Now that the dust has settled (and the concrete has DEFINITELY settled) on a 2019 Twins season that saw them hit an MLB-record 307 home runs, top 100 wins for just the second time in franchise history … but still get swept in the playoffs by the Yankees, I had to ask this question: Which of the Twins’ playoff losses since 2002 (eight in all now) were the most disappointing?
This is one part catharsis and one part acknowledgement: If you’ve been disappointed eight times in 18 years, that means the Twins overall have had a pretty good run even if postseason expectations largely have gone unmet. Putting too much emphasis on a few games instead of 162 will drive you crazy. Don’t forget to remember the joy of the seasons.
I’ve gone back and forth on this a few times, but here is my list of eight, in order of least to most disappointing playoff finishes:
8. 2017: Yeah, it stung when the Twins took a 3-0 lead in the wild card game at Yankee Stadium, only to give it all back in the bottom of the first en route to an 8-4 loss. But that team was overmatched and overachieved just to get there, and it was the only one of the eight that made it as a wild card.
7. 2003: The Twins actually won Game 1 of the ALDS at Yankee Stadium that year, but they were outscored 15-3 in losing the next three games. It was frustrating, but New York was just clearly better that year.
6. 2019: It’s disappointing that the Twins were swept. I really didn’t think they would be swept. But when you consider their questionable health and the state of affairs with the starting pitching staff it becomes more explainable. This also feels like the first of a lot of years of contending, which might take even more sting off as time goes on.
5. 2009: It really felt like the Game 163 win over Detroit was the Twins’ World Series that year (and it’s still the best game I’ve ever been to in person). Originally I had this at the No. 8 spot, but I kind of forgot how close Games 2 and 3 of the ALDS sweep against the Yankees were. Game 2 was the Phil Cuzzi game, and even after Joe Mauer was robbed of a double he hit a single. They had the bases loaded with no outs and didn’t score in extra innings. The Yankees won right after that. Game 3 the Twins led 1-0 after six, then had a great chance to rally down 2-1 before Nick Punto was thrown out rounding third. Now I’m mad about 2009 when I never was. That wasn’t the point of this!
4. 2002: Maybe this one should be in the top three because the World Series was a real possibility. Not only did the Twins pull an upset in the ALDS over the favored A’s, but they had home field advantage in the ALCS and took a 1-0 series lead over the Angels before losing four straight. But it feels like that team overachieved, and just getting to that point after so many awful seasons made it a special year.
3. 2010: This was the only time the Twins had the home field advantage edge over the Yankees. It was the first year at Target Field and it had been a very charmed season to that point. The Twins had a 3-0 lead through five innings and were cruising in Game 1. Then the Yankees put up four in the sixth and two in the seventh for a 6-4 win. The Twins again led early in Game 2 but the Yankees came back for a win. Game 3 in Yankee Stadium was a breeze. Just like that, it was over.
2. 2006: Twins fans always remember this as the year they were swept by the underdog A’s in the ALDS despite having the batting champ (Joe Mauer), MVP (Justin Morneau) and Cy Young winner (Johan Santana). Expectations were high after the amazing 71-33 stretch to end the year, which included catching the Tigers for the division title on the final day. But that team had even more questionable starting pitching heading into the playoffs than this year’s team did. Francisco Liriano was hurt after a phenom debut. Brad Radke had a bum shoulder. When Johan Santana lost Game 1 it was lights out.
1. 2004: The Twins won Game 1 in New York. They had a lead in extra innings of Game 2, but they asked Joe Nathan to pitch a third inning and … it didn’t go well. That was the very best chance the Twins had to beat the Yankees, and it came before there was any sort of Yankees curse established. (Game 4 at the Dome also fell apart. The Twins led 5-1 before Juan Rincon gave up four runs in the seventh and the lost on a wild pitch in extra innings instead of heading back to New York for a Game 5. It led, at least, to the greatest quote ever from Rincon postgame: “Nobody wants to be in my pants right now.”
What’s interesting, though, is that my list is at least somewhat different most of your lists, which I asked for (top three disappointments) on Twitter. For some, the fresh pain of 2019 made the cut. A lot of you really remember 2009 with more angst than I do.
Based on the dozens of responses, the top four seem to be (in no particular order): 2006, 2010, 2019 and 2004. Those also are probably the four best Twins teams out of the eight, so that makes sense.
And hey: There’s always next year.