Twins World Series Hopes Rest Behind the Plate

Garver, Castro and La Tortuga: The Importance of Postseason Backstops  
By Andy Keenan - Bout Damn Network Editor-in-Chief
July 15, 2019

It’s difficult to temper the current expectations on the Minnesota Twins and for a fanbase that’s been forced to live in the cellar for the better part of a decade, you can’t exactly blame us for getting excited. The 2019 Twins are approaching successes unseen since Jack Morris threw that gem in Game 7. Hell, even the historic home run renaissance across Major League Baseball is paced by our home nine. Reading through the lineup card mid-July seems more like the ‘27 Yankees than the 100 loss Twins we’ve seen of late, both being a far cry from where most fans thought they’d be going into the season, god forbid the dreaded “expert projections” still in love with a Cleveland team only missing Tom Beringer. 

And here we sit on July 15 with a 56-38 record that leads the AL Central by 6.5 games and a schedule that will break open like the Red Sea in a fortnight. It’s natural as Minnesota sports fans to wait for the other shoe to drop (see every Vikings season, 2004 NBA Playoffs, Norm Green, etc, etc) but there is a beaten path to a World Series victory our squad can attain. 

And it all starts with Mitch Garver. 

Historically, the catcher position has been the linchpin for many of the Championship dynasties lining the walls in Cooperstown: Yogi Berra won 10 of the 14 World Series he starred in for those storied Yankees teams. Johnny Bench, arguably the best offensive catcher of all time, won 2 Titles and played in 4 World Series with 6 NLCS in total as a giant cog in the Big Red Machine. Roy Campenella led the Dodgers to 5 straight World Series appearances with a win in 1955. Gary Carter drove the train for the Miracle Mets in 1986 and Carleton Fisk never was crowned a champion, but his heroics in Boston live on as if he did. Dusting off the history books further, Mickey Cochrane led the Philadelphia Athletics to victories in 1929 and 1930 and then again with Detroit in 1935, a torch he passed to Yogi about a decade later. 

No matter how you slice it, the offensive success of the catcher often dictates the winner of the Fall Classic. Taking a closer look at the last 20 seasons of Major League Baseball, this point is abundantly clear. 

Since 1998, there have been 4 franchises to win multiple World Series Titles with the same catcher. With Jorge Posada behind the dish the Yankees won in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009. Boston broke the curse of the Bambino with Jason Veritek in 2004 and then again in 2007. St Louis won in 2006 and 2011 with Yadier Molina and Buster Posey brought three rings to the Bay Area in 2010, 2012 and 2014. 

Adding in David Ross’ performances for Boston in 2013 and with the Cubs Bartman busting Championship in 2016, multiple ring winners account for 65% of the World Series Champions in this timeframe. Posey and Molina are future Hall-of-Famers. Posada has a better chance than Varitek but both have a shot. (Also,what the fuck ever happened to the switch-hitting catcher?) David Ross is fine in the commentary booth now but he was a glue guy, not a star. 

Hall-of-Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez had the finest postseason of his career while leading the Marlins over the Yankees in 2003. While Pudge had a middle-of-road World Series against New York, he carried the Fish on his back against the Cubs, earning the NLCS MVP, finishing the postseason with a .313 average, 3 home runs and seventeen RBI.

Though there has been no shortage of prolonged greatness in the past twenty seasons, one-off winners were just as impressive. Four one-time winners held their own on offensive juggernauts. AJ Pierzynski couldn’t stop hitting three-run home runs with the rest of the White Sox in 2005. Carlos Ruiz was no consolation prize if a pitcher managed to get through the heart of that Rollins-Utley-Howard Phillies line-up of death in 2008. Salvador Perez knocked in every runner he could in 2015 with Kansas City and Yadier’s brother Bengie was clutch throughout the Angels 2002 series in the only Fall Classic Barry Bonds ever participated. 

In an article about catchers, it’s important to appreciate the Molina’s. Bengie was traded from San Francisco to Texas midway through 2010, giving him a second ring for his career. Middle brother Jose was Bengie’s backup in 2002 and Posada’s in 2009 while Yadier added two more with the Cards. There’s no more decorated set of brothers in MLB history. And who knows how many they’ll win as managers once they get their shot. 

In the past three seasons, however, the team to hoist the Commissioner's Trophy did so with a platoon behind the plate. Chicago did so with Wilson Contreras shouldering most of the load and Ross adding timely offense to kill the curse. Houston won in 2017 combining former All-Star Brian McCann with Paul Bunyan’s nephew Evan Gattis to slug them to a Title and Boston won again last year with the combination of Sunny Leon and Christian Vazquez. Boston’s catching combination was the least effective of the past three in the World Series, but powered the Sox throughout the American League playoffs. 

Arizona leaned on Damien Miller for most of the 2001 season and neither he, nor backup Rod Barajas were outstanding in the postseason. In the wake of 9/11, everything was off-kilter and a lights-out Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling didn’t need a lot of offense. 

That brings us to why the Minnesota Twins will win the World Series in 2019. 

Mitch Garver is proving with every at-bat that he’s one of the elite backstops in Major League Baseball. Garver is leading all catchers in slugging percentage and ranks in the top ten among at the position in OPS and Home Runs. Taking into consideration that he’s spent roughly half the season injured or in a rotation with Jason Castro and Willians Astudillo, those numbers are even scarier. Hot catchers are a lot like goalies standing on their heads in hockey - once you get on a roll in the postseason, you tend to stick with your horse. With his batting average hovering around .300, Garver has a knack for clutch hits in big spots and could absolutely take over a tight game with one swing of his bat. Maybe even a series. 

Even if Garver is average in a playoff series, the Twins have shown to have depth to compete at the position. Jason Castro has been powerful to the gaps and is proving to be a tough out each at-bat. He’s tied with Garver’s eight doubles and has 10 home runs of his own. Castro’s veteran left-handed bat off the bench is a benefit to have in any situation should Garver play outstanding and will offer a great change of pace with little drop-off when replacing the stud in the starting lineup. Adding the Swiss Army Tortuga to the mix only makes the opponents squirm with more fervor. Astudillo is the king of bloops and bleeders, with the ability to turn on his hips on every pitch. He will find a spot in the line-up one way or another, but the versatility Rocco has at his disposal is impressive. 

Admittedly, some of the other MLB contenders boast solid offensive players behind the plate. Christian Vazquez was on a tear headed into the All-Star break and has the experience of winning a ring last season under his belt. Yasmani Grandal is likely the most complete catcher in today’s game, with 53 walks and 49 RBI’s the Brewers are hoping Grandal can continue his postseason success from a year ago. Gary Sanchez has sexy numbers after playing in that bandbox in the Bronx but is a below average defensive player and more of a liability as the screws get tighter. Roberto Perez also has had some nice numbers but that team in Cleveland is ready to fall apart at any moment. 

The common denominator between these teams is the wear on each of these numerical studs. Grandal, Vazquez and JT Realmuto lead the league in crouched games with Sanchez and Perez not far behind. Because of the rotation used by Baldelli throughout the season, Garver and Castro have split time virtually down the middle, allowing both to stay fresh and able to smack long-balls throughout October. 

Bottom line, more often than not, the catcher playing the best in October comes home with the hardware. Garver is a star on the cusp, breaking out alongside Kepler and Polanco. And Buxton, finally. Nelson Cruz is thirsty for a Championship after getting so close with the Rangers and CJ Cron had been hotter than anyone before his injury. This team is a solid trade deadline away from not only contending, but winning. 

You might think I’m crazy, and I very well might be even if I’m right. But this article will be here to remind you what I said, long before they take the whole fuckin’ thing. 

But I knew that as soon as they signed Marwin Gonzalez. 

Andy Keenan is also a stand-up comedian - tell him what you think of this article on Twitter @boutdamn - and be honest

Sports, BaseballAndy Keenan