Relaxing after dinner Wednesday night in our TV room, I relished a few precious moments of sorts. My wife, 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son were gathered together in the room, and the Minnesota Twins-Tampa Bay Rays game was on — and not a soul was complaining.
OK, I’ll allow that Becca had her eyes mostly on a laptop and Grace was watching something on Netflix on my iPad, but they often do that in other rooms of the house. This time, they were doing their thing while occasionally looking up to see what was going on in the ballgame.
A playoff chase, I suppose, will attract even the most casual of fans a little bit.
To say this year’s Twins campaign has been a roller-coaster ride is an understatement, to put it mildly. A little more than a week ago, it appeared as if any chance at being an American League wild-card entry was kaput. Now, as I write this, the Twins would be playoff-bound if the season ended today.
Regardless of whether the Twins qualify for postseason play — and I can only hope they don’t get stuck playing the Yankees in a one-game wild-card clash — it still has been a remarkable 2015 on the diamond. Very few thought this team would do much; it was next year that many were already waiting for considering the young prospects the club had on the horizon.
Now, surprisingly, next year has become this year, which has been made all the more incredible by a list of unexpected negatives that seem almost too lengthy to count. Here’s what I can come up with right now:
* Ervin Santana gets suspended 80 games for performance-enhancing drugs, then pitches to an ERA of above 6 upon his return.
* Last year’s rookie standout, Danny Santana, finds himself unable to hit or field and is sent to the minors.
* Oswaldo Arcia and Kennys Vargas, other young and important contributors during 2013, also struggle and are demoted.
* The Twins’ opening-day starter and perceived ace, Phil Hughes, pitches more like a No. 4 starter than a No. 1. He led all starting pitchers in Major League Baseball in hits allowed when he went on the disabled list earlier this month.
* Ricky Nolasco — well — is still Ricky Nolasco. He currently has a 5.51 ERA and is on the DL. His four-year, $49 million contract looks like the worst in Twins’ history (save, perhaps, Joe Mauer’s), and there are still two years left in the deal.
* Kurt Suzuki, who hit .288 last year and was arguably the team’s best hitter, is currently at the .239 mark.
* Mauer is hitting a paltry .269, which is 45 points below his career average.
I could go on, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll make note of some who-would-have-guessed-it positives.
Aaron Hicks, who I wrote off after another horrible season in 2014, has shown flashes of brilliance this summer and has a future that appears to finally be bright. Then there are the three newbies — Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. Each has proven themselves worthy in their own way, with Sano almost certainly making the biggest impact of the trio since joining the team in early July. The starting pitching, despite some aforementioned challenges, has actually been better than likely expected by many. Torii Hunter has got some big hits and provided even bigger leadership. And I honestly didn’t think Brian Dozier would be as productive as last year, but he has been … and more.
As a result of these and other positives, the whole McGaughey family is paying varying degrees of attention. My favorite part of the season, though, hasn’t been the greater-than-expected number of victories. If you saw my son today and asked him how many home runs Dozier had, he’d tell you. Same for Sano, Trevor Plouffe, Hunter, Mauer and others (after Wednesday’s game, maybe Eduardo Escobar will start to register in his consciousness). Zach’s love of the game, as well as the numbers that go along with it, have sure been a joy to watch develop.
If there was ever any doubt before, our home is now — by all means — Twins Territory.