An unexpectedly abrupt end to the 2020 season on Wednesday led to a sleepless night for Derek Falvey. The Twins’ president of baseball operations believed his roster was built for a lengthier playoff run.
And he anticipates more sleepless nights to come as he and the rest of the organization try to identify how a club that was one of five to win at least 36 games during the regular season could fail to get out of the first round of the American League playoffs — and look so feeble at the plate while doing so.
“Candidly, as I was driving in this morning thinking about it a little bit, I didn’t expect to be having this conversation today,” Falvey said a day after the Twins’ 18th consecutive playoff loss. “No one did. It hit us pretty hard yesterday. There was a lot of emotion around it.”
There will be reflection, discussions and deep dives into data over the coming weeks as the Twins develop a plan of attack for 2021. But one thing Falvey indicated was that a remodeling of the offense is quite possible.
R.I.P., Bomba Squad?
“Yes, we scored a lot of runs by home run,” Falvey said. “We have that as a tool on this team, but I feel like our guys … hitting with runners in scoring position and things like that, before we got to the playoffs certainly it didn’t go well the last couple of days. But we had a pretty good run at that this year, the overall performance. I think our guys have found ways to adapt there.
“But it’s something we’re thinking about, definitely over the last couple of days, that we have been power-reliant. There are other teams who are power-reliant and winning as well in the playoffs. We just need to think through what didn’t allow us to get things going as best we could over the last couple days.”
Falvey gave credit to the Houston Astros, who beat the Twins twice at Target Field in the best-of-three wild-card series, for scouting hitters well and attacking their weaknesses. But the warning signs about the lack of a consistent offense were there for weeks. Injuries definitely played a role, as the Twins had their best lineup together only twice in 60 games. But the results speak for themselves. Of the Twins’ 91 home runs, 62 were solo shots, or 68%. The league average was 58%.
Falvey knew it was unrealistic to expect the Twins to duplicate or build on their home run prowess of 2019, when their 307 home runs set a major league record. But with several players in their prime and Josh Donaldson added to the lineup, he did not get what he expected.
“We certainly felt like we could build off that and still be a well-above-average offense, and we weren’t for the majority of the year and we certainly weren’t over the last couple of days,” Falvey said. “I wish I could tell you I could put my finger on it exactly as to why that was the case.”
On Buxton and Cruz
Falvey’s wide-ranging news conference via Zoom did not yield any more details on what ailed Byron Buxton during the series to the point that he was unable to start Wednesday after playing the entire game Tuesday.
He was cleared to go after suffering a beaning Friday that caused a head contusion, but also had a shoulder injury during the season. Buxton did pinch run Wednesday, and was picked off first.
“He wasn’t feeling great when he came in [Thursday],” Falvey said. “And that’s kind of, that’s what he said, that’s what we discussed internally. At the end of the day, he’s gone through some challenges more recently. But that was kind of the crux of it, and the way he described it. I don’t have much more to say outside of that.”
Buxton did not respond to a text Thursday.
There appears to be mutual interest between the Twins and veteran designated hitter Nelson Cruz about renewing their partnership.
Cruz, who will be 41 next July 1, completed the second year of a two-year deal that paid him $4.4 million, the adjusted portion of his $12 million salary before the COVID-19 shutdown. Falvey confirmed that the club has been in contact with Cruz’s agent.
After Wednesday’s 3-1 loss, Cruz expressed his desire to return, but he could be in demand now that the National League is expected to adopt the designated hitter in 2021.
“It’s been a great run,” Cruz said. “We’re back-to-back Central champions, so no one can take that away from us. Hopefully, I’ll be back next year.”
Falvey and manager Rocco Baldelli also understand that the fan base has Octoberphobia when it comes to the Twins and the playoffs. The sweep by Houston made their postseason losing streak the longest in major sports history. Seven players on the team have been around for the past six, going back to the 2017 wild-card loss to the Yankees.
Falvey said everything will be looked at in order to end the drought, but is mindful of not overreacting to what happens during a short series.
“Our organization, we haven’t been successful in the playoffs lately, at all,” second-year manager Baldelli said Wednesday. “And that is a reality for all of the fans and for everyone who follows the organization and cares about the Twins. I’m aware of it now.
“The day I showed up here, in the Minnesota Twins organization, I had no idea that was even a thing. I didn’t know it existed. I hear about it from people who care about this team. And you know what? We want to do better.”