Twins owner Jim Pohlad sat in his suite at Target Field on Wednesday and watched something that didn’t occur nearly enough for him in 2018 — a Twins victory.
The Twins beat Detroit on a chilly autumn evening in front of an announced crowd of 21,316 that looked half that number. Even Pohlad’s spacious suite was down in attendance — he was there alone.
It’s what happens in September when a non-contending team is playing out the string in a season of unmet expectations.
Fresh off a wild-card berth in 2017, the Twins appeared to fortify their roster with a trade for starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi and free-agent signings such as starter Lance Lynn, reliever Fernando Rodney and designated hitter Logan Morrison to bolster a team with young, emerging talents.
Then the Twins ended April with a 9-15 record, and they never recovered.
“There were a lot of un-fun games to watch,” Pohlad said.
“Our record went wrong. There’s a lot of extenuating circumstances, but none of which were unique to the Twins. They happen in baseball. We didn’t compensate. We are very unhappy with the results of this season.”
The Twins are not chalking up the season to bad luck.
“There’s no way around it that it is a step backward,” said Derek Falvey, the team’s chief baseball officer. “I don’t think you want to sugarcoat it. We clearly had some expectations where the core of our team would be at the end of this year and with the combination of guys, from a health standpoint or a performance standpoint, didn’t quite get to where we needed them to get.
“We would have hoped we would have been further along now than where we are.”
Staff ace Ervin Santana had finger surgery but was supposed to return by May 1; instead, he missed the entire first half and ended up pitching only 25 innings. Shortstop Jorge Polanco tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug and missed the first 80 games of the season.
The cornerstones of the franchise’s revival, third baseman Miguel Sano and center fielder Byron Buxton, basically were invisible. They both got off to terrible starts, came down with injuries and ended up having lost seasons.
“You have to find a way,” manager Paul Molitor said, “even when you’re facing some things that potentially, at least in short-term situations, will set you back. You have to overcome those.”
Falvey and Levine traded Lynn, Rodney, Zach Duke, Eduardo Escobar, Ryan Pressly and Brian Dozier to contenders near the trade deadline, effectively giving up on the season.
And now Pohlad’s ears are open as he meets with Falvey and Levine to discuss the franchise’s immediate future.
“We really encourage our executive team to make recommendations,” Pohlad said. “And we don’t ever want to constrain them from doing that. And it’s my personal goal to always support those recommendations.”
The team took an interesting tack with Buxton and Sano. Buxton was allowed to play with a broken left toe, even as he was struggling to find any semblance of offense. Sano willingly went to Florida for several weeks to lose weight but is having problems with his lower left leg that date to a year ago. The Twins have been searching for a director of athletic performance to oversee the medical staff since Falvey was hired, and those efforts are expected to intensify this offseason.
The coaching staff will be examined. After being traded to Houston, Pressly spoke highly of the Astros’ ability to help him post an 0.81 ERA, and that touched some nerves with the Twins.
Buxton was miffed when he wasn’t called up in September, leaving him 13 service days shy of gaining free agency a year sooner. Falvey said he has had several conversations with Buxton since then and said the 24-year-old is “in a good place.”
The club also plans to check in with Sano every seven to 10 days during the offseason to make sure he is working on his conditioning. Falvey said the growth of the franchise is tied to Sano and Buxton as much as to a trade or signing a free agent.
After a season that went haywire early and never got much better, the Twins are looking everywhere for solutions.
“I heard somebody say that you can either lose or you can learn,” righthander Kyle Gibson said. “And if you’re not learning while you’re losing, then you’re really losing.”