The 1987 Twins were a memorable and unique team; memorable in that they brought the first major sports championship to the Twin Cities area, unique in that, on paper at least, they really weren’t all that special of a team.
In reality, the run the Twins made to the 1987 Championship was a function of luck and division placement. They would have finished in fifth place had they been in the AL East – 13 games behind the division-winning Detroit Tigers. They were outscored by opponents 806-786, and finished below league average in both OPS+ (97) and ERA+ (99). While the Metrodome provided most of the positive memories during the season, the team won just 29 games on the road.
The narrative of 1987 was that the Twins found two things they were looking for that ultimately put them over the hump. While the acquisitions of Jeff Reardon and Dan Gladden did fill a couple of historically large holes for the franchise, the fact is that neither was particularly good in 1987. Gladden’s season OPS was .673 – close to Punto territory, while Reardon was terrible in the first few months of the season, carrying a double-digit ERA as late as May 20 (in fairness, Reardon did turn things around and was very good from June on, but he dug a deep hole for himself early).
The truth is that the team won with an incredible record in the teflon confines, on the strength of two starting pitchers (Viola and Blyleven) and a powerful offense, a loose club house with a well-liked manager, and with the help of a terribly mediocre division. They got hot at exactly the right time – in mid-October, defeating the heavily-favored Tigers and an injury-depleted Cardinals team to claim the title. They were a pretty good, not great, team that might have fit the character of the upper Midwest better than any other team could have (“how ’bout them Twins?” “can’t complain”) – a group of over-achievers who worked hard, got some breaks along the way, but always enjoyed the moment.
An honest assessment wouldn’t put the 1987 Twins anywhere near the top of the list of greatest teams in franchise history. Still, it was a special season, one more important for the memories it created than for the on-field performance of the team.