In trying to determine if the Twins should be in full-on sell mode as they hit the All-Star break, I stumbled into an interesting fact: In each of the past six times the Twins made the playoffs, they trailed at the break. Here is the breakdown:
• 2003: Twins were 7½ games out of first place at the break and ended up winning the division by four games.
• 2004: Twins were a half-game out of first at the break and ended up winning the division by nine games (and leading by as much as 13½ games in September).
• 2006: Twins were 11 games out of first place at the break and ended up winning the division by one game (and in dramatic fashion by overtaking Detroit on the final day).
• 2009: Twins were four games out of first place at the break and ended up rallying to tie Detroit at the end before winning in a memorable Game 163 to take the division.
• 2010: Twins were 3½ games out of first place at the break and ended up winning the division by six games.
• 2017: Twins were 2½ games out of first place and 1½ games out of a wild-card spot at the break. They ended up losing the division race by 17 games to Cleveland but won the AL’s second wild-card berth.
In most of those cases the Twins were within shouting distance of the lead. And in every year except 2003 they at least had a winning record at the break.
That 2006 team, which staged a comeback for the ages after starting 25-33 and going 71-33 the rest of the year, is a bit of an anomaly.
The 2006 Twins were already on a Francisco Liriano-aided roll by the time the break came around, but they were still seemingly buried behind both division-leading Detroit (11 games behind) and the second-place White Sox (nine games behind, and leading the wild-card race at 57-31).
The most apt optimistic comparison between a past Twins team and the current one comes from the 2003 squad.
In 2003, the Twins were 44-49 and trailed the flawed Royals by 7½ games at the break. The wild card was seemingly out of reach, with Boston 11 games clear of the Twins and several other teams between them. But the AL Central was weak — no team aside from the Royals (51-41) was above .500.
Sound familiar? That’s nearly identical to this year’s situation, only the Twins are chasing Cleveland this year.
The Indians are more formidable than the 2003 Royals, but Cleveland entered play Sunday with the second-worst bullpen ERA (5.32) in baseball. If Andrew Miller can’t save them if and when he returns, the Indians — even with six All-Stars and plenty of talent — are more vulnerable than imagined.
So what should the Twins do? Longtime fans will recall their 2003 season was boosted tremendously with the acquisition of Shannon Stewart at the break. Stewart hit .322 for the Twins after the trade, lifting them to a 46-23 record post-break and a 90-win season.
It’s kind of tempting when you think of it that way … but even at the end of this exercise, the conclusion is that unless something dramatic happens in the first week after the break, the Twins should be sellers.
Finding at least one player via a trade who can help them in 2019 and beyond is far more likely than catching fire and winning the division.
But don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done.