Phil Rogers

Twins ride depth to AL Wild Card spot

Unlike Trout with Angels, no Minnesota stars were forced to carry team

Twins ride depth to AL Wild Card spot

Champagne? That was the furthest thing from Derek Falvey's mind at the start of this season.

When I visited with the Twins' new chief baseball officer in Spring Training, he had two goals for September. One was that his team would not be a pushover for contenders, as it was in 2016, and the other was that manager Paul Molitor would tighten up the fielding and baserunning.

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"We've talked a little bit internally about [how] at times last year we beat ourselves,'' Falvey said. "It was not a fundamentally sound team.''

No, it wasn't. But now it has become the only team to ever lose 100 games one season (103, actually) and go to the postseason the next.

It's fair to say that Molitor did his part to reward Falvey and general manager Thad Levine for not cleaning house immediately and bringing in their own manager.

Like six-time All-Star Joe Mauer, Molitor has been the perfect steady presence -- encouraging but also demanding -- to convince the young Twins their 26-19 start could be sustained over the long season. A.J. Hinch and Terry Francona would also be worthy winners, but I'm going to give Molitor my American League Manager of the Year Award vote.

Molitor on going to playoffs

But Molitor could only win because longtime GM Terry Ryan and the Twins' excellent scouting staff kept doing a good job after 2010, when the franchise won the last of six AL Central titles during a remarkable nine-year run.

Imagine how powerful the Angels might have been in the Mike Trout-Albert Pujols era if their scouting and player development staffs had delivered talent in bunches. That's the way it has been done in Minnesota, thanks to scouts like Vern Followell, Deron Johnson and Larry Corrigan, who always get to the ballpark early and stayed late.

We mention the Angels here because there is a lesson in the Twins clinching at the same time that Trout's Halos were eliminated. If you're trying to build a winning baseball team, depth counts every bit as much as star power, and probably even more.

Mike Scioscia's team missed the postseason for the third season in a row, something few expected when Anaheim signed Pujols to hit behind the brilliant Trout. The perennial AL MVP Award candidate has yet to have a bad season of his own, this season delivering arguably his best performance, at least when it's prorated to take into account the 39 games he missed with a torn ligament in his left thumb.

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But even with Trout and shortstop Andrelton Simmons among MLB's WAR leaders, and with Justin Upton being acquired at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Angels could never get more than five games above .500 and are in danger of posting their third losing season in the last five years.

With emerging power and bat skills adding to his defensive skills, Simmons is going to find his way onto some AL MVP Award ballots this year. His rWAR is 7.2, which is even higher than Trout's (6.3) in a season when Trout is leading the league in both on-base percentage and slugging.

You can argue the math that places Simmons ahead of Trout, but probably not that both of them have done more than the most productive Twin.

Buxton on Wild Card berth

Using the same rWAR metric, that's 23-year-old center fielder Byron Buxton (5.3), who might have excelled before now if we hadn't proclaimed him the next Trout. But consider the orderly succession of wins-above-replacement contributions from the Twins.

Brian Dozier is second to Buxton at 3.8, with Mauer at 3.2, Miguel Sano at 2.6, Jason Castro at 2.3, Max Kepler at 2.0, Jorge Polanco at 2.0, Eddie Rosario at 1.6 and Eduardo Escobar at 1.0

Now here's the top-down list of Angels contributors: Simmons (7.2), Trout (6.3), Martin Maldonado (1.9), Kole Calhoun (1.9) and Cameron Maybin (1.8, and he was traded to clear room for Upton).

Yankees most likely Twins' WC opponent

Molitor had nine position players who were worth at least one win above replacement this year. That's three more than he had in 2016, and four more than Scioscia had this season.

Carrying the inventory of productive players down to those worth at least half of a win over replacement level, the difference is even bigger. The Twins add Kennys Vargas (.9), Robbie Grossman (.9), Ehire Adrianza (.7) and Chris Gimenez (.6) while the Halos pick up only C.J. Cron (.9) and Eric Young Jr. (.7).

That's a 13-7 disparity in productive players.

You know that expression about how a great player "can put a team on his shoulders and carry it?''

That's true, but one player isn't going to carry a mediocre team very far. Through no failing of his own, Trout has experienced that once again.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.