The Twins are closing in on their first American League Central title since 2010. They have a chance to win 100 games and have hit a Major League single-season record 287 home runs. They have four players with 30 or more homers.
All of this has helped make the Twins one of the most surprising teams in the big leagues this summer. It also has made it difficult to pinpoint who should be the team MVP. There appear to be four serious options and we’ll throw in closer Taylor Rogers as a candidate.
Here are the cases to be made for the five:
The numbers: .298/.378/.618, 37 home runs, 97 RBIs in 110 games
The case: The 39-year-old designated hitter was signed as a free agent during the offseason and has given the Twins exactly what they needed in the clubhouse and on the field. The remarkably consistent Cruz has equaled his home run and RBI total from last season. He has held down the third spot in the batting order for 103 games.
The case against: There are a couple of things working against Cruz. He doesn’t have a position and has missed 24 games while on the injured list because of a left wrist sprain. It’s actually more than 24 games but that’s the number of games for which he has been on the IL. Of course, an argument could be made that Cruz also has spent plenty of time playing despite the injury.
The numbers: .279/.367/.645, 30 home runs, 65 RBIs in 86 games
The case: Garver has emerged as an offensive force in his second full big-league season and also has turned himself into a far better catcher than the guy was saw in 2018. Although Garver hasn’t played on a full-time basis, he has put up impressive power numbers and has raised his WAR from 0.9 last year to 4.1 this season. Raise your hand if you thought Garver would become one of the best catchers in the American League this season.
The case against: It will probably come down to playing time and the fact that the other three position players on this list have appeared in more than 100 games. Garver won’t reach that mark in part because he missed 16 games because of a high ankle sprain suffered in a home plate collision against the Angels in May. What’s impressive is Garver did not miss more time.
The numbers: .252/.336/.519, 36 home runs, 90 RBIs in 133 games
The case: Kepler followed a disappointing 2018, in which he hit .224 with 20 home runs, with a season that might make him the leading candidate for this honor. Kepler has been the Twins’ primary leadoff hitter — he has spent 105 games in that spot, compared to 21 for Garver and 15 for Polanco — and is only four home runs from the 40 mark. Kepler has been bothered by injuries throughout the season but only recently has that really slowed him down. The right fielder also made the move to center for 53 games because of the time Byron Buxton missed. Kepler has a career-best WAR of 4.1 this year, up from 2.8 last season.
The case against: There really isn’t a great case against Kepler. He isn’t nearly as good as Buxton in center but who is? Not a high enough batting average? C’mon, it’s 2019, few are going to hold that against him.
The numbers: .302/.362/.496, 22 home runs, 78 RBIs in 143 games
The case: The starting shortstop for the American League in the All-Star Game, Polanco was hitting .312/.368/.514 with 13 home runs and 42 RBIs in 85 games at the break. Not surprisingly, Polanco cooled afterward and has hit .287/.352/.468 with nine homers and 36 RBIs in 58 games. There’s nothing wrong with that production and Polanco very much belongs in this conversation. The fact that Polanco has played in so many games also is impressive considering how much the Twins like to rest many of their regulars. Polanco’s 5.5 WAR is the best on the Twins.
The case against: Polanco’s average fell from .311 to .290 in the month-plus after the All-Star Break as he hit .231/.308/.385 but everyone is going to have a slump at some point. There was a feeling that Polanco would have to be moved from shortstop because he did not possess a great arm but he has found himself playing the position all season. He has 19 errors in 469 chances in 132 games at short.
The numbers: 55 appearances, 2-3, 27 saves, 10 holds, 2.37 ERA
The case: The lefthander has been the Twins’ top reliever this season and while there have been a few rough patches there have been far more successes. Rogers also has been better late in the season. In his last nine outings, he has given up one run in 10 innings and has recorded a save each time.
The case against: Rogers had a 6.75 ERA (six earned runs in eight innings) in eight games between late July and mid August. Rogers also blew two saves in that time, including one in a loss against the Yankees, as his ERA went from 1.93 to 2.59.
It comes down to Kepler and Polanco and I’m giving it to Kepler based on his power numbers, his impact at the top of the lineup and the fact he has been such a key in the outfield. What do you think? The comments section is wide open.