It is a perfect spring day. The winter, though unseasonably mild in Minnesota, was difficult and fans are excited for the first really nice baseball weather of the new season. It is May.
Target Field is packed with fans already disappointed with what has been an inauspicious start to the 2017 campaign. The Twins are a miserable 12-26 on the year. The pitching staff has been the worst offender by far, posting an atrocious era of almost 6. The hitting has once again been a little above average. The strikeouts remain, but fireworks from the likes of Miguel Sano and a resurgent Byung Ho Park have at least made the offense fun to watch. The fans, after a 2-14 start to open the season, have given up entirely on a successful season and instead settle in mostly to enjoy the weather, hope for a foul ball or just generally to get out of the house. Hot dogs and beer are ordered at exorbitant prices and eaten happily, because regardless of the product on the field, ballpark hot dogs and beer are better than any other.
It is the top of the 4th inning and the game is already lost for the Twins. Ervin Santana, who started, is gone, pulled after giving up a 3 run home run to Jason Kipnis in the 2nd. That made the score 8-3. It is now 10-3, The bullpen is doing nothing to stop the bleeding. Most fans are trying to see how much money they can spend on beer that day, when the whole stadium shakes. A beer vendor staggers in the middle of the aisle spilling beer on the customer. The woman barely notices and an expression of concern creases across her forehead. In a season of unpleasant surprises at the ballpark, this is one of a different variety. The stadium shakes again, more violently this time, and the upper deck lurches ominously. People begin to scream and leap from their seats panicked.
The players on the field do not notice immediately, since they are on the solid ground. The first cause for concern was when a hot ground ball is hit at Jorge Polanco and he flat misses it. Not that he misses the ball, that in it itself is nothing unusual, but rather why he misses it. The ground falls away on the second hop of the ball and the ball disappears into the earth. Polanco stares for a moment in disbelief and that is all it takes. The ground disappears beneath his feet and he too is lost from view, a short startled yell the only evidence of his existence. Brian Dozier is the next victim, hair flapping dashingly as he disappears into the hungry mouth of the devouring ground. The entire field erodes away before many have a chance to react. The chunks of earth and grass tumbling away into an abyss that yawns deep to the center of the earth. As the stadium begins to crumble into the depths, starting with the iconic limestone, flames and lava bursts begin spouting from the hole. There is no hope for the fans as they struggle en masse to escape the stadium and they are dragged into the gaping maw with the rest of the stadium.
There is one oddity in the whole scene. A woman desperately tries to wake a sleeping husband who will not rouse despite the chaos. Finally she screams at him.
"The mouth of Hell is opening to swallow the stadium!"
This gets his attention and he stirs briefly, and stretches, straining his Morneau jersey slightly. He tips his classic Minnesota "m" cap off his eyes and looks at her.
"Honey, I'm a Twins fan. This ride ain't gonna take me anywhere I haven't been for the last 6 years."
This is probably not a realistic worst case scenario I admit. I mean, as a devout Christian I find the prospect of getting dragged to eternal torment pretty much the worst case scenario, but so far I haven't found much biblical evidence for Hellfire spontaneously sucking down a stadium full of people. So far, very few Major League Baseball stadiums have been sucked into a ravenous Hellmaw. I want to clarify, this data is only for MLB stadiums, no study that I'm aware of has been done on Hellmaw related disasters in other pro sports.
It's also not a particularly bad scenario from an overall season perspective. It means the Twins will only lose 26 games (their final game only went to the 4th inning and so wasn't considered official). That's generally considered a VERY good year from most perspectives. We can ignore the win-loss ratio and focus on the positives. No other team has only lost 26 games in a year.
This was, however, the first thing I thought of. I thought of terrible natural disasters, wayward asteroids unnoticed by negligent astronomers, terrible structural problems caused by architects drunk on Hamm's and the gates of Hell opening because the Metrodome was somehow the only thing keeping the demon hordes at bay. I think this probably speaks more to who I am as a person than anything else, that the first thing that pops into my head involves tragic loss of life and damnation of eternal souls. Honestly, I prefer not to think about that.
There are other ideas that rattled around in my head for what might be a worst case scenario. Here is a list in no particular order.
- More horrible pitching
- Catastrophic injuries
- Sano/Buxton/Park/Kepler/Rosario can't figure it out.
- All the other AL Central teams are highly successful while the Twins flounder
- Strikeouts get worse
- Mauer continues to regress
- Defense gets worse
- Falvey and Levine aren't really as good as we think they are
- Twins all get the mumps from the Wild
But I still don't think those are worst case scenarios from a season perspective either. Long term maybe, because then any long term hope we may be clinging to will disappear. But from the perspective of a single season? I don't think so.
Instead my actual worst case scenario is more like this...
The season starts really well. Surprisingly well. Everyone starts talking about BABIP and regression to the mean and we all read the articles and nod our heads sagely. The Twins power rankings stay low and we're honestly not that upset by it.
But then it stays good. The Twins find ways to win. All of a sudden a playoff run looks like a possibility. After all, we went worst to first in '91 didn't we? The pitching is adequate and the hitting more than makes up for it. Twins games become must watch TV. Still the voice in our heads whispers that all might not be well, after all we still haven't recovered from the 2016 Vikings season.
The Twins have 6 representatives in the All-Star game. That's when it really becomes real. This is happening. Fifteen games above .500 at the All Star break and everyone who has been holding out, who has been waiting to believe, finally believes. When we read the articles trashing the Twins chances going forward it gets to us. We ignore the stats that don't necessarily tell the story we want to hear. We believe again. Six years of mediocre to terrible baseball and we finally have something to believe in. No more is it just individual performances to root for. Finally, we have a whole team.
That's when it happens. That's always when it happens. Right when the last doubter finally relaxes his grip on the hard realities of math and statistics and gives in to the soft embrace of hope. Hope is a harsh mistress after all.
There are many different ways this story can end. Regression to the mean. Any number of the list above finally coming true. But it all comes crashing down. The Win-Loss record deflates to what we all expected at the start of the year. The hitters stop hitting, the pitchers stop missing bats at all and the balls hit start missing Twins defenders.
The tyranny of hope. That to me is the worst case scenario. Disenchanted and numb is no fun, but the loss of hope hurts more than all else.