The first time I covered the baseball winter meetings, in 1993, I wound up in the hotel bar with a bunch of scouts, team executives and writers.
Time passed. The bar closed. We all slouched toward the elevators. Four hours later, we were all back in the lobby, drinking coffee.
“To work in baseball,” one scout said, “you’ve got to have bounceability.”
Baseball is the only sport that plays virtually every day. During a normal season, teams could play anywhere from 190 to 210 games, including spring training and the postseason. Some players wind up playing winter baseball. Team executives and scouts tend to work long hours and travel more than airline pilots.
The game is all about bounceability. There is no time for sulking through a slump, because the slump could continue the next day, and any slump could destroy the hopes of any team.
Last July, the Twins lost seven of 10 and their bullpen imploded at Target Field against the Yankees. Their lead in the AL Central dropped from 7½ games to two, and dropped to one game a few days later after a loss to the White Sox.
Without making a major acquisition at the trade deadline, the Twins went 40-21 the rest of the season to run away with the division title. Their bullpen improved, Miguel Sano got hot, there were a dozen minor developments that could be measured analytically, but in part the Twins merely displayed bounceability, persevering through what in retrospect could be assessed as a slump as inevitable as it was inconsequential.
On Monday night, the Twins lost their sixth consecutive game, during that stretch moving from 2½ games ahead in the division to 2½ games behind. Tuesday night, Michael Pineda made his first start of the season against Chicago’s estimable Dallas Kuechel. While too many games remained for this to rank as a vital game, it did offer a whiff of danger for a team with World Series aspirations.
Pineda pitched a solid six innings. Byron Buxton stole a home run and got the game’s biggest hit in his return to the lineup. Wednesday, Josh Donaldson returned to the lineup and drove in two runs in another victory, while Jose Berrios pitched like an ace.
Two days after that whiff of danger, the Twins hold the first wild-card position in the American League and are 1½ games out of first place as some of their most important players return to health.
Did anything precipitate the brief turnaround?
Manager Rocco Baldelli held a postgame meeting, rare for him and sometimes an act of desperation in a sport where meetings and raised voices rarely matter.
The Twins’ base camp at CHS Field produced dynamic comebacks from Pineda, Buxton and Donaldson. In a season during which injured and suspended players can’t work their way into game shape in the minor leagues, the Twins’ camp arrangement with the St. Paul Saints could prove vital.
Buxton continued to prove the Twins’ theory about him: The team almost always seems energized by his speed and presence.
The return of Buxton and Donaldson made a team that dominated lefthanded pitching last year once again more formidable in the righthand batter’s box.
The calming, veteran presence of Nelson Cruz continues to be invaluable for a relatively young team.
And the Twins once again bounced back at a crucial point in their season.
I believed that the 2020 Twins would feature the best roster in franchise history. The pandemic kept us from seeing that team for 162 games; injuries have kept us from seeing that team during this 60-game schedule.
Wednesday night, Max Kepler and Luis Arraez were injured. We don’t know when we’ll see Jake Odorizzi or Mitch Garver back on the field. We might never see this team whole.
But we might have already witnessed the most important bounce-back games of the season, the games that could lead to the Twins landing a spot in baseball’s strangest-yet postseason.