Byron Buxton's injury history, and the Twins' history of expressing optimism about Buxton's health even in the face of past evidence to the contrary, generated some well-earned skepticism when the Twins star was pulled from a Sept. 1 St. Paul Saints game while on a rehab assignment.
Buxton, who last played for the Twins on Aug. 1 and had already missed a month with a right hamstring strain, departed that rehab assignment with soreness in the right knee that has given him ongoing trouble.
And yet the Twins insisted there was still a chance Buxton could return this season, and that this was only a temporary setback.
The more cynical among us assumed that, instead, Buxton was done for the year. But there he was Thursday in St. Paul, beginning another rehab assignment as promised — and as La Velle E. Neal III and I talked about on Friday's Daily Delivery podcast.
More than a week after getting a cortisone shot in that right knee, Buxton batted second and was the designated hitter at CHS Field. He was hitless in his first three at bats, with two strikeouts, but in his fourth plate appearance Buxton grounded an RBI single up the middle to cap a four-run Saints seventh inning in a 4-2 win over Toledo.
To show the Twins that he might be able to contribute in a more meaningful setting, though, Buxton has precious little time.
The Saints' regular season ends Sunday, at which point Buxton could easily be added to the Twins' roster for the final week of their regular season. Then it's the playoffs, which will almost certainly will start Oct. 3 at Target Field for the soon-to-be AL Central champs.
That's only a handful of games before the postseason for Buxton to not only show that he's healthy but hitting well enough to be worthy of cracking the lineup — even if it's just in a designated hitter capacity. Between May 1 and his Aug. 1 injury, Buxton hit .184 with a .662 OPS.
In an interesting contrast to past years, when the Twins were essentially a playoff team when Buxton played and a bottom-feeder when he didn't, this year their sprint to the finish came without Buxton. They were 55-53 with a slim two-game division lead when he departed in early August; they are 26-19 since then.
Right now, if listing the most important injuries and potential postseason availability among Buxton, Carlos Correa and Royce Lewis, I would put Lewis at No. 1, Correa a close No. 2 and Buxton a distant No. 3.
But maybe Buxton can change my mind in a hurry.
Here are four more things to know today:
*I went down a 2022 Vikings rabbit hole on today's podcast, marveling at the memory of just how many of their 11 one-score wins came in absurd fashion.
*Thursday Night Football wasn't much of a game (the 49ers crushed the Giants), but the appearance of "Capt. Andrew Luck" was tremendous.
*Vederian Lowe, traded by the Vikings before the season to the Patriots, started Week 2 and played 74 snaps at offensive tackle for New England. He had a Pro Football Focus grade of 49.6, though, so maybe the Vikings knew what they were doing?
*Some interesting perspectives here on the feasibility of a Kirk Cousins trade, though obviously we are many games away from that even being a possibility.