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Wetmore’s 5 thoughts: Twins storylines for the 2019 World Series

This column presents 5 thoughts on storylines from the 2019 World Series between the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals.

1. Brian Dozier appears in his second consecutive World Series.

Last year he was on the losing side with the Los Angeles Dodgers. This year, it’s as a rotational player for the Washington Nationals.  It doesn’t seem like that long ago that Dozier was a member of the Twins, and less than 16 months after he was traded to the Dodgers, the former fan favorite in Minnesota has seen his way into 2 Fall Classics.

How much he’ll play remains a question. Dozier has only started one of Washington’s 10 games this postseason. He’s primarily used as a pinch hitter and defensive replacement at second base.

As for the decision to move on from Dozier? He’s hit .224/.330/.410 with 25 home runs in his time away from the Twins, including 135 games this year. Now that he’s 32 years old and facing a free agent market that hasn’t been kind to his type of player in recent winters, one wonders what Doz will face this offseason. That’s for another day, for now there is a World Series to be contested.

In trading Dozier, an unpopular move at the time, the Twins added lefty Devin Smeltzer and outfielder Luke Raley (and Logan Forsythe). Smeltzer emerged this season with some big moments for the club and Raley is currently showing off his bat in the Arizona Fall League after an injury cost him some time this year.

2. How much would a healthy Ryan Pressly help the Astros’ bullpen?

Pressly has been a strong reliever overall in his time with the Astros, and he dealt with a knee injury in the ALCS. He’s on the World Series roster for Houston.

The Pressly trade remains a whiff for the Twins in my book. There are positive externalities, like the addition of  prospects Jorge Alcala and Gilberto Celestino — or the resultant exposing of the player development gap that existed on the Major League coaching staff.

But even with those outcomes that look positive today, I wonder what would have happened if the Twins had kept that arm in their stable instead of letting Pressly go. The Twins traded a talented enigma and the Astos opened their playbook and helped to morph Pressly into a relief monster. He was the best reliever in baseball at one point. He got a nice new contract to show for it.

This season, Pressly posted a 2.32 ERA in 54 1/3 innings, plus a 34.1% strikeout rate (72 strikeouts and 12 walks all season). This postseason has been much tougher on Pressly, who has faced 18 hitters and has 3 strikeouts, 1 walk and 9 hits on his ledger. If you look back at his outings, some of the quick hooks were situational and made perfect sense at the time, although it is fair to say that he hasn’t been the most dominant reliever this October. In this small sample of innings, opponents are hitting .529/.556/.588 vs. Pressly this postseason.

3. What impact will Kurt Suzuki have on the series?

Since he left the Twins to sign with the Braves in 2017, Kurt Suzuki has been to the postseason twice. Last year, his Braves bowed out in the NLDS to the NL champion Dodgers. This season, his Nats won the pennant and are on the brink of the first World Series title since Washington D.C. got another team.

Since he left the Twins, Suzuki has hit .272/.335/.485, and on a rate basis, he’s tied with Yasmani Grandal as the third-best offensive catcher in that time span. (Mitch Garver is first, according to Weighted On-Base Average.) Even with the Twins, he was known much more for his bat than his defensive skills, but I still say that offensive stat would surprise you if you’d stopped closely following Suzuki’s career.

How much will he play in the World Series? He’s started 7 of the team’s 10 games so far this October, and he should be fresh as a daisy (a relative term for catchers), since he hasn’t caught in a game for 8 days. Offensively, he has just 1 hit, 3 walks and was hit by a pitch — in 24 postseason plate appearances. Washington’s other catcher is Yan Gomes.

4. What will be the Fernando Rodney Experience?

You’ll recognize the guy on the mound if the Nats ever call on former Twins reliever Fernando Rodney. Sinkers and changeups, walking tightropes. Rodney, 42, was the oldest player in the N.L. this year. (Technically, Ichiro, 45, had him beat for that crown in all of the Major Leagues.)

He pitched in the World Series as a kid with the Tigers, but that was back in 2006. Yes, 2006! He’s also been on postseason clubs with the Rays, Cubs, Diamondbacks, A’s and now the Nationals. The Twins traded him to a strong Oakland club in 2018 that lost the Wild Card game to the Yankees.

This postseason, he hasn’t been a big factor, as the Nats have opted to lean on their best arms at every possible moment. He’s appeared in 3 games (5 strikeouts, 3 walks, 2 hits in his 13 batters faced), twice in the 7th inning of lopsided losses and once in the 8th inning of an 8-1 win against the Cardinals.

5. How quickly can the Twins close the gap with the two teams left standing?

The Astros are a talented and capable machine, designed to win baseball games above all else.

The Nationals, some would argue, are a bit lucky to be here. But hold the phone, because they have three great starters, including one of the best on the planet, and one of the best position players in baseball. Oh, and Juan Soto, who will turn 21 later this week, looks right now like he’s on track to be a Hall of Famer. Their role players have helped get them to baseball’s biggest stage.

Two things to note about the Astros. They followed the Theo Epstein Cubs blueprint of losing on purpose for a couple years to stockpile excellent draft picks and bonus pools, clear out dead wood, and hone their talent development machine. Then they drafted studs, maximized talent across the board, and made very bold, go-for-it moves to add Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke. (Wow.)

The best way that the Twins can mimic the organization is to continue to improve their own talent development – an apparent area of strength for Minnesota, at the moment. Turn prospects into stars and superstars, and build up enough prospect “capital” to make swing-for-the-fence-type trades.

To mimic the Nationals, it would take a different approach. They have a future Hall of Famer starting Game 1, a former No. 1 overall pick starting Game 2, and in all likelihood they’ll have a $140 million arm starting Game 3. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin all would have a compelling case as the best starter in the Twins’ rotation in 2019. And one of them probably is starting Game 3.

The Nats drafted and signed Strasburg, they let Bryce Harper walk, they added Soto in international free agency, they drafted and developed Anthony Rendon, and they backed up the name-brand armored money truck in free agency to land Scherzer and Corbin. They also traded Lucas Giolito for Adam Eaton, so not every play pans out perfectly.

“We felt like we improved this year,” Twins CBO Derek Falvey said earlier this month. “But I think we’re going to need to find ways that we add to our pitching group. We have a lot of our position player club returning intact. … I think there’s still some opportunity for us to achieve more on that side, maybe more on the pitching and defense side.”

Washington’s estimated 2019 payroll was $208 million, per Houston’s was more like $171 million, per FanGraphs. Minnesota’s estimated player salaries in 2019 totaled $127 million, per the same estimates. On-field payroll is not the final determinant of team success, of course. And yet, it will be hard in this analysis for Twins fans to ignore that $208 million in 2019 would pay for the Twins’ entire estimated player payroll plus the 2019 salary totals for Scherzer and Strasburg.

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