In the words of that great philosopher Ricky Bobby, if you ain’t first, you’re last. The Minnesota Twins have finished first in their division two-straight years, but they’re dead last in major league history with an ongoing record string of playoff futility.
There really is no explanation for how the Twins have lost 18 consecutive postseason games. Their last playoff dubya came in Game 1 of the 2004 ALDS when Johan Santana and a couple of relievers blanked the New York Yankees. Minnesota has dropped 8-straight postseason series as well, the last advancement coming in the 2002 ALDS against the Oakland A’s.
Both Minnesota and the Cleveland Indians are now playing second fiddle in the AL Central to the Chicago White Sox. MLB futures have the Twins and Indians huddled together around 20/1 to win the 2021 World Series, 10th on the list with the White Sox in the 10/1 to 12/1 range. Halting the playoff skid in 2021 likely means the club will have to do it as a wild card entry instead of division champ.
Maeda Trade Worked Well for Twinkies
Entering spring camp in February, Bookmaker and other online betting sites had the Twins on a 92½-win total, and favored the ‘over.’ Had the world not changed and Minnesota reached 93, that would’ve been a win percentage of .574, so the Twins actually outperformed that by winning 36 on the reduced 60-game fixture (.600).
What made the Twins’ successful defense of the AL Central title somewhat remarkable was that they pitched their way to the top in 2020, compared with bashing their way to the 2019 crown. Minnesota pitchers sliced more than half a run off the staff ERA between the two campaigns, placing third in the AL with a 3.58 mark, and went from a 1.30 WHIP to 1.20.
Kenta Maeda, acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers just before Spring Training, was solid and is very affordable still with the incentive-laden, 8-year contract he signed in 2016. Michael Pineda looked good after serving his PED suspension, and while Taylor Rogers saw his ERA tick up a notch, he was still solid at the backend of the bullpen. Minnesota will have to find some more arms with the free agent departures by Rich Hill, Jake Odorizzi and Tyler Clippard, and could use a rebound from both Jose Berrios and Randy Dobnak to three-peat in the AL Central.
Offense Stalled in 2020
It’s not like the Twins quit hitting home runs in 2020, their 91 clouts ranking third in the American League. That came on the heels of a major league record 307 during a full, 162-game schedule in 2019. But while fly balls left the yard at a good clip, there was a huge drop-off in scoring, going from 5.80 RPG in 2019, second in the AL, to 4.48 (10th). Minnesota could only muster one run in each of the losses to Houston during the first round of the 2020 expanded playoffs, dropping both games despite being solid chalk on the MLB odds.
Nelson Cruz, who turned 40 just about the time summer camps opened, led the lineup with 16 HR and a .303 batting average. He is now a free agent and reportedly seeking a 2-year deal. Eddie Rosario was one of three Twins hitters to swat 13 HR on the season, but rumors persist Minnesota will non-tender the 29-year-old outfielder. One thing seems certain, and that is the Twins won’t be able to afford to keep both Cruz and Rosario.
What would really help rejuvenate the offense are bounce-back years for both Josh Donaldson and Max Kepler. If Rosario doesn’t stay, look for Alex Kirilloff to vie for a starting job in the outfield after the 15th overall pick from 2016 made his MLB debut during Minnesota’s short-lived postseason.
Favorable Interleague Draw with NL Central
The Twins made their bones in 2020 with a strong performance on the interleague schedule, taking 13 of 20 from NL Central opponents. Minnesota will once again face the NL Central on the 2021 slate, so that’s some good news. In fact, the Twins are scheduled to open next year on the road in Milwaukee after winning three of four from the Brewers this past season.
Minnesota won seven of 10 from the Indians, the only division foe the Twins really mastered in 2020. They split with the White Sox, and only managed a pedestrian 11-9 showing against AL Central bottom-feeders Detroit and Kansas City. Assuming a 162-game fixture can be played, the interleague portion will be much smaller, and the Twins will have just about the same number of games against the likes of the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s.
The hot stove forecast calls for a long, slow winter in terms of free agent signings, and Minnesota has some holes to plug in order to just get back to the playoffs, much less win a game or series in October. Can the Twins end their ignominious streak nest year? Sure, but I’m not confident enough to include it as one of my MLB picks for 2021 at this time.