Edward Thoma: Thoma column | What to watch as the season winds down

Sep. 11—The Minnesota Twins last week essentially put an end to the Central Division crawl — it being an overstatement to call it a race.

They will assuredly be the first team in the American League to clinch its division title, which speaks more to the lack of competition in the Central than anything else. The Twins' record is rather pedestrian — 75-67 (entering Sunday) isn't that much.

But the 1987 Twins won just 85 regular season games, and that team remains a Minnesota legend. There were five better records in the league, all in the other division, but it was the Twins who won that World Series.

I'm old fashioned in this sense: I would rather see my favorite team have a truly impressive regular season and flop in the postseason than stagger into the playoffs, then get hot and run the table. The 2019 Bomba Squad was better than the '87 champions because baseball is best as a long haul.

But this team cannot have a big regular season. Its chance to create a lasting memory has to come next month.

The Twins have, as we all know, not fared well in postseason the past two decades. The last playoff game Minnesota won was in 2004. The last series Minnesota won was in 2002.

What might make this time around different?

—Quality pitchers. The 2019 Twins started Randy Dobnak in the second game of that series. Dobnak is still in the organization, but never got a sniff of Target Field this year. Pablo Lopez and Sonny Gray are a better 1-2 pair of starters than anything the Twins have boasted since Johan Santana departed.

What to watch: Who fills out the rotation? Joe Ryan seems the likely third starter, but who else gets the ball? Kenta Maeda has been homer-prone, Dallas Keuchel's good outings have come against lesser lineups, and Bailey Ober is in St. Paul idling his engine.

—A deeper bullpen. This assertion hinges heavily on things that haven't happened yet. The Twins can be reasonably confident in Jhoan Duran, Griffin Jax and Caleb Thielbar, but three reliable arms aren't enough in an era of five-and-fly starts. I am a long way from trusting Emilo Pagán or Dylan Floro.

What to watch: Louie Varland, converted, at least temporarily, to the bullpen; Chris Paddack, rehabbing from last year's Tommy John surgery and flashing quality stuff; Brock Stewart, a mid-season sensation who last pitched in June; and maybe Maeda, who worked out of the bullpen in postseasons past for the Dodgers.

If one or more of them can be an effective power arm out of the bullpen for October, it will be a major addition.

—The reshaped lineup. In first half, Royce Lewis was still rehabbing his knee, while Edouard Julien and Matt Wallner were injury callups who were sent back to the minors when others returned from the injured list.

Today all three are fixtures in a suddenly more productive lineup.

What to watch: How will the Twins handle the possible return of Byron Buxton? A Buxton limited to being a designated hitter makes it more difficult to keep Julien, in particular, in the lineup.

If Buxton can play center in the postseason, great; if not, something has to give. Are the Twins committed to the theory that they're better off with Buxton DHing than sidelined? My sense is that if he can't play in the field, he should be off the roster, but I doubt the Twins agree.

Edward Thoma is at and @bboutsider.