In 2010, Justin Morneau took a knee to the head in Toronto when he was at his best, leading to the end of his Twins career.
In 2011, Joe Mauer suffered through a mystery malady, and a sure Hall of Famer began a decade of steady regression.
The Twins haven’t been a high-quality team since their two most important stars had their career paths altered.
That’s a fact, not an excuse. The Twins have spent nearly a decade failing to recover.
As recently as the spring of 2011, the Twins could be described as a model midmarket franchise. They had qualified for the playoffs in six of nine seasons. They featured at least a few premier players, and they had built a beautiful ballpark.
Factoring in their latest disastrous season, the Twins have made the playoffs once in eight seasons since Mariano Rivera got Danny Valencia to fly out to end the divisional playoffs on Oct. 9, 2010.
The Twins have recorded two winning records since that moment — totaling 83 victories in 2015 and 85 last season.
When fans scream that the Twins’ front office surrendered by trading one-fifth of the roster, it should be noted that surrender seems to be a logical strategy, given the quality of baseball we’ve seen this decade.
The 83 victories in 2015 did not constitute true contention. The Twins finished the season 12 games out of first place. The season was considered a success only because it marked a drastic improvement from the utter failures of the previous four seasons.
The 85 victories last year earned the Twins a wild-card playoff spot, but the manner in which the 85 victories were achieved should be re-examined in light of the current team’s failures.
The 2017 team was 52-56 on Aug. 5. With occasional help from Bartolo Colon, who would finish the season with a 6.48 ERA, the Twins put together a miraculous run of baseball based on the always-unreliable formula of outscoring opponents.
Jorge Polanco, Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario and Eduardo Escobar produced like they never had before in the big leagues, and Brian Dozier performed as well as he ever had.
The notion that those two months of excellence were harbingers of a Twins resurgence was destroyed quickly in 2018.
Let’s take a realistic view of this decade of Twins baseball: The team has played like a true contender for two months out of the past eight years. And those two months of contention were the result of a formula that no big-league team would ever rely on — almost an entire lineup overachieving at the same time.
The entertaining late-season run of 2017 was the baseball equivalent of hitting on 18 in blackjack and getting a three. You can enjoy the winnings, but you shouldn’t adopt the tactic as a long-term financial strategy.
I asked Twins manager Paul Molitor if he thinks his team is close to turning the corner ... or not so close. He said he didn’t think it would be constructive to answer end-of-season questions in mid-August, then said, “For me, I don’t want to think I’d head into any season without a chance, so that’s kind of where I’ll leave that for now.”
Do the Twins have a chance to turn the corner? Of course. They have talented young pitchers, baseball’s most precious commodity. They have immensely talented young players like Miguel Sano and Buxton, who could belatedly emerge as stars, just as Torii Hunter and Johan Santana did.
But what this season ultimately proved is that ownership was right when it brought in a front office to revamp the team’s baseball operations and analytics.
Two months of excellence out of eight seasons? Considering the presence of a supposedly beneficial new ballpark, this stretch has been every bit as bad as the eight straight losing seasons that ended the 1990s, unless you’re content to walk around Target Field with a craft beer, ignoring the game.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org