On July 30, barely a week ago, the Twins made an early-morning trade of left-handed pitcher Jaime Garcia to the Yankees. Garcia, who made just one start (in a victory) for the Twins after being acquired from Atlanta when the Twins were buyers, was suddenly dispatched after a rough week that turned Minnesota into sellers.
At the end of that Sunday, after the Twins had blown a 5-0 lead in a 6-5 loss to the A’s, they were 50-53 — and a full seven games behind Cleveland in the American League Central and a five games behind Kansas City (with two other teams to climb over) in the race for the second Wild Card spot.
A rational person playing the percentages — a description which we must conclude describes Twins bosses Derek Falvey and Thad Levine — would have looked at that situation and decided this season just wasn’t meant to be. A day later, right at the trade deadline, the Twins dealt away closer Brandon Kintzler — a free agent at the end of this season, but a reliever good enough to make this year’s AL All-Star team.
In return for those two veterans, the Twins received three pitching prospects: Zack Littell, Dietrich Enns from the Yankees for Garcia and Tyler Watson from the Nationals.
This wasn’t quite a fire sale, since Brian Dozier and Ervin Santana — arguably the Twins two best players to be mentioned in trade rumors — stayed in Minnesota. But it was a pretty clear message that management had turned the page to 2018 and beyond.
The Twins lost their next game in San Diego to fall to 50-54. What followed, though, was a modest surge: five wins in the next seven games, including three in a row in comeback fashion over the past three games. The Royals, who had been red-hot when the Twins decided to sell, have lost seven of nine. Nobody else in the Wild Card race has really distinguished themselves.
Suddenly, after just one pretty good week, the Twins find themselves back in the chase: just 1.5 games back, albeit as part of a cluster of six teams all within two games of one playoff spot.
Granted, per MLB.com, the Twins still have just a 6.9 percent chance of reaching the postseason. They trail Cleveland by 5.5 games in the division race, so at this point we are almost certainly talking about a Wild Card berth and a long shot at making what is now a one-game playoff with the other Wild Card team.
But it happened so suddenly — as quickly as the Twins had disappeared, they reappeared — that they are now in a fun and awkward position.
The fun part is nobody expects anything of the Twins at this point, and the team appears to be playing with a certain attitude that is both loose and determined as a result. That can be a winning mix.
The awkward part is there will inevitably come a point where the Twins’ depleted bullpen (minus Kintzler, who already has two wins in four scoreless appearances in Washington) or weakened starting rotation (minus Garcia and now with Adelberto Mejia on the disabled list) falters and costs the team a game.
The bullpen has actually been great since the Kintzler trade. Matt Belisle has two saves in the committee approach so far and has been quite good overall lately after some rough early outings. But there will be howls from fans if and when he falters.
If the Twins come up short of the playoffs — which is still the very likely outcome — there will be a nagging curiosity among fans (and maybe even players themselves) what might have happened if they hadn’t suddenly become sellers.
This hot streak will be fun while it lasts, but the second-guessing will be a thing to watch, too.