When the world was shouting, "Cleveland!" I believed in you, Minnesota.
When Francisco Lindor went down before the season even began, I was still in your corner.
And when Corey Kluber broke his ulna and the rest of the world started to see what I had seen, I was right there by your side, waving in the masses with orange cones like an air-traffic controller.
As of Wednesday night, we finally had our smooth landing. The Minnesota Twins, after a sprint to first, a summer of blown leads and divisional angst, and a late pull-away, are your AL Central champions, and the rest of the world is now forced to agree. With facts. It's a fact now.
Though Rocco Baldelli's first season at the helm, refocused around a newfound emphasis on Bombas, went swimmingly, my initial prediction was two-fold. I saw Minnesota's consistent, relentless lineup, believed it was sustainable, and thought Kyle Gibson and Jose Berrios would provide enough pitching.
But, concurrently, I believed the Cleveland Indians were about to be entering the Season from Hell. Sometimes, that means disaster at every turn. But often, it simply means a series of rises and falls, boisterous joy followed by an immediate let-down, and I...I can usually sense when one is coming. When the Tribe repeatedly fought against extending their payroll all offseason, declining to make necessary supplementary moves to reinforce a multi-time division champion, I saw it coming as karmic payback for letting their fans down.
When the front office told fans to enjoy Francisco Lindor while they still could, I went from "confident" to "assured" in my preseason pick.
Of course, the Twins had to hold up their end of the bargain by making major offensive strides in many key spots, and I don't have to tell you they did. Max Kepler leveled up and embraced the clutch gene, hitting 36 homers and knocking in 90 runs after receiving his prescient extension.
Nelson Cruz predictably proved to be the best one-year deal of the offseason (isn't he always?!), bringing his relentless, annual total of 40 homers to the table. Miguel let it Sano 33 times, remaining enigmatic (in many ways, the Gary Sanchez of St. Paul), but uncorking his trademark pop at opportune times. Luis Arraez will not win Rookie of the Year, but he was objectively the best rookie hitter in the league. Does that make sense?
Now, an October date with the New York Yankees is on the horizon. The two teams who took the most clear advantage of the juiced ball by displaying their enormous power are set to lock horns for what feels like the 30th straight postseason. This usually doesn't go Minnesota's way, but...this Twins team is uniquely poised to take advantage, more so than they've been since the days when Johan Santana used to annually capture Game 1, before the rest of the series unraveled. Both teams hit homers. The first two games will be played at Cozy Yankee Stadium.
In October, when the competition on the mound bears down, the most reliable way to add runs to the scoreboard is by hoping to run into a fastball and break the tension. Being "too homer reliant" is not a real thing; what's more likely to happen against Justin Verlander, one singular blast or four consecutive singles?
The Bomba Squad can do it. But even if they don't, rest assured they backed up all of the hype, and my belief in their roster construction. As Cleveland continues to backslide, pondering a Kluber trade and a Lindor farewell, this won't be the last you'll hear from this team's infrastructure.