Jorge Polanco, Nelson Cruz and Miguel Sano all homered in Game 1 of the 2019 American League Division Series against the Yankees. It wasn't quite enough, as the Twins fell 10-4 in New York. That was consecutive postseason loss No. 14 of their current 18-game skid.
Home runs were a staple of that year's edition as the Bomba Squad belted 307 of them during the regular season, setting a major league record. What foiled the Twins that night was their 1-for-9 effort with runners in scoring position. The Twins had seven hits and six walks in the game and should have scored more than four runs.
Before Game 2, ESPN's Marly Rivera approached me and said, "Let's go talk to the Latin players about the offense. I will translate." We went onto the field and started chatting to Twins players who were still lamenting the fruitless at-bats from Game 1. When Sano was asked about the offense, he didn't hold back.
"We have lost our minds," Sano said.
That might explain why the Twins haven't won a postseason game since 2004. We obsess over the pitchers they have sent to the mound, demanded that the Pohlad family do more to land an ace starter who can bulldog their way to low-scoring victories. That has not been the problem. It's been the offense.
Past Twins playoff teams have been comfortable with their starting lineups only to switch personalities — from productive to putrid — in big games. In these short series, when the lights are brightest, they couldn't hit a cow in the rear with a shovel. They have entered the playoffs with lineups that have contained MVPs, batting champions and speedsters. Yet the professional at-bats dwindled and the head-scratching offensive performances have led to early playoff exits.
Remember how the Twins offense was unwatchable during the first half of this season? That's what they looked like over their past 17 postseason games. The 18-game playoff losing streak began in Game 2 of the 2004 ALDS, when they lost 7-6 in 12 innings to the Yankees. Since that game, the Twins have scored 42 runs in 17 games, an average of 2.47 runs a game. A pitching staff consisting of Johan Santana and 10 clones couldn't overcome such absurd offense. When Twins hitters reach the postseason, they lose their minds.
So the bar is low for the 2023 Twins as they prepare for their third postseason under manager Rocco Baldelli. Pitching won't be a problem. Brian Duensing won't be needed to make an emergency start in Yankee Stadium as a rookie. Pablo López and Sonny Gray can pitch with anyone.
What Baldelli must be thankful for is that the major league season doesn't end at the All-Star break. The Twins had a OPS of .709 before the break. Yuck. Since the break it is an impressive .803. The Twins were horrific with the bases loaded during the first half. Then Royce Lewis happened. The kid hit four grand slams in what seemed like a span of 72 hours. Matt Wallner added two, one of which landed in the Mississippi.
Lewis, Wallner, Alex Kirilloff and Edouard Julien have energized the offense despite their inexperience. Willi Castro brings speed and versatility off the bench. Michael A. Taylor, with 21 homers, can run into one now and then. Carlos Correa, who had an .840 OPS in September before landing on the injured list with plantar fasciitis, will be ready for the postseason. Ryan Jeffers entered Saturday with an .859 OPS that was best among catchers with at least 300 plate appearances. Donovan Solano can eat lefthanders for breakfast.
Collectively, the Twins have mastered the Three True Outcomes in baseball. They entered Saturday leading in strikeouts, fourth in walks and fourth in home runs. They exemplify the modern baseball offense.
Maybe that's the formula that will help them score a few runs in one of their playoff games this week.