KANSAS CITY, MO. — Jorge Polanco homered in the first inning, Byron Buxton in the fifth, and the Twins' 2021 season ended on a two-game winning streak with a 7-3 victory over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
The Twins finished with eight vicorties in their final 12 games, avoiding a 90-loss season with a 73-89 record. It is, however, the Twins' seventh losing season in the 12-year Target Field era, and fifth last-place finish.
"A disappointing season," manager Rocco Baldelli said, "but we played hard to the very end."
The first six Twins hitters reached base to open Sunday's game, giving themselves a five-run lead that Kansas City could never close. Luis Arraez smacked the second pitch from rookie Jackson Kowar into center field; Buxton followed with a double into the left-field corner; and Polanco connected with his team-high 33rd homer of the season, a long line drive over the fence in right-center field.
Polanco and Buxton "gave us exactly what we saw all year long from them. They took over the game," Baldelli said. "Both of them are huge parts of this organization, and it was great to see them finish the year out strong."
It was Polanco's fifth first-inning home run since September began, and his third in a row on the first pitch. But the Twins' punishment of Kowar wasn't finished.
Josh Donaldson drew a walk, Max Kepler singled him to third, and Miguel Sano brought him home with a single to left. When Nick Gordon beat the relay of a double-play ball, Kepler scored, too, and Twins rookie Charlie Barnes owned a 5-0 lead as he took the mound.
Barnes, making his eighth major league start, lasted only 2⅔ innings, however, giving up three runs on seven hits before being lifted. But Buxton's two-run shot in the fifth inning, a 420-foot homer that bounced off the scoreboard behind the left-field seats, boosted the lead back to four runs, and Kansas City managed only one hit the rest of the game, finishing its season one game ahead of the Twins at 74-88.
CBA uncertainty looms
The collective bargaining agreement that governs Major League Baseball expires on Dec. 1, lending an air of urgency to the Twins' season-ending meetings with their players. The Twins are meticulous about designing offseason work programs for their players, but realize that it could be illegal to contact union members about such matters if a lockout were to go into effect.
"We have to have all of this mapped out beforehand, so they feel confident in what they need to do," Baldelli said.
If negotiations between MLB and the MLB Players Association grow acrimonious and it appears that spring training might be delayed, he hopes that doesn't disrupt workouts.
"We have to 100 percent prepare for spring training to start on Feb. 10, but we need our guys to get ready for that, even if we hear that there is a probable this or a possible that, we need to be ready to go," the manager said. "We need to be prepared."
Ramping up the aggression
In one of the more random statistics of 2021, Twins runners were picked off base only five times all season, the lowest total since 1993. That's good, Baldelli said — but perhaps also bad.
"Could we be more aggressive at times? Obviously there are moments where maybe we could," Baldelli said. "It also means our guys are not making unnecessarily silly decisions and mistakes. I'd rather have the fewest pickoffs than the most, without a doubt."