The worst part of the Twins' 2016 season was not the fact that they went 59–103, which seems impossible. They weren’t supposed to be competitive, though, and while no team sets out to lose 100 games, there’s no practical difference between dropping 103 or 93. Either way, you’re going to be far out of playoff contention, and likely in last place in your division.
No, the worst part of Minnesota’s campaign a year ago was the performance of two players that figure to be a big part of its future: Miguel Sano and Jose Berrios. Sano’s production plummeted from his rookie year, but at least he was able to remain in the majors. Berrios, however, was not so lucky. After getting the call to The Show in late April, nothing went right for the talented young righty. When he got sent back to Triple A Rochester a month later, he had a 10.20 ERA and a 2.13 WHIP in 15 innings in the majors.
Berrios would make his way back to Minnesota in August, again after a dominant run in Triple A, but his second MLB stint was a lot like his first. All told, he finished the season with an 8.02 ERA, 1.87 WHIP and 49 strikeouts against 35 walks in 58 1/3 innings with the Twins. Not exactly the debut season the team was hoping for out of a prospect it rightly believes can one day be the ace of its rotation.
The best part of the Twins' 2017 season to date, other than their surprising climb to the top of the AL Central, is the total reversal of last year’s ultimate disappointment. Sano has been great since Opening Day, and is back on the superstar trajectory he set for himself as a rookie. Berrios appears set to join him in putting last year’s ugly season completely out of view.
Berrios made his second start of the year on Thursday, and it turned into the best outing of his young career. He tossed 7 2/3 shutout innings against the Rockies, allowing just two hits and a walk while striking out 11. It was both his first start without allowing a run and his first career double-digit strikeout game. Last year, Berrios never pitched into the seventh inning across 14 starts. He has made it through 7 2/3 frames in both of his outings this season.
Berrios’s top-of-the-rotation stuff was on full display on Thursday. His curveball had the Rockies off-balance all night and he worked it to both sides of the plate. He was able to get a swing and miss out of Charlie Blackmon on the curve for strike three and then, one inning later, froze Nolan Arenado with it to neutralize one of the premier power hitters in the league. The curve was largely responsible for Berrios getting 20 whiffs out of Colorado, and his fastball sat in the mid-90s all night, even as he approached a career-high 106 pitches.
Berrios was not the first, and will not be the last, player in MLB history to take his lumps in his first year in the majors. His dramatic turnaround in year two, his age-23 season, gives even more reason for optimism in Minnesota.