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Ryan, Twins hope to avoid 2016 tumble

MINNEAPOLIS - On the surface, it might seem as if the Twins are knocking on the door, poised to resume the championship pursuit that consumed them for much of the prior decade.

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MINNEAPOLIS – On the surface, it might seem as if the Twins are knocking on the door, poised to resume the championship pursuit that consumed them for much of the prior decade.
That theory would be based on falling three games short of the Houston Astros in a season-long bid for the second wild-card spot in the American League.
In reality, that could be a dangerous approach to this pivotal offseason.
“I would be very guarded about just saying, ‘Oh, we’re in good shape,’ ” Twins general manager Terry Ryan said this week. “I don’t have that opinion. We are in better shape than we have been, that’s for sure, but there’s still a lot of work to do here.”
That’s because, even after winning 83 games and posting the seventh-biggest turnaround in Twins franchise history, they enter the long, cold winter staring at a 12-win gulf separating second place and the AL Central champion Kansas City Royals.
No other second-place team must make up such a large difference this offseason. The San Francisco Giants, who finished eight games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West, were next.
Merely grabbing another three to five wins probably won’t be enough for the Twins to reach their desired destination in 2016.
“We should be pointing to win the division,” Ryan said. “That’s important, instead of playing that one (wild-card) game. Nobody likes that game. Well, the one way to get out of that is to win the division.”
Including the season’s final weekend, the Royals swept the final six games they played at Target Field, holding the Twins to a combined six runs. For the year, the Twins dropped 12 of 19 games with the Royals.
So, do the Twins have more work in front of them than it might otherwise appear?
“I don’t know if we really look at it that way,” second baseman Brian Dozier said. “The fact (the Royals) are one of the best teams in the American League says a lot, but within the game, you can ask anybody around here, I feel like we had just as good a team as they did.
“Obviously we came up a few wins short of what they had. If anyone had said we’d have 83 wins, I’m sure everybody in America would have said, ‘Absolutely not.” But we feel like we could have won a lot more. You look at all the close ballgames.”
Indeed, the Twins went 21-20 in one-run games and 6-8 in extra innings. The Royals, buoyed by the game’s most-feared bullpen, went 23-17 in one-run games and 10-6 in extras.
Against the Twins, the Royals went 7-3 with two walk-off victories in games decided by two runs or less.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, Royals position players produced a combined 25.6 wins above replacement (WAR), led by Lorenzo Cain (7.2), Mike Moustakas (4.4) and Eric Hosmer (3.6).
Third baseman Trevor Plouffe led the Twins with a WAR of just 2.5, and the team total (11.8) barely eclipsed what Bryce Harper (9.9) gave the Washington Nationals.
On the pitching side, the Royals’ staff produced 16.4 WAR, by Baseball-Reference.com standards, with reliever Wade Davis (3.4) leading the way. The Twins, led by Kyle Gibson (3.2 WAR), were much closer on that side of the ball (16.1).
With a full season of Ervin Santana and Tyler Duffey, the Twins should hold their own against the Royals’ pitching staff next year. A full year of Miguel Sano should help the position group, but there would appear to be more ground to make up there.
“I think your goal should be to win divisions,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “Playoffs, getting in somehow, some way, would fall under that. It still would be a good goal for us trying to move forward.”
And yet, the Twins must stay greedy, to use one of Molitor’s favorite sayings. While he acknowledged the season as a “step up” from 90-loss campaigns the previous four years, Molitor added, “I also know that it’s a step up, but if it wasn’t for the second (wild-card) spot, our story line might be a little different.”
Even winning the first wild-card spot and that one home game to open the postseason guarantees little.
Just ask the Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“First winning season in five years - blah, blah, blah - but it changes the dynamic of how people look at your season because of that new format,” Molitor said. “I try to be realistic about that. There’s a ways to go in terms of how you see the upper-echelon clubs and the games that they’re winning and the amounts. We’ve moved in that direction, but I think you have to set your sights high.”

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