Twins pitcher Lopez confident playoff loss will motivate team heading into 2024
Twins starting pitcher Pablo Lopez is expected to finish top-5 in American League Cy Young voting. In other words, his first year with Minnesota went very well. But he won’t get the ball for a deciding Game 5 in Houston on Friday. He dominated the Astros in Game 2, and was in line to start a deciding Game 5. But the series ended in 4 games.
Our Darren ‘Doogie’ Wolfson spoke with Lopez after the final game.
***Click the video box above to watch our conversation with Lopez***
Below is a season wrap-up from the Associated Press:
Carlos Correa was blunt, disappointed and optimistic when he spoke to his Minnesota Twins teammates following their elimination from the playoffs.
Harbor the bitter feeling as fuel for improvement when spring training starts next year, he told them, and remember who caused it.
The Houston Astros — Minnesota’s newest postseason nemesis — are going to the AL Championship Series for the seventh straight year, and they are the standard the Twins have to exceed in order to make more than a brief appearance in October.
“I wasn’t ready for this at all. I was expecting to go a few more weeks at least and then party into the offseason,” third baseman Royce Lewis said after Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Astros. “We’ll get ’em next year.”
That won’t just happen by showing up in excellent physical shape. The hitters have to make some adjustments to their approach at the plate to truly make this a balanced, consistent and dangerous lineup on the postseason stage.
The Astros not only produced more clutch hits themselves — with 10 homers accounting for 16 of their 20 runs in the AL Division Series — but deftly pitched to exploit flaws and keep the Twins flailing and guessing for much of those four games.
The Twins hit five homers but struck out 52 times, whiffing at an even higher rate than they did while setting the major league record for most strikeouts in a single season.
“Experience played a big role. Some experienced guys over there had some good at-bats with people on base,” Correa said. “We didn’t get the chance to do the same, and they won the series. You’ve seen them do it for years now. Now that some of our guys got their feet wet in postseason baseball, next year I feel like we’ll be a lot better, and I know the front office will put the right pieces together for us to go out there next year and go further, all the way.”
The performance by the three rookie regulars in the lineup — Lewis, second baseman Edouard Julien and left fielder Matt Wallner — has given the Twins a sturdy foundation for sustained offensive success. Correa frequently mentioned this year that this team reminded him of the Astros in 2015, when he was a rookie on a breakthrough squad that made the playoffs and set the blueprint for Houston’s current run.
“This serves as motivation that we’re that team, that we can do it,” Correa said. “If all the young guys believe it and everybody on this club believes it, we’re going to end up in a good spot.”
ON THE MEND
Correa played through plantar fasciitis that caused significant pain around his heel and had the worst hitting season of his career. He said he doesn’t need surgery, though he will have an operation on his nose to fix a deviated septum.
Byron Buxton had yet another miserable time trying to stay out of injury trouble, with knee soreness that never allowed him to play the outfield. He last played on Aug. 1, until a pinch-hit appearance in Game 4.
With both Correa and Buxton signed through 2028, the Twins need them to get healthy again and be the reliable and productive lineup fixtures they expected them to be.
First baseman Alex Kirilloff, who finally appeared to get past the wrist problems he’s had, was plagued by shoulder trouble that worsened to the point where Buxton took his place on the roster mid-series.
The Twins had the second-best starting pitching ERA (3.82) in baseball, a strength they’ve tried for years to build and had to sacrifice several top prospects for in various trades. Pablo López pitched in the playoffs like the ace the Twins have paid him to be, and Sonny Gray had a renaissance season next to him at the top of the rotation.
Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober had their ups and downs but remain in their pre-arbitration years on easy-to-afford contracts. Chris Paddack returned from elbow rehab to pitch effectively out of the bullpen and is a strong bet for a starting spot in 2024. The big question is whether the Twins will re-sign Gray, who will be a free agent this fall, or give Louie Varland an inside track.
Gray had tears in his eyes on Wednesday night as he made the rounds for end-of-year goodbyes in the clubhouse. He spoke often about how much he appreciated this season.
“Hopefully we can bring him back here,” catcher Ryan Jeffers said. “He’s a special part of this team.”
Gray is the most important player among the free agents to be. The others are starting pitchers Kenta Maeda, Dallas Keuchel and Tyler Mahle; relief pitcher Emilio Pagán; outfielders Michael A. Taylor and Joey Gallo; and infielder Donovan Solano. The Twins have club options on the contracts for left fielder Max Kepler ($10 million) and second baseman Jorge Polanco ($10.5 million).