Minnesota Twins' best-case and worst-case scenarios for 2024 season

Oct 11, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Joe Ryan (41) throws a
Oct 11, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Joe Ryan (41) throws a / Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Playing in the AL Central  is like the old joke about you and your four buddies being caught in the woods by a bear. You don’t have to out-run the bear; you just have to out-run your buddies.

The Twins ran fastest last season, winning 87 games and finishing a comfortable nine games ahead of the runner-up Detroit Tigers. But that doesn’t necessarily bode well for 2024, since both the Tigers and Kansas City Royals appear to be improved.

Minnesota Twins' Best-Case Scenario for 2024

Are the Twins capable of winning an unpredictable division? Unequivocally yes. Here’s what they need.

They need Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober to blossom. Ryan, 28, looked like a reliable No. 1 or No. 2 just two seasons ago when he went 13-8 with a 3.55 ERA in 27 starts. Last season was a clear regression: a 4.51 ERA in 29 starts.

Ober, also 28, produced a 3.43 ERA in 26  starts, but needs to build up his durability.  Only three times in those 26 starts did he throw a pitch in the seventh inning, meaning many decisions in games started by Ober were left to the tender mercies of the relief corps. The Twins did win 16 of those 26 starts, but do they really want to leave the fate of those games up to the least reliable part of any team, the bullpen?

Put a strong Ober and Ryan behind Pablo López and you’ve got 100 mostly quality starts, a great basis to build on.

The Twins were 10th in the majors in runs scored per game in 2023, a strikingly strong performance given how little they got out of their two biggest names, Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton. Correa’s .711 OPS was more than 100 points off his career average. Buxton, limited as usual to half a season, produced a .731 OPS that was nearly 100 points worse than anything he’s done since 2019.

Twins fans can dream of a full season from Buxton and a decent one from Correa. Put that atop what Royce Lewis is basically guaranteed to produce (if healthy), and you have a team capable of winning the AL Central.

Minnesota Twins' Worst-Case Scenario for 2024

Minnesota’s worst-case scenario begins with two words that are familiar to every Twins fan: Buxton’s hurt. The Twins plan to play him in center field this season, so if he goes down – and why wouldn’t he, he’s Byron Buxton – they lose both a key hitter and the centerpiece of their defense.

The road to a repeat of the AL Central title also gets tougher if the pitchers behind López – that would be Ryan, Ober, Chris Paddack and veteran Anthony DeSclafani – come up small. Don’t rule that out, as they pitched to a combined 4.25 ERA last season, and Paddack missed almost all of last season with elbow soreness.

The other scary aspect for Minnesota is the thought that the competition is improving faster than the Twins are. The Tigers and Royals both have a cast of young bucks who show signs of thinking they can unseat the divisional champs. The Twins’ offseason was hardly inspiring; it consisted of losing Sonny Gray, Joey Gallo and Michael A. Taylor to free agency and acquiring DeSclafani in a trade that cost them Jorge Polanco.

Most Realistic Scenario for 2024 Minnesota Twins

Assuming a return to offensive form from Correa and something approaching health from Buxton, Minnesota’s offense is good enough to contend. Royce Lewis, at age 25 coming off a .309/.372/.548 slash line season, has MVP potential.

Those three alone are capable of transitioning the Twins from a good offense to a feared one.

Since DeSclafani and Paddack both have to be considered rotation stopgaps, that throws the issue of contention over to steady quality performances from López, Ryan and Ober, especially the latter two. The odds say that, between Ryan and Ober one will blossom and the other will muddle around.

In that scenario, it’s easy to imagine Minnesota in September contention for the AL Central, but by far less comfortable of a margin than the nine games they enjoyed in 2023. They finish the season with three games against the Baltimore Orioles at Target Field. Minnesota’s season could come down to those pivotal final three.

Baltimore Orioles' best-case and worst-case scenarios for 2024 season (calltothepen.com)