2017 saw Twins take giant step forward

After losing 103 in 2016, Minnesota made postseason this year

2017 saw Twins take giant step forward

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins were perhaps baseball's biggest surprise in 2017, going from 103 losses to their first postseason berth since 2010, becoming the second team to have the No. 1 overall Draft pick and make the postseason the same year.

It ended with an 8-4 loss in the American League Wild Card Game to the Yankees in New York, but it was still a memorable season for the Twins, who improved their win total by a franchise-record 26 games. Here's a look at some of the top storylines and moments from their 2017 season:

The rise of Buxton
Byron Buxton had his breakout season, becoming a threat offensively to go along with his elite speed and defensive prowess in center field. He was the game's fastest player, leading Cincinnati's Billy Hamilton in Statcast™'s sprint speed metric, and was arguably baseball's best defensive player, leading all outfielders in Statcast™'s outs above average by a considerable margin.

Offensively, Buxton made mechanical changes at the plate, ditching his leg kick in early June, and he experienced an incredible second half offensively. Buxton hit .300/.347/.546 with 11 homers and 13 steals without getting caught in 57 games after the All-Star break. If he can replicate anything close to those numbers going forward, he could emerge as one of the game's next stars.

Buxton's fantastic catch

Young core emerges
It wasn't just Buxton who made major strides in 2017, as the Twins have a young and exciting core of position players composed of third baseman Miguel Sano, left fielder Eddie Rosario, shortstop Jorge Polanco and right fielder Max Kepler. All five were 25 or younger during the season, as the Twins trotted out the AL's youngest lineup, yet finished seventh in the Majors in runs scored.

Sano blasted 28 homers in 114 games before suffering a left shin stress reaction that essentially ended his season, while Rosario hit .290 with 27 homers, Polanco had a huge second half offensively with an .870 OPS, and Kepler had 19 homers and 32 doubles while rating as one of the league's best right fielders defensively.

Veterans step up
It was a young Twins team, but it was helped by the leadership and play of veterans such as Joe Mauer, Brian Dozier, Ervin Santana, Jason Castro and Matt Belisle. Minnesota sold at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, but bounced back to go 20-10 in August, and it was the clubhouse leaders who made sure things didn't go south the way they did in 2016.

Mauer also returned to his vintage form, hitting .305/.384/.417 while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base. Dozier cracked a team-high 34 homers, Santana posted a 3.28 ERA in 33 starts, Castro provided plus-defense behind the plate, and Belisle emerged as a reliable closer after All-Star Brandon Kintzler was traded to the Nationals. Of that group, only Belisle is headed to free agency.

Statcast: Dozier's leadoff homer

Pitching improves
The Twins had the second-worst ERA in baseball in 2016, but improved that figure to 19th this season. Santana was the anchor, but Jose Berrios wowed with his impressive stuff, while Kyle Gibson posted a 3.76 ERA in the second half. Adalberto Mejia showed flashes in his rookie season, while Bartolo Colon made a few memorable starts, including a complete-game win over the Rangers.

In the bullpen, Belisle overcame a rough start, while rookies Trevor Hildenberger and Alan Busenitz emerged as go-to relievers, and Taylor Rogers had a solid year as the primary lefty. The Twins will go into the offseason looking for more pitching help, but it was a step forward this season.

Memorable series in Cleveland
Dozier's 150th homer of his career was the biggest of his career, as he crushed a three-run shot off Indians reliever Bryan Shaw on Sept. 26 to put the Twins ahead in the eighth and essentially punch a ticket to the postseason, reducing their magic number to one with five games left.

Minnesota clinched the next day, but did it after a loss, as the players all watched the Angels and White Sox play from the visiting clubhouse after the game, needing Chicago to win. Nicky Delmonico hit a walk-off homer and the celebration was on for the Twins.

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.