Can the Minnesota Twins get Max Kepler back for the postseason?
By Chris Schad
The Minnesota Twins outfielder is set to ramp up his workload, but will their leadoff hitter be ready in time for a postseason run?
As the Minnesota Twins are likely headed to the postseason, there are several things that will make the difference between an early exit and a prolonged October run. Part of that process will be the health of their players and after the loss of Byron Buxton for the season due to a torn labrum, the Twins outfield could use a dose of good news.
One item of good news could be the return of Max Kepler, who hasn’t had an at-bat since Sept. 14 as he’s dealt with inflammation in his shoulder and back. While nothing is for certain, the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s La Velle E. Neal reports that Kepler is expected to ramp up his activity this week, which could mean that a return to the lineup just in time for the postseason is in play.
The advantages to having Kepler in the lineup over someone like Jake Cave or even Marwin Gonzalez are obvious. While both Cave and Gonzalez have stepped up offensively over the past couple of months, they haven’t come close to the impact that Kepler has made for the Twins this season.
After signing a five-year, $35 million contract extension prior to spring training, Kepler has been one of the Twins’ biggest surprises in 2019. His 36 home runs this season still rank second on the team behind Nelson Cruz‘s 40 bombs and his 90 RBI, which are third on the team behind Cruz (105) and Eddie Rosario (104), are even more impressive considering he’s the Twins’ leadoff hitter.
While having Kepler’s big bat at the top of the lineup would be nice, his defense in right field would also be a welcome sight for the Twins. While Gonzalez and Rosario have taken turns playing right field in Kepler’s absence, adding him back to his natural position would be a boost as his projected UZR over 150 games via FanGraphs in right field (20.6) more than doubles his UZR in center field (9.4).
In essence, the Twins’ best defensive lineup in the postseason would see Rosario and Kepler in their natural positions of left and right field with Jake Cave manning center field. However, that will depend on how Kepler responds to this week.
With the Twins’ pitching staff in shambles, it’s clear that every run is going to count for Minnesota this postseason. Without Kepler, the Twins would have a void to fill at the plate and in the field, but if he can return, the Twins would have a little extra firepower to make a postseason run.