, Kenta Maeda, and Tyler Mahle.
Injuries never fail to plague the Twins, however, and Kenta Maeda and Tyler Mahle have already gone down injured.
Mahle has been placed on the 60-day IL with right arm posterior impingement and flexor pronator strain. It is unknown whether he will return later on this season, but his earliest return option is not until July.
Maeda returned this season after receiving Tommy John surgery in 2021. His first start was lights out, with Maeda recording 9 strikeouts and giving up just 1 run. Since then, he has struggled more than any other Twins pitcher, and now has a 9.00 ERA and just 16 innings pitched, regardless of having 4 starts.
Louie Varland and Bailey Ober have been called up from the Triple A affiliate Saints, and have filled in very well in the 5 man rotation.
Bailey Ober has only started 3 games for the Twins this season, but he is sitting with a 0.98 ERA and 18.1 innings pitched. Ober has given up just 2 runs this season, with 6 walks and 16 strikeouts.
Even if Maeda is cleared to re-join the Twins rotation, it is unlikely Ober will be sent back down to St. Paul after his last few performances.
Even though the Twins rotation started the season lights out, and appeared unbreakable, all good things must eventually end.
Minnesota has seen their pitchers struggle more in the last few weeks than they would like, especially Pablo Lopez, whom the Twins recently signed to a 4 year/ $73 million contract this past week.
Lopez gave up just 5 runs total in his first 4 starts, but has since given up 15 runs in his last 3 starts. Lopez has 43 innings pitched and 54 strikeouts this season, but is starting to become less of a threat than the Twins originally perceived him as.
The Minnesota Twins are currently leading one of the worst divisions in baseball. The Twins record would lead no other division except the AL Central, and the Twins only chance at making a playoff run may be to win the division.
Unless the Twins can figure out their batting lineup and start stacking on some runs, Minnesota may be relying on their starting pitching rotation for the rest of the season.