In a year where nothing felt the same, it had to feel like history repeating itself for the Twins’ ownership, front office, coaching staff and players Wednesday after they were swept in two games by Houston at Target Field to end their pandemic-shortened season.
Yes, this was a much different campaign than any other in Twins history, with the team playing 60 games without fans in attendance and only facing teams from the Central Division in both leagues throughout the season, but the end result was the same.
Whatever momentum the Twins had after going 36-24 in the regular season didn’t carry over when they faced a mediocre Astros club. Instead their playoff losing streak extended to 18 games — the longest streak in MLB history.
Two stats told the story of how unexpected this outcome was: The Twins had the best home record in baseball (24-7), and the best home winning percentage (.774) since the 1975 Reds. The Astros went 9-23 on the road this season. Still, Houston looked like the better-prepared club in winning by scores of 4-1 and 3-1.
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine have put together two of the best back-to-back regular seasons in franchise history. Their 101 wins last season were the second most by a Twins squad and their .600 winning percentage in this short season was the fourth-best mark by a Twins team, behind .630 in 1965, .623 last season and .605 in 1970.
So they have to wonder what in the world happens in the playoffs.
Luis Arraez, who hit .455 against the Yankees in the playoffs last year, went 0-for-6 in this playoff series.
Max Kepler’s postseason troubles continued as he went 0-for-5 but did score a run and drew three walks.
Eddie Rosario, who was thrown out of the game Wednesday for arguing balls and strikes, didn’t get a hit in either game against Houston.
Miguel Sano managed a hit in the ninth inning of Game 1 but went hitless Wednesday and was 1-for-7 in the series.
Jorge Polanco managed one hit in the series.
Byron Buxton went 1-for-4 in Game 1, but didn’t start Wednesday’s game. He entered the game as a pinch runner in the eighth inning and was picked off first base.
Arraez, Kepler, Rosario, Sano, Buxton and Polanco combined to go 3-for-36 over two games against the Astros, with one run scored.
When this team looks back at the 2020 season, they will be proud they were one of the few teams who didn’t have any games rescheduled because of players’ COVID-19 positive tests. They put together a great record and won another American League Central title in a really tough division.
But the fact that they are 0-5 in the playoffs under Falvey and Baldelli will leave them with a bad taste in their mouth.
Twins President Dave St. Peter said at the beginning of the year that getting through the 2020 schedule healthy would be as important as any other success.
That proved true, and even as the club deals with the disappointment of such a short stay in the playoffs, when they look back, they’ll have to be proud about keeping this team healthy amid the coronavirus pandemic and really being a model franchise in baseball.
“I think that the health and safety challenges that every major league team experienced in 2020 made the year historic, made the year unprecedented,” St. Peter said before Game 1. “Frankly, I think you have to tip your cap to Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Player’s Association for developing the plan, but maybe most importantly, I think you have to tip your cap to the players and the staff who implemented the plan and who went through those protocols with tremendous amounts of personal accountability and responsibility to ensure that the season was able to be completed through the 60-game regular season.
“It was a challenge all the way through, but again, it doesn’t happen without the players and the staff really stepping up and following protocols and taking this very, very seriously.”
Uncertainty in 2021
Even though this playoff loss will be difficult to take, there is no question this club is in position to continue to contend and to try and not only break this playoff losing streak but make a push to win a World Series.
“We certainly like where we are in our progression as an organization,” St. Peter said. “We know we need to continuously build. We know we have a number of good, young players that are knocking on the door to be here. But our division is going to be more and more difficult. We saw again this year what Cleveland has accomplished with their pitching and their club. The White Sox are obviously much better. I think you can see that Detroit and Kansas City have plans in place to get better.
“We’re going to need to continue to invest in the people across our organization and the people within this club to stay at the top. But we like our chances to be in a position to not only win this division but advance to the postseason for the next several years. That’s certainly the goal.”
The Twins and every club will have to make some big financial decisions heading into next season — especially without a salary cap and no guarantees on what kind of revenue they’ll be receiving.
Rosario is hitting his final year of arbitration and if the Twins don’t sign him to a long-term deal, he will become an unrestricted free agent in 2022.
Nelson Cruz, Jake Odorizzi and Rich Hill are unrestricted free agents, as are relievers Tyler Clippard and Trevor May, and the club has a $5 million option on Sergio Romo.
“The [Twins], all 30 clubs in Major League Baseball, we’re struggling financially in 2020,” St. Peter said. “There is just no way around it. The loss of fans, the loss of a pretty significant majority of our television revenue, sponsorship revenue, all of those things play a huge role and we knew that going in. I think looking at the big picture [Twins owner] Jim Pohlad and the other owners felt like delivering a season, even in a truncated form, even with the sustaining of significant loses, was important for the growth of our game and really the industry as a whole.
“As we look ahead to 2021, there still remains probably more questions than answers about our ability to play a full season, the ability to reintroduce fans. That’s something we’re going to continue to monitor on a day-to-day basis … Our focus will shift to 2021 and how we can hopefully continue to find ways to continue to play baseball but do it in a safe way, and do it in a way that hopefully puts us in a position to stabilize our industry over the course of the next 12 months.”