Edward Thoma: Thoma column | Twins go deep for a division title

Sep. 25—You are what your record says you are.

I don't know how many times I've heard a manager — always one with a team that is not playing up to expectations — utter some version of that sentence.

The Twins enter the final week of the regular season with essentially the record I expected. They won't reach 90 wins, but they won't be far off that milestone, and their runs scored-runs allowed ratio suggests they "should" finish at or above 90 wins. More important, they have won the AL Central, putting them once again to the inflated postseason tournament.

They are, to paraphrase Denny Green, who I thought they were coming out of spring training.

And, paradoxically, they aren't. In crucial aspects, they got to the expected destination by a different route.

I thought the lineup would rely on Carlos Correa, Byron Buxton and Jorge Polanco. By Baseball Reference's version of WAR (Wins Above Replacement), only Polanco is among the team's top 12 players, and Polanco has played in fewer than half their games to date.

I thought that to have an above-average offense, at least two of Alex Kirilloff, Jose Miranda and Trevor Larnach would have to emerge as middle-of-the-lineup regulars. Put their at-bats for this season together, and you get one full-time player hitting .210.

The Twins will certainly finish the season with a historic strikeout total. No Twin has driven in as many as 70 runs, and with Correa on the injured list, it's likely none will get there. No Twin has scored as many as 70 runs, although Max Kepler has a chance to do so. It's likely no Twin will hit 25 homers.

And yet the Twins enter Sunday sixth in the American League in runs scored. They are indeed an above-average offense.

How did this happen? Depth. Platoon matchups. And three rookies — Royce Lewis, Edouard Julien and Matt Wallner — who weren't prominent in their offseason plans.

Some of this shouldn't be a surprise. Rocco Baldelli's batting order has been an everchanging kaleidoscope from the day he became manager. Only five batting orders this year have been used more than once, and the only one used as many as three times features four players not now on the active roster (Buxton, Miranda, Nick Gordon and Joey Gallo).

Only Correa will finish the season with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, but 13 Twins have had more than 300 trips to the plate, and Kirilloff soon will. Twelve Twins have reached double digits in homers, which is why the team has topped 200 long balls for the season.

Baldelli has been aggressive about pinch-hitting. In their division clinching win, he hit for his starting first baseman when he was due up for the second time. He'll pull almost anybody for a theoretically better matchup — the exceptions are the established Correa-Buxton-Polanco trio, plus the emergent Lewis and, at least in the second half, Kepler.

Those five, when healthy, are the core of the team; everybody else is a role player.

I argued earlier this season that this approach makes it less likely that youngsters Kirilloff, Julien and Wallner will emerge as stars in their own right. But I will also concede that that trio each has individual issues that get in the way of the immediate goal.

The matchup approach has worked. There is no chance that it will be abandoned in the playoffs.

Edward Thoma is at and @bboutsider.