It seems year after year there are always those two or three moments that, had they played out differently, could have changed the entire season for a franchise. I can’t tell you how many times I have replayed key moments in Twins history in my head, trying to imagine what could have been if a certain event had played out differently.
What if Francisco Liriano never blew out his elbow in 2006? What if Phil Cuzzi (correctly) called Mauer’s line drive fair in the 2009 ALDS? What if Morneau never suffered his concussion in 2010? In today’s article I will be taking a look back at what I consider to be the three biggest “What-ifs” of the 2019 Twins season.
1. What if Byron Buxton didn’t run into the wall in Miami on Aug. 1?
When Byron Buxton injured himself attempting to make a play on a deep fly ball in Miami, he was in the middle of a career season. Buxton had an OPS of .827, 100 points higher than he had ever hit in any season prior to this one. Buxton was leading the team in doubles as well as stolen bases, and providing production from the nine spot that any other team in the majors would have killed to have.
Losing Buxton’s bat from the lineup was a big blow. While Jake Cave stepped up big time with his bat during Buxton’s absence in the regular season, most Twins fans will remember Cave’s strikeout looking with two outs and the bases loaded to kill the second inning rally in game three of the ALDS. While there’s no way to know how Buxton would have fared in the same spot, Byron had cut his K% to a career low 23% and posted a .912 OPS in high leverage spots in 2019 and I can’t help but think that he might have put up a better fight than Cave in that spot.
Where Byron’s presence was most felt, though, was in the field. Prior to his shoulder injury, Buxton was having his best defensive season to date, posting 10 DRS in 86 games and a career best 15.7 UZR/150 (that means he was good at saving runs). The ripple effect of his defensive loss extended past center field, though, as Buxton’s injury worsened the right field defense as well. The injury forced Max Kepler into being the everyday center fielder, and while he performed admirably in this role, he was taken out of the right field role where he was performing like a Gold Glove-type fielder.
2. What if Michael Pineda hadn't gotten suspended?
On Sept. 7, just one month before the start of the postseason, the Twins got news that Michael Pineda had been suspended for the remainder of the baseball season for taking a banned diuretic. At the time of the suspension, Pineda was 11-5 with a 4.01 ERA with an extraordinary 3.04 ERA in nine starts after the All-Star break.
I can’t help but think how the Twins’ season would have played out had Pineda not been suspended. Pineda had quickly become the Twins' most consistent and reliable pitcher in their rotation and losing him was a huge disappointment, especially down the stretch when Kyle Gibson and Marin Perez were as ineffective as they were.
Pineda’s absence was felt most, though, in the postseason. Prior to being suspended there was talk of Pineda possibly being the game one starting pitcher for the ALDS. His absence caused Baldelli to go to Randy Dobnak for game three, and we all know how that turned out.
3. What if the Twins had been able to match New York’s offer for Marcus Stroman?
According to a report by Dan Hayes of the Athletic, the Twins had tabbed Marcus Stroman as their number one target heading into the trade deadline, and had a good chance at acquiring the Duke grad. After initially turning down the Blue Jays on a deal involving Alex Kirilloff or Royce Lewis, though, the Blue Jays sought out other deals and eventually made a trade with the Mets without giving the Twins the chance to match New York’s offer.
Had the Twins been given the chance to trump New York’s offer and acquire Stroman at the deadline, Minnesota would have added a lethal arm to their rotation who would have been a valuable asset not only for the stretch run of the 2019 season, but would have also been a key member of the rotation heading in 2020, which currently stands with Berrios and Odorizzi as its only members.
This story first appeared at Twins Daily and was re-shared through a collaboration with Bring Me The News.