This has been a phenomenal baseball season. The non-stop surprises include the Twins being fully involved in the wild-card competition with 2½ weeks remaining in the schedule.
These unlikely wild-card contenders are surrounded by similarities to the unlikely contenders from Paul Molitor’s first season as manager in 2015. The most-obvious is this:
The Twins entered Wednesday night’s game vs. San Diego at 75-69 with 18 games to play. The 2015 Twins also were 75-69.
This time, the Twins were leading Los Angeles by two games for the second wild card and No. 5 seed in the AL playoffs. Two years ago, they trailed Houston by 1½ games for the second wild card.
The Yankees were holding the first wild card in 2015, and they are holding it again by a solid 3 games. The Twins make the annual visit to Yankee Stadium starting Monday. Those three games don’t figure to be as much about tracking down the Yankees, as a requirement in the quest to get a return trip to the Bronx on Oct. 3 (a Tuesday night) for the one-game AL wild card.
There was little optimism entering the 2015 season, particularly after spring training concluded with new starter Ervin Santana being popped for steroids, costing the first half of the season.
Torii Hunter had an outstanding one-year return, Trevor Plouffe had his best season, rookie Miguel Sano had a terrific July and August, and Tyler Duffey arrived to be a late-season ace. Add it up, and somehow that club hung around the new, bloated wild-card competition until the last weekend.
It was interesting, but did you ever think the ’15 Twins actually were going to make it to Yankee Stadium for the one-game wild card? I didn’t think so.
There was even less optimism entering the 2017 season. The Twins were a well-earned, all-time worst 59-103 in 2016, and the new brain trust didn’t do much of anything.
OK, they did bring back Torii, but this time as a consultant.
The Twins gave up at the July 31 non-waiver deadline by trading Jaime Garcia (after one start) and closer Brandon Kintzler. A couple of days later, I ridiculed those upset by this, pointing out these Twins were imposters all along as wild-card contenders.
So it goes.
Six weeks later, the Twins are 2 in front of the Angels, 3 ahead of Kansas City and Texas, and 3½ ahead of Seattle. That’s about it now – a five-pack of contenders for the second wild card.
Eighty-six got it done for Houston by a game over the Angels in 2015, and then the Astros went to Yankee Stadium and Dallas Keuchel beat the Yankees 3-0.
Eighty-five gets it done this time, right? There’s a little magic to that number in these parts. That was the Twins’ victory total in 1987 to win the AL West, followed by winning a first World Series title.
That record was deceptive to a degree: The Twins clinched the West on a Monday in Texas and then lost the last six. There was no playoff position to worry about then, just a best-of-7 vs. AL East champion Detroit — and with home-Dome advantage guaranteed based on the alternate-season format of the time.
There will be no final-week relaxation for the 2017 Twins. This one will be played out to the last days. And it’s still too early to guarantee the Twins will be part of it.
Lose five or six in a row and a team will go away, just as has Baltimore. The O’s surged to within one game of the No. 5 seed, and then took a six-game losing streak into Wednesday. Goodbye, Buck Showalter.
There’s been a different feeling with the sporting public here than in 2015. The crowds haven’t been much (although that Wild hat drew 28,000 on Tuesday), but people seem to be managing more smiles than aiming ridicule at the wild-card gimmick that was introduced by baseball in 2012.
You get a 17-0 slaughter on the last homestand. That’s followed by 16-0 on Tuesday night, and becoming the first team in major league history to hit home runs in the first seven innings of a game.
That’s hard to ignore, even if Minnesota is at the outset of the Dalvin Cook Era.
The 2015 Twins scored 696 runs and hit 156 home runs. The 2017 Twins have scored 721 runs and hit 184 home runs, with 18 games to play. Same record, but this team’s well-balanced clout gives the followers a different vibe, from what I’ve been hearing.