The Twins’ surge to the top of the American League Central standings — and to the best record in baseball — has caused some re-evaluation of where they should be ranked in this market when compared to the Wild, Wolves and Vikings.
These rankings, which previously have appeared in this space, are based on confidence a franchise is on the right track, both given what is currently going on and where things might be headed.
Here is the latest version of those rankings starting at the top.
Coming off a disappointing 78-84 finish last season under Paul Molitor, the Twins hired Rocco Baldelli as manager and continued to put a plan in place that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine had begun to implement when they were hired to run the baseball operations after the 2016 season.
Thirty-five games into this season, the results have been fantastic. The Twins completed a three-game sweep with a 9-1 victory on Wednesday in Toronto and will open a four-game series against the Detroit Tigers on Friday at Target Field with a 23-12 record.
The starting pitching has been a pleasant surprise — Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi and Martin Perez have been outstanding — and the Twins are hoping that continues. But this lineup can flat-out hit and that’s unlikely to change. The Twins are third in the American League with 64 home runs and with Cleveland having trouble scoring runs and battling some key injuries in their starting rotation, Minnesota has a great chance to create some separation in the AL Central.
What’s really encouraging is that the Twins look to be ahead of schedule thanks to contributions from veteran additions like C.J. Cron, Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, Perez and Blake Parker. The Twins core for the coming years should include Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler, Miguel Sano, Taylor Rogers, Berrios and some young talent that should be on the way.
Falvey and Levine have made significant changes behind the scenes to make the Twins competitive with other big-league teams. That should continue to pay off in years to come.
The Vikings would have been atop this list a year ago, coming off a 13-3 finish and a run to the NFC Championship Game, but signing Kirk Cousins to a mega-contract (three years, $84 million) did not have the desired results and the Vikings slipped to 8-7-1 and missed the playoffs in 2018.
General manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer had the options picked up on their contracts for 2020, but both are under immediate pressure to get this franchise back to the playoffs in 2019.
The Vikings have yo-yoed under Zimmer going from 7-9 to 11-5 to 8-8 to 13-3 and then 8-7-1. Zimmer, considered a defensive mastermind, will have to hope that happens again.
Spielman used his first four draft picks to help the offense and the hope is that Cousins will improve, especially in big games, with longtime coach and coordinator Gary Kubiak now overseeing that side of the ball.
There is reason to be skeptical about the Vikings, but assuming their demise would be premature.
There are some who believe the Wolves are definitely on the right track now that they have hired longtime Rockets executive Gersson Rosas as president of basketball operations. Rosas, much like Falvey and Levine, wants to get the Wolves up to speed with how the most successful teams in the league play. But jumping to conclusions about how this is going to work might be dangerous.
Why? Because these are still the Timberwolves.
Many, including me, were convinced the decision to hire Tom Thibodeau as president of basketball operations and head coach in April 2016 was going to help the Wolves become a playoff team. The draft-night trade a year later for Jimmy Butler, and then the Wolves making the playoffs last spring, seemed to prove us right.
That was until Butler decided he wanted no part of being in the franchise, Thibodeau basically tried to hold him hostage and all hell basically broke loose at Target Center. The Wolves have made it very clear that Rosas is the anti-Thibodeau. He isn’t going to bellow and scream, he’s a family man and on and on and on. He also sounds like a very smart basketball guy with valuable knowledge of how the Rockets became an elite franchise.
This all sounds good. But until we see the Wolves have actual success under Rosas — he hasn’t even named a coach yet — it’s probably best to leave the team third on this list.
We’ll always have July 4, 2012.
That might be the best offseason day ever for a Minnesota sports team. The Wild became the New York Yankees of the NHL, signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to 13-year, $98 million contracts that left many wondering what the Stanley Cup parade route would look like for the St. Paul-based team.
The Wild did make six consecutive playoff appearances but never got past the second round. In the process coach Mike Yeo and general manager Chuck Fletcher both lost their jobs and now it’s GM Paul Fenton and coach Bruce Boudreau in charge.
The Wild missed the playoffs this season, although Boudreau was retained, but Fenton began a shakeup of the roster that promises to continue this offseason. It’s also fair to wonder how much longer Boudreau will remain coach.
Fenton, who was hired a year ago after being an assistant GM in Nashville, is extremely tight-lipped about his plans but he’s got his work cut out for him. That’s obvious to anyone who watched how physical and speedy the Western Conference playoffs have been and how far away the Wild appear to be from being able to consistently play that style.