|Paul Molitor, Minnesota Twins manager
(Photo by Paul Morse via Wiki Commons)
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The Minnesota Twins downed the repeat AL Central Division champion Cleveland Indians on Tuesday by an 8-6 score at Progressive Field.
With the victory, Minnesota lowered it’s ‘Magic Number’ to just 1 in order to clinch the final American League Wildcard playoff berth.
It appears to be a forgone conclusion at this point. A year after finishing 59-103, the worst record in all of MLB, the Twins are going to the playoffs.
There are many reasons that one can point to when looking for reasons as to how this happened. They have developed a versatile lineup. There is a chance that they finish with five hitters who each slam 20+ home runs, and 4-5 players who could steal bases in double digits.
On the mound, rookie Jose Berrios has been everything that the organization hoped as he climbed through their system to become a top prospect.
Berrios has gone 13-8 with a 3.93 ERA. The 23-year old righty has allowed just 129 hits over 144.1 innings in his 25 starts. His emergence has given the Twins a legit 1-2 rotation punch with veteran Ervin Santana.
They are receiving strong leadership and somewhat of a turn-back-the clock season of production from veteran Joe Mauer.
The popular St. Paul native is enjoying his best season since 2013, when he was honored with the last of his six career AL All-Star appearances and his fifth career Silver Slugger.
But possibly the biggest reason for Minnesota’s success has been the performance of yet another homegrown product, manager Paul Molitor.
Molitor is another St. Paul native. Like Mauer, he was a product of Cretin High School and Cretin-Derham High School. Unlike his first baseman, who was drafted right out of those high school ranks, Molitor also attended the University of Minnesota.
Following a 21-year career that ended with three final seasons playing for the Twins from 1996-98, Molitor was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
He finished that playing career with 3,319 hits as well as a career .304 average and 504 stolen bases. This made him one of just five players in history to finish with at least 3,000 hits, a .300 average, and 500 steals.
Molitor had been the 1978 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up, was a 7x AL All-Star, and a 4x Silver Slugger. In 1993, Molitor was the runner-up in the AL Most Valuable Player voting. Also that year he helped lead the Toronto Blue Jays to their second straight World Series crown, becoming MVP of the Fall Classic.
Following his retirement as an active player, “Molly” was hired as the Twins bench coach to longtime skipper Tom Kelly, serving three years in that position before joining the Seattle Mariners as their hitting coach.
Molitor returned to the Minnesota organization after just one year in Seattle, and spent the next nine years coaching throughout the Twins minor league system. In 2014 he was brought back to help coach the big leaguers.
Finally in 2015, Molitor was offered and accepted the chance to manage the Twins. His first season resulted in a winning 83-79 record, the club’s first winning campaign in five years. That was followed by last season’s worst-in-baseball debacle.
Kelly has seen this before in Minnesota, first-hand. The Twins skipper from 1986-2001, he led the franchise to it’s only two World Series championships in 1987 and 1991. That ’91 Twins club went from being the AL’s worst team in 1990 to world champions the following season.
“I think Mr. Molitor and the staff have gotten a lot out of the players this year,” said Kelly per Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune. “…Paul has gotten an awful lot out of these guys and they’re playing the game well. I think Paul has done a very good job, without question.”
When your pitching staff ranks 22nd in all of baseball in ERA, 26th in Batting Average Against, and just 29th in MLB in strikeouts, yet you are on the verge of a playoff berth, the skipper is doing something right.
Outside of Santana, Berrios, and 3-4 others, there are few consistently reliable arms. Molitor has done a fabulous job of juggling what he has available, mixing and matching to near perfection.
“He’s done a good job of using information that’s available,” said Mauer per Pat Borzi at MinnPost. “Nowadays sometimes there’s a lot more information than you might need, but I think he’s good at deciphering, trying something out, hearing things, and then applying it where you can.”
There are certainly other strong candidates for the honors as American League Manager of the Year. Other leading contenders include A.J. Hinch of the Houston Astros, Joe Girardo of the New York Yankees, and Terry Francona of the Cleveland Indians.
But I could make an easy argument with you by simply scanning their rosters. Each of those men operates with a more talented roster than Molitor does in Minnesota. That’s not a slight to the Twins, but instead a nod to those other organizations overall talent.
For my money, the Twins aren’t sniffing a postseason berth, let alone on the verge of playing meaningful October baseball, without the job that Molitor has done at the helm. He is absolutely deserving of being honored as the 2017 AL Manager of the Year.
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