The last time the Twins won a playoff game was Oct. 5, 2004. Johan Santana pitched seven shutout innings, Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan had a scoreless inning each, and just like that the Twins had a 2-0 win in Game 1 of the ALDS at Yankee Stadium.
It’s easy to draw a line from there to here, almost exactly 16 years later, and conclude this: The Twins’ postseason losing streak, which has now reached a nearly unfathomable 18 games, is a result of lacking a true ace like Santana for much of that time.
There’s something to that, to be sure. A dominant starter can relax a team and take the pressure off the offense — or come close to winning a game on his own, as Santana did while barely supported in that last Twins playoff win.
But that narrative is also to easy — and lets the offense off the hook for way too much of the ensuing mess. For the rest of that 2004 series, the Twins were competitive — nearly winning Game 2 before falling 7-6 in Yankee Stadium and blowing a late lead in the clincher back at the Dome in Game 4, a 6-5 loss.
In the last 15 of the 18 straight playoff losses, though — 2009, 2010, 2017 and 2019 against New York, 2006 vs. the A’s and 2020 vs. the Astros — the Twins have scored just 33 runs combined and have not scored more than four runs in any game.
The offensive shortcomings were particularly glaring the past two years: Just seven runs for the bomba squad in a three-game sweep by the Yankees in 2019 and a measly two runs in a meek exit at the hands of the Astros last week.
Not every one of those Twins teams were offensive juggernauts, but they averaged 5 runs per game over the course of the regular seasons preceding those quiet playoff exits when they averaged just 2.2 runs a game.
Obviously the lineups changed quite a bit over that span — 2006 was different from 2010 and completely changed by 2020. One constant during that time: the Twins in the regular season often feasted on subpar pitching from AL Central opponents, only to get stymied by better arms in the playoffs.
Relitigating all 15 games doesn’t make much sense, but thinking about how to fix parts of the lineup primarily responsible for netting just nine runs in five losses in the last two postseasons is relevant.
The problem is NOT a home run-focused offense. Already this MLB postseason, teams that outhomer their opponents are a perfect 13-0.
But the problem IS a lack of both offensive diversity and having enough of the types of hitters who can deliver big hits — including home runs — against the improved pitching often found in the playoffs.
Josh Donaldson was supposed to help fix some of that with his power and professional at bats, and no doubt his injury was a big blow in this year’s postseason. But it went beyond him: Nelson Cruz was the only Twins player to drive in a run (one each game!) against the Astros. His younger teammates too often failed either in execution or approach.
So what does that mean? Probably a lot of offseason introspection — and a good, hard look at players on the roster who tend to feast on bad pitching and flail at good pitching. I’d put Miguel Sano (2 for 19 career in the playoffs), Eddie Rosario (0-for-Houston this year) and Max Kepler (1 for 18 career in the playoffs) in that conversation.
Maybe their at bats should be going to a mix of younger players (Brent Rooker, Alex Kirilloff) and steadier veteran free agents in 2021.
And maybe then the Twins — who finally seem to have enough starting pitching to win a playoff game again — might have the offense to match when it matters most.