The 2016 Twins started the year with so much promise. Front-office types and fans, encouraged by an 83-79 finish in 2015 that included a realistic push for a playoff bid that came up short, were convinced the team could take another step forward.
Instead, the Twins started 0-9. By the one-quarter mark of the season, about a month-and-a-half into things, the Twins were 10-31 — winning roughly one of every four games. If playoffs were the goal, the season was over with 75 percent of it left to play.
I mention this now not to pile on but to bring up a painful parallel.
The 2016 Timberwolves, you see, are repeating that gloomy history. They started the year with so much promise. We were all very excited after an improvement from 16 wins to 29 wins over the past two seasons — which included a 15-17 record in the final 32 games last year and several notable victories with a young team. It didn’t seem far-fetched that the addition of a respected new coach (Tom Thibodeau) and another top draft pick (Kris Dunn) would help propel the improving group to a 40-win (or better) season.
Instead, the Wolves started 1-5. And things haven’t gotten better from there. By roughly the quarter mark of the season, about a month-and-a-half into things, the Wolves are 6-18 — winning one of every four games. If playoffs were the goal, the season is pretty much over already. Don’t believe me? The Wolves would need to go 35-23 in their last 58 games just to finish .500.
Both teams lamented close games that got away as explanations for their early woes.
Guess what? That’s what bad teams — or at least teams with key deficiencies — do.
For the Twins, the lack of pitching excellence and quality bullpen depth showed up in a lot of late-game situations early in the season, turning would-be wins into losses. Five of their first six losses were by 1 or 2 runs. From there, losing became habitual.
For the Wolves, a young group that doesn’t yet understand team defensive concepts or how to stop the bleeding when another team is making a run has been the recipe for a lot of early leads that have turned into losses.
There is still time for the Timberwolves to change the narrative on this season and for their young players to show more than individual offensive promise. (The Twins even played close to .500 ball for half a season after that dreadful start, going 39-40 in their next 79 games before tailing off at the end to finish 59-103).
And even if the Wolves continue to struggle, that doesn’t mean there can’t be growth.
But it’s become pretty clear all-too-early that this isn’t going to be the season that was envisioned at Target Center — just like it wasn’t across the way at Target Field.