The Minnesota Twins beat the odds in 2017, making an improbable run to the playoffs just a year after losing 103 games.
How did they get there?
From speedy center fielder Byron Buxton to resurgent first baseman Joe Mauer, plenty of Twins favorites stepped up this season.
Check out our picks for the best Twins players of the season.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER - Brian Dozier
Dozier didn't quite reach the heights he did in 2016, but the veteran second baseman and fan favorite delivered another stellar season. He led the Twins with 34 home runs and trailed only injured slugger Miguel Sano with an .859 OPS, while driving in 93 runs, 25 more than anyone else. Dozier upped his game after the All-Star break, hitting .301 the rest of the way after batting .242 during the first half and going from 13 home runs in 81 games to 21 dingers in 71 games. He thrived in the leadoff spot and reached an obscure milestone in the postseason, becoming the first player ever to homer in the first at-bat of the first game of the playoffs.
USA TODAY SportsJordan Johnson
CY YOUNG - Ervin Santana
Santana's slider failed him in the wild-card game, but his dominance before the All-Star break and his steadiness on the mound throughout the season formed the core of the Twins' rotation. The soft-spoken 34-year-old embarrassed hitters in the first half, posting a 1.75 ERA through the first two months of the season and carrying a 2.99 ERA into the break. His numbers rose a bit towards the end of the season, but Santana remained one of the most reliable arms in the American League throughout. He led the majors with five complete games and three shutouts (tied with Cleveland Indians ace Corey Kluber).
Associated PressKelvin Kuo
TOP MOMENT – Joe Mauer’s walk-off home run (May 5)
With two outs in the ninth inning of a tied home game against the Boston Red Sox, Mauer sent a shoulder-high pitch into the Twins bullpen in left-center field for his first career walk-off homer. The 34-year-old pumped his fist around the bases (circa 1991 Kirby Puckett) before getting doused by his teammates at home plate -- and later, carried off the field like a rag doll in the arms of Miguel Sano. Since the walk-off blast was early in the year, it set the tone for the Twins playoff season and Mauer’s resurgence at the plate. In the words of Joe himself: “That’s pretty good … that’s pretty good right there.”
USA TODAY SportsJesse Johnson
BEST WIN – Twins 8, Indians 6 (Sept. 26)
Minnesota was days away from clinching the second American League wild card, but after the Twins twice squandered two-run leads to Cleveland on Sept. 26, doubts began to creep back in the minds of fans. Minnesota had a five-game lead with six contests left in the year … there’s no way it misses the playoffs, right? Right. With one out in the top of the eighth inning, Dozier pummeled an 0-1 cutter from Cleveland’s Bryan Shaw into the seats for a three-run home run, enough to give the Twins the lead for good and all but lock up the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2010. (That would officially come the following night … thanks White Sox.)
MOST IMPROVED - Byron Buxton
Buxton's coming out party finally arrived, and it was a rager. Hitting coach James Rowson and manager Paul Molitor worked with the gifted center fielder on his mechanics, eliminating Buxton's leg kick and shortening his stride. The tweaks worked wonders. From July 1 on Buxton hit .309/.358/.536 with 12 home runs, eight doubles and five triples, numbers that would eventually help the Twins offset the loss of slugger Miguel Sano and power them to playoffs.
USA TODAY SportsBrad Rempel
UNSUNG HERO - Joe Mauer
After a few years of quietly stellar defense and middling production at the plate, the Mauer of old returned in 2017. Seemingly re-energized by the playoff chase, Mauer hit above .300 for the first time since 2013 -- the last time he won a Silver Slugger award or appeared in an All-Star Game -- but his play down the stretch recalled the 34-year-old's days as an MVP contender. Mauer hit .340 from Aug. 1 to the end of the season while posting Gold Glove-caliber numbers on defense, providing the Twins with a steady bat as they battled for the second wild-card spot. His $184 million contract -- which expires after next season -- is a sore spot with certain Twins fans, but Mauer's return to form was essential to the Twins' bounce-back season.
USA TODAY SportsMarilyn Indahl
TOP NEWCOMER - Bartolo Colon
If that really was Big Sexy's last ride (he says it's not, and honestly we kind of believe him) then baseball will be a little less fun next season. The 44-year-old's velocity may have dipped, but his pinpoint accuracy (and sheer Bartolo-ness) propped up the back of the Twins' rotation when Hector Santiago and Adalberto Mejia faltered. He finished with an unremarkable 5.18 ERA in 15 starts, but the 44-year-old super-veteran had enough left to help keep the Twins afloat, going six-plus innings nine times and providing the Twins with valuable innings down the stretch.
COMEBACK KID – Kyle Gibson
Gibson is far from a “kid” at age 29, but his consistency on the mound in the final two months of the season really did come out of nowhere. Gibby was optioned to Triple-A not once but twice – most recently on July 25 – but once he was recalled, the right-hander was everything the Twins needed as a consistent starter behind Santana and Jose Berrios. Minnesota won nine of Gibson’s final 11 starts, thanks to his 3.55 ERA down the stretch and career-best 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings.
USA TODAY SportsBrad Rempel
GOLD GLOVE - Byron Buxton
Buxton's bat finally caught up to his glove, but his feats of athleticism in center field remain one of the biggest thrills in baseball. Buxton did it all in the outfield and is a favorite to take home his first Gold Glove after recording a 2.8 defensive WAR, second-best among all American League players. What's more: he finally claimed the title of Fastest Man in Baseball per StatCast's Sprint Speed metric, which clocked his peak sprint speed on the base paths at 30.2 feet per second.
USA TODAY SportsAdam Hunger
TOP ROOKIE - Trevor Hildenberger
The 26-year-old reliever was something of an unknown when he was called up to the bigs in late June. The 22nd-round draft pick in 2014 had progressed through Minnesota's farm system, posting stellar ERAs and WHIPs throughout despite limited innings. He immediately helped solidify the Twins' bullpen. Appearing in 37 games, Hildenberger had a 3.21 ERA with a 1.048 WHIP -- walking just six batter while striking out 44 in 42 innings. He was put into many high-leverage roles and even notched his first career save.
Associated PressCarlos Osorio
MR. VERSATILE - Chris Gimenez
Minnesota's backup catcher not only helped save the bullpen by pitching in six blowout games, but he also played first base, left field and third base, even making two starts at first and one in the outfield. While his pitching was so-so, Gimenez fielded his other positions flawlessly. He made just one error in 2017, and that was at catcher.