CHICAGO – What a tease, these Twins. Their worst season ever came to a close Sunday, six long months of bloopers and gaffes and ineptitude, a summer best forgotten. And on the day they depart for a winter of well-deserved oblivion, they decide to flash another strong hint of the potential that they've been promoting, but mostly not delivering, the past few years.
Byron Buxton smashed the first pitch of his final 2016 game off the center-field fence and circled the bases in the fastest time ever recorded by MLB. Miguel Sano blasted a pitch a dozen rows deep into the bleachers in left-center, a mammoth reminder of his tremendous power. And Jose Berrios, who hadn't started a Twins victory in two months, was suddenly a master of damage control, outpitching White Sox ace Chris Sale.
With their three most ballyhooed young stars leading the way, the Twins coasted to a 6-3 victory over the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, their first two-game winning streak since Aug. 16-17, and a strangely Auld Lang Syne finish to a 59-103 calamity of a season.
"Despite everything we went through, there is some good character out there," manager Paul Molitor, gesturing toward the visitors clubhouse, said before starting an offseason of uncertainty. "I'm glad we finished it out playing with some energy and finding a way to win these last couple of games."
But Molitor, battered by the most losses in Twins history just when he anticipated a Target Field renaissance, is now a realist about the state of his team and its fans. Asked whether Minnesota should still be excited about the potential of the long-awaited trio's potential, Molitor had difficulty mustering another sales pitch.
"I think the excitement is going to be challenging to generate," he said. "Certainly there is a group of our fans that believes in some of the young talent that we have. But these are the type of people that you look to."
One game barely makes a ripple, Molitor pointed out, and 103 losses will swamp everyone's memory of this ugly season. But the Twins were led by a 23-year-old (Sano) and a pair of 22-year-olds Sunday, not to mention a single and a double from 23-year-old Max Kepler, and Molitor warmed to the topic of his team's future.
"Byron ended up with 10 homers and some pretty good production, despite the [.225 batting] average. Miggy, in what most people are going to call an off year given injuries and inconsistency and [team-record 178] strikeouts, when you look at the positive, you see the 25 homers and close to 70 RBIs  in a partial season," Molitor said. "Jose, his starts have been better as of late. It's going to take some work to start getting him to go deeper in games, managing games a little better, but those are people we're going to need to progress, for us to push forward."
It's going to take more than just that handful of players, of course, especially on a pitching staff that finished with a composite 5.08 ERA, its worst since 2000 and a half-run worse than any team in the American League. But the Twins said their goodbyes and scattered for the winter Sunday after leaving behind another few postcards from last place.
The home runs by Buxton and Sano, for instance, gave the Twins exactly 200 for the season, the first time since 1964 they've reached that milestone, and just the third time in franchise history. Buxton's astonishing romp gave him 10 for the season, and made the Twins the third team ever — joining the 2004 Tigers and 2015 Astros — to have 11 players reach double digits. Yes, it's odd for a team to have 11 players with 10 homers, and zero with 10 wins.
And Brandon Kintzler closed the season by striking out Tim Anderson to nail down his 17th save, a nice job of rescuing a bullpen that lost its closer to injury in the season's first week.
"I have mixed emotions. It's the last day this particular group is going to be together, so there's emotion in that," Molitor said. But his overriding feeling as the 2016 season drew to a close?
"Disappointing," the manager said. "It's just been disappointing."