The Twins won 101 games (second-most in franchise history) and hit 307 home runs (most in MLB history) this season. In a lot of years, at least in the past, that would make them THE national story heading into the postseason.
This year? It gets them a strange place on the undercard — a distant third in the American League pecking order going into the playoffs.
In short, so many things about what the Twins did this season were great. But their timing? Eh, it was a tough year for the Twins to be really good.
For starters, this is the first time since MLB expanded to three divisions in each league in 1994 that all three division winners from one league had at least 100 wins. The Twins, with their 101-61 record, don't even get home-field advantage for the ALDS — something every other 100-game division winner from 1994-2018 had. That stands in sharp contrast to 2010, the last time the Twins won the AL Central. They finished with 94 wins that season, but they had the second-best record among division winners and had home field against the Yankees (not that it, um, mattered much). It's a sign of the times, with a select number of very good teams — and just as many awful teams. Wholesale rebuilds (tanking, if you will) are no longer taboo and have resulted in huge success stories (like the Astros and to a lesser extent the Twins).
Four MLB teams won 100-plus games this year (Houston, Yankees, Twins and Dodgers), but four of them lost 100-plus — including two in the Twins' division (Detroit and Kansas City). There were another six teams with 90-99 wins, but also six teams with 90-99 losses.
Houston's combination of elite pitching and offense makes the Astros decided favorites to emerge from the American League and in fact win it all. The Yankees are second in the AL pecking order — flawed but powerful, with a mighty 57-24 home record. The Twins are third, but it's a distant third.
Westgate Sportsbook has the Astros at 2-to-1 to win the World Series. The Yankees are 4-to-1. The Twins are 12-to-1.
FiveThirtyEight's simulations give the Twins just a 5% chance to win the World Series — only a little better than the wild-card A's (4%) and Rays (3%) even though the Twins have a much better chance of advancing to at least the American League Championship Series (35%) because they don't have to survive the one-game playoff just to get to the ALDS.
In a different season, the Twins might be the favorite to win it all. But considering their most likely path to a World Series would involve defeating, in order, the Yankees, Astros and Dodgers … you can see why that's not the case this year.
So all hope is lost? Hardly. If your perception is that the Twins feasted on bad teams on the way to 100 wins, you're not wrong. They were 36-11 against the Tigers, Royals, Orioles and Marlins (the 100-loss teams in the majors).
But if your perception is that the Twins ONLY did well against bad teams, you're quite wrong. They were 14-13 this season against the other four American League playoff teams, including 4-3 against those mighty Astros.
And while it's true the Twins were just 2-4 against the Yankees, half of those games were started by either Kyle Gibson or Martin Perez — two pitchers who might not factor much, if at all, into the postseason rotation. Jose Berrios didn't start any of the games; Jake Odorizzi started two of them, and in one delivered six shutout innings at Yankee Stadium.
The Twins' bullpen is also in much better shape than it was during both of those series vs. New York. Manager Rocco Baldelli on Tuesday called it one of the best bullpens he's ever seen given the way Twins relievers have pitched lately.
Translation: As a 101-win underdog (including an MLB-best 55-26 on the road), these Twins are probably a little undervalued and underappreciated. Beating the Yankees is certainly within their reach. And running the table would only be as surprising as how the entire season-to-date has played out.