Bold = Player new to Minnesota in 1988
SP Frank Viola 24-7 2.64 ERA 154 ERA+ 1.14 WHIP 2.95 FIP 4.7 PW 25 WS 7.0 WAR
Simply put, Frank Viola was the best pitcher in baseball in 1988.
“Frankie makes it easy out there,” Twins center fielder Kirby Puckett said, “We just sit back and play defense”
Viola had what was considered to be the best change up in the game. He learned it from Johnny Podres in the minor leagues in 1981, and spent four years working on it before he finally used it in a game. Regular usage of the pitch began in 1987, and it had the effect of making Viola’s 88-90 mph fastball look much better. The only real hiccup for Viola came between wins number 19 and 20. He admitted that he let the hoopla surrounding the magic number 20 get to him, and it took him three tries to reach the milestone. At the end of the season, Viola was rewarded with a Cy Young award, the first in team history since Jim Perry won the award in 1970.
SP Bert Blyleven 10-17 5.43 ERA 75 ERA+ 1.40 WHIP 3.66 FIP -3.1 PW 4 WS -0.9 WAR
After a better-than-expected 1987 season in which Blyleven was one of the few reliable Twins’ pitchers, he came into a contract year with high expectations. Whether it was due to the ongoing, at times ugly negotiations or the nagging injuries that are par for the course for a pitcher in his late 30’s, Blyleven not only failed to live up to expectations; he turned in the worst season of his 20-year-career. July must have been a nightmare. That is the month when the contract negotiations broke down between Blyleven and the Twins, and also the month that he went 0-5 with a 9.20 ERA. In the end, Blyleven didn’t like some of the language in the contract Andy MacPhail offered, and decided to leave the two-year, $2 million deal on the table. Blyleven was traded to California, who played their games about 10-minutes from where he grew up. The deal brought, among others, a young prospect named Paul Sorrento to Minnesota.
SP Allan Anderson 16-9 2.45 ERA 166 ERA+ 1.17 WHIP 3.57 FIP 3.8 PW 19 WS 4.9 WAR
Anderson had a very good season, one that is likely overshadowed historically by his future troubles, and by his decision to sit out his final start in order to hang on to the ERA title.
SP Charlie Lea 7-7 4.85 ERA 84 ERA+ 1.58 WHIP 4.83 FIP -1.2 PW 4 WS -0.3 WAR
The Twins signed Charlie Lea prior to the 1988 season in hopes that the veteran of six seasons in Montreal would be able to come back from the arm problems that forced him to miss the bulk of the last three seasons. At one point, Lea had been the starter for the National League in the All Star Game, but the Twins were just looking for him to be a decent pitcher. Depending on what perspective you take, Lea’s short stint with the Twins was probably a success. He was able to pitch one more seasons in the majors, and the Twins were able to have a somewhat reliable bottom-of-the-rotation starter.
SP Freddie Toliver 7-6 4.24 ERA 96 ERA+ 1.47 WHIP 3.86 FIP -0.1 PW 6 WS 1.0 WAR
Toliver was drafted and signed by the Yankees out of high school in 1979. He spent almost a decade in the minor leagues, making only occasional appearances in the majors, mostly for the Phillies. The Twins acquired him in exchange for a minor leaguer prior to the 1988 season and were happy with his production it what turned out the be his busiest major league season. The Twins traded him the the Padres early in the 1989 season, and Toliver did not see much time in the majors after that, though he did make a short comeback with Pittsburgh in 1993.
SP Les Straker 2-5 3.92 ERA 104 ERA+ 1.34 WHIP 4.38 FIP 0.1 PW 4 WS 0.8 WAR
Straker was unable to follow up on his rookie success, and spent most of the 1988 season on the disabled list. The Venezuelan did not return to the major leagues after 1988. His name popped up a couple of years ago when the Twins were trying to organize a reunion of the 1987 World Series team and nobody was quite sure how to find him (he did attend the reunion).
CL Jeff Reardon 2-4 2.47 ERA 164 ERA+ 1.14 WHIP 3.00 FIP 2.3 PW 13 WS 2.5 WAR
Reardon, much like teammate Dan Gladden, got more than his fair share of credit for the 1987 World Championship, but actually had a much better season in 1988. So good was Reardon that he actually garnered some MVP votes, finishing 15th on the final ballot. Interestingly, though he was fifth among pitchers in MVP voting, he was not named on any Cy Young ballots. Reardon’s season stands as one of the best for a closer in Twins’ history, but may well be overlooked due to the 1987 team success, and the fact that Dennis Eckersley was in his closing prime during the same season.
RP Juan Berenguer 8-4 3.96 103 OPS+ 1.35 WHIP 3.56 FIP 0.3 PW 8 WS 0.8 WAR
RP Keith Atherton 7-5 3.41 ERA 120 ERA+ 1.18 WHIP 4.34 FIP 0.9 PW 7 WS 1.1 WAR
RP Mark Portugal 3-3 4.53 ERA 90 ERA+ 1.34 WHIP 5.11 FIP -0.3 PW 3 WS -0.1 WAR
Behind Reardon, the Twins had a group with a lot of major league experience that made up one of the best bullpens in baseball. Still, of the group above, only Berenguer remained with the Twins beyond 1988. Atherton was traded after the season in what turned out the be a good move. He only pitched a handful of games after and was out of the major leagues for good following the 1989 season. Portugal got the chance to be a starter in Houston the next year, and actually put together a pretty good run, including 1993 when he went 18-4 with a 2.77 ERA for the Astros.