Baseball leaders & Jesus followers
With 85 wins and a wild card berth in 2017, the Minnesota Twins became the first team in major league history to advance to the postseason a year after losing at least 100 games. They were 59-103 in ‘16, then 85-77 in ‘17.
The drastic turnaround was led by manager Paul Molitor — a Hall of Famer who was in his third year in charge of his hometown team — and earned him 2017 AL Manager of the Year honors. Though the postseason lasted just one game (an 8-4 loss to the Yankees in New York), the Twin Cities now expect Molitor to keep the team a contender.
Minnesota’s core remains largely intact for 2018, with first baseman Joe Mauer and second baseman Brian Dozier leading at the plate and in the field, and Ervin Santana, Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson on the mound. The Twins hope center fielder Byron Buxton can continue developing into a franchise player, and that offseason acquisitions Jake Odorizzi and Anibal Sanchez will bolster the starting rotation.
Or could a utility guy like Eduardo Escobar spark the squad again?
Last season, All-Star third baseman Miguel Sanó went down with a stress reaction in his left shin on Aug. 19, so Escobar filled in. He proceeded to belt 10 of his career-high 21 home runs as a fill-in starter. He also collected a career-high 73 RBIs on the year, leading the Twins with nine home runs and 25 RBIs in September as they clinched the playoff berth.
“The 20 home runs is surprising,” Escobar told the Star Tribune in late September, “but I’m working hard all year. It’s different when you have the opportunity to play every day. I feel like Jesus has blessed me.”
Could it have been because the team chaplain prayed over Escobar’s bats? True story: He brought his lumber with him into the team’s chapel service on a San Francisco road trip.
“Escy walks in, he’s got both his bats; he’s been struggling,” said Gibson, one of the team’s chapel leaders, on the Sports Spectrum Podcast. “He walks in, both his bats, crosses them right there in front of the chaplain, and the chaplain’s just kind of like, ‘All right, let’s pray.’
“[Escobar] goes out and hits a homer and then he just goes on a [hot] stretch, and it was at a perfect time … Then of course he had to bring them every week to chapel.”
“We needed a bat bag about a month later for everybody’s bats in the chapel,” said Dozier, another chapel leader.
Yet, the tone at chapel or for the season wasn’t set by bats, say Gibson and Dozier. It starts with the manager.
“You have a guy like Paul Molitor, who’s really firm in his faith, and the leader of the whole team, and the icon he is — when you have a guy like that that’s firm in his faith, he’s always at chapel,” Dozier says. “We’ve been trying to get people to chapel just to pray every now and then, but when you see a Hall of Famer go in there, [other] guys are like, ‘Hmm, if he’s doing it, let me check it out.’”
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