Minnesota Twins: Is this year’s Playoff Rotation the best of the 2000s?

Is this year’s playoff rotation one of the best of the 2000s? We compare them to the best rotations of past Minnesota Twins playoff teams from the last 20 years.

The Minnesota Twins have won the AL Central for the second straight year and have made the postseason nearly 10 times since 2002. Most of that success has come from the team’s excellent offensive cores from over the years.

With that being said, to get to the postseason you still have to have some form of a good pitching staff right? The Twins have notably come up short in past postseason runs and they hope to change that misfortune this season.

How does this year’s pitching rank compare to some of the other competitive staffs of previous  failed playoff runs? We take a look back at the Twins past four division winners and see how this one compares.

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Pitcher Johan Santana of the Minnesota Twins delivers a pitch against the New York Yankees. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

2004 Minnesota Twins: Won AL Central, Lost to the New York Yankees in the ALDS (3-1)

2004 marked the third straight division title for the Twins, boosted by a a pitching staff that led the league in WAR, FIP and top 5 in xFIP. The group was led by a dominant ace in Johan Santana who won his first Cy Young with an ERA of 2.61 and 265 strikeouts in 220 innings.

Other key starters, like Brad Radke and Kyle Lohse, made the 2004 playoff staff into one of the best in baseball. Unfortunately, this staff struggled in the playoffs (outside of Santana), and the Twins were beaten three games to one by the Yankees. This is also the last time they have won a game in the postseason.

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Starting pitcher Francisco Liriano of the Minnesota Twins throws a pitch against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on May 31, 2006. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

2006 Minnesota Twins: Won AL Central, Swept by the Oakland Athletics in the ALDS

This was probably the best chance the early-2000s era Twins had at winning a World Series. While that had a lot to do with the Joe Mauer/Justin Morneau/Torii Hunter offense, the rotation was able to hold its own. Santana won his second Cy Young on the back of another great season spotting a 2.77 ERA in over 230 innings pitched and a WHIP just under 1.

After Santana, was a young Francisco Liriano. The two quickly became not only one of the top 1-2 punches among lefties, but one of the best 1-2 starters in all of baseball that season. Despite this success, Liriano went down with an injury and was forced to miss the playoffs.

The Twins badly missed him in the playoffs and were promptly swept by the Oakland Athletics. As good as they were all year, that series was more on the bats not showing up, scoring only seven runs total, but the loss of Liriano didn’t help matters.

 

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Carl Pavano of the Minnesota Twins pitches in a game against the Detroit Tigers. (Photo by Wayne Kryduba/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)

2010 Minnesota Twins: Won AL Central, Swept by the Yankees in the ALDS

This season marked the last playoff run for the core of the early 2000s Twins, and was once again led by the lineup, but the pitching wasn’t bad either. Led by veteran Carl Pavano and Liriano, they were a top 10 rotation in baseball.

Pavano was the classic Twins “crafty veteran” pitcher with a 3.75 ERA in over 221 innings pitched. Liriano was the only lefty in the rotation, but he led the way with over 200 strikeouts in just under 200 innings, along with a FIP of 2.66.

As good as the duo was in the regular season, the playoff loss began to show the flaws in the pitch-to-contact approach the Twins had towards pitching as the league slowly started to move in the direction (high velocity, spin rate, and strikeouts) it is now focused on today.

 

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Jose Berrios of the Minnesota Twins looks on against the New York Yankees in Game One of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)

2019 Minnesota Twins: Won AL Central, Swept by the Yankees in the ALDS

The 2019 Twins were the team that was finally able to get over the hump and win the Central for the first time since 2010. Once again, the offense led the way by breaking the single season home run record, but it was also the work of the “Falvine” brain trust to modernize the approach towards pitching.

It was also the first season of pitching coach Wes Johnson, who by season’s end had his fingerprints all over the staff as well as turning guys like Trevor May and Tyler Duffey from rotation busts into legit bullpen arms.

Jose Berrios had a solid season despite some late season struggles, Michael Pineda was heating up before his PED-related suspension, while Jake Odorizzi had his best season and was rewarded with an All-Star selection. We all remember how this went.

One of the biggest things that held this team back was the bottom half of the starting rotation. Outside of Berrios and Odorizzi, the team didn’t have much for starting options after the mid-season suspension of Pineda. After another lackluster postseason where the entire pitching staff looked rattled at every corner, the Twins needed to make a move.

 

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Kenta Maeda of the Minnesota Twins pitches against the Detroit Tigers. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)

2020 Minnesota Twins: Won AL Central, playoff result TBD

Enter Kenta Maeda. The veteran righty has multiple years of playoff experience and pitched in two World Series with the Dodgers in 2017 and 2018. The Twins wanted a proven starter with playoff experience and they got one by shipping flamethrower Brusdar Graterol out to L.A.

Maeda has been a legit ace in his first season in Minnesota. With a league-leading WHIP of 0.75, an ERA of 2.70, and 80 strikeouts in 66.2 innings pitched, he’s been everything the Twins have asked for and more. Oh yeah, he also took a no hitter into the 9th inning this season too. If it wasn’t for Shane Bieber, he would have been the top candidate for a Cy Young this season.

For the first time in a long time, they have a legitimate race for the rotation order in the first round of the playoffs. Although Baldelli has it lined up as Maeda, Jose Berrios, and Michael Pineda for the opening series, you could make a case for either of the trio to be on the rubber for the playoff opener.

Berrios has been on his way to another good season with the occasional highs and lows. When he’s on, his stuff is un-hittable, but when he’s off he has a tendency to miss spots and get himself into trouble with his team-leading 60 walks.

Pineda hasn’t missed a beat since returning from suspension. The only flaw in the rotation might be the lack of another left-handed pitcher after Rich Hill, who had a respectable 2020 season and has lots of playoff experience.

This Twins pitching staff might not be tops in the league, but with a great combination of veterans, young guys, multiple options, and an ace. This pitching staff gives the Twins the best chance they’ve had to win a World Series in the last 20 years.

This group can run with anyone in baseball. It might be hard to believe, especially given the team’s history with pitching and the postseason, but they are more than qualified to win a playoff series for the first time since 2002 and help take the Minnesota Twins on a postseason run to the World Series.

 

Next: Minnesota Twins vs. Houston Astros: Wild Card Breakdown and Prediction