The Twins are experiencing a season of injury devastation unprecedented in franchise history.
They have the most talented center fielder in the game, yet have played six different players in center field, including a couple who had never played there before. They have called up players you have never heard of, unless you are an employee of the Wichita Wind Surge.
Sometimes, injury luck can decide a team's fate, and that appears to be the case with the 2021 Twins. That doesn't excuse the performances of several key Twins, including two in particular whose failures could create long-term problems.
Yes, the bullpen has been the team's biggest problem, but the 2019 and 2020 Twins won division titles while piecing together bullpens during the season. If the Twins had produced enough offensively, particularly in the late innings of close games, they might have overcome a few of the blown saves.
Yes, the starting rotation has been disappointing, and the fielding has been spotty.
But this is a team built around offensive production and particularly power hitting. The Twins have spent most of their free-agent money on position players.
In professional sports, you follow the money to discern what a team values, and where to assess blame.
The Twins employ two players making $10 million or more on long-term contracts: third baseman Josh Donaldson and first baseman Miguel Sano.
The Twins signed Donaldson to a four-year contract worth a franchise-record $92 million. He has two years remaining on the deal after this season, and that is worrisome. Donaldson has yet to start living up to that deal. In 2020, he played in only 43 games and missed the playoffs because of a calf injury.
He was signed to add a savvy, veteran bat to a young and productive lineup. He has not produced.
His OPS in four years in Oakland, when he was learning to hit and playing in a pitcher-friendly ballpark, was .805. In Toronto, over four years, it was .931, as he became a star.
In Cleveland it was .902, and in Atlanta it was .900.
In Minnesota, only after a three-hit, two-homer game on Thursday, it is .813.
More power, production and clutch hitting from Donaldson might not have saved the 2021 season, but it may have mitigated the utter collapse we're witnessing.
The Twins signed Sano to a three-year deal worth $30 million. He has one guaranteed year remaining, at $9.25 million in 2022, and then a team option for $14 million. At this moment, it's hard to imagine the Twins being willing to pay a 10th of that.
Donaldson might be struggling because of his calf, or his age (35). Sano has no such excuses.
Sano is healthy, and for once he did not experience a strange or embarrassing incident in the offseason. No deep cut to his heel, no driving over a cop's foot. At 28, in the prime of his prime, Sano should have been ready to reprise his 2019 season, when his OPS was a career-best .923.
Instead, Sano has stubbornly refused to conduct professional at-bats. His OPS is a career-worst .645. His on-base percentage is a career-worst .270. His batting average is .154 and while that is not a particularly important statistic, no ballplayer at any level or position other than pitcher can survive hitting .154.
When the Twins are playing Kyle Garlick in center or Willians Astudillo in right, and when their pitching staff is battered physically and statistically, it's up to the big-money players to carry the team.
While this season could be a one-off in terms of injuries and luck, what the Twins should worry about is that almost every player they've invested in heavily no longer looks like a sure thing.
Donaldson? Disappointing. Max Kepler? Disappointing. Sano? Unwatchable. Jorge Polanco? Like Kepler, he has had one good big-league season.
The next time we see the Twins in contention, they may be relying on their next wave of core players: Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, Royce Lewis, Jhoan Duran and Jordan Balazovic. It would be helpful if Donaldson and/or Sano could contribute, too.