The Twins will, barring a truly traumatic collapse, make the postseason this year.
Serious question: Is that enough to secure a new contract for manager Paul Molitor?
Retaining Molitor would seem obvious. We're talking not only a skipper who got into the playoffs, but a Minnesota native who is enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
But, of course, he's also the manager who guided the 2016 Twins to the worst won-lost record in the franchise's Minnesota tenure. Molitor remained manager after that in large part because lead owner Jim Pohlad put his status off-limits to the new baseball-ops heads, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. That immunity expires after this season, and there is no guarantee that Molitor is the preferred managers for "Falvine."
Earlier this month the Twins fired Doug Mientkiewicz as a minor league manager. From what we can see from this distance, dismissing Dougie Alphabet makes little sense. He won, and he developed players.
But a manager's job responsibilities, majors or minors, is like an iceberg. Much of it is submerged and hidden from view, and what we don't see can sink a skipper.
With that caveat, let's examine what we can see.
Results: The Twins entered Sunday's play with 81 wins, 22 more than they won in all of 2016.
Back in April I devoted a couple of blog posts to the question of what a realistic expectation for 2017 would be. The 53-109 record of 2016 was, by the "pythagorean theorem" devised decades ago by Bill James, seven games worse than it "should" have been given the runs scored and allowed. Another James formula set an "expected wins" for the 2017 Twins at 69 wins.
My conclusion from that: Nothing under 70 wins could really be considered an improvement for the 2017 team.
Molitor has that figure beat by double digits with six games to go. That certainly should count in his favor.
Process: The 2017 Twins are likely to get into the post season tournament, but there is no serious question that they are not equal to the four best teams in the American League this year (Cleveland, Houston, Boston and New York). They'll get in as the best of the rest, but even if things fall their way in October (as they did for the 1987 team), we know they're not at the level they want to reach.
So it's not this year that matters so much as the future. Falvine signaled as much at the trading deadline when they traded away Molitor's top reliever for a low A ball pitcher.
Three players whose seasons may matter in evaluating Molitor, pro and con:
■ Byron Buxton. We all know what a horrid start he had at the plate this year. In previous seasons, with a different front office, he (and other young players) with such struggles got yo-yo'd back and forth between Triple A and the majors. This year the Twins stuck with him, and he turned his season around.
Question: What was Molitor's advice to the front office in April and May? Did he want to pull the plug on Buxton?
■ Max Kepler. The right fielder has struggled against left-handed pitching, at least until this past week. Molitor spent much of the season sitting him against lefties, going so far as repeatedly playing Ehire Adrianza, a light-hitting infielder, in left field rather than expose Kepler to southpaws.
Kepler is young and talented, a potential star — exactly the kind of player Earl Weaver, one of the most platoon-oriented managers in history, avoided platooning.
Question: Is platooning Kepler justifiable given the opportunity to make the playoffs, or would the front office prefer giving him a chance to develop against lefties?
■ Jorge Polanco. Molitor has over the years been more bullish on Polanco's ability to play shortstop than almost anybody. And after a desperately dry July — Polanco hit worse in July than Buxton did in April — he has become a middle-of-the-order fixture in Molitor's lineups.
Polanco has hit at every other level, so even during the slump there was reason to believe in his bat. The fielding skills are another matter.
Question: Does the front office, whose off-season moves were pointed at run-reduction, agree with playing Polanco out of position to keep his bat in the lineup?