The last time the Minnesota Twins won a playoff game, I was watching from my freshman dorm room at the University of Minnesota-Morris. I’ll be 35 years old in about a month. During that time span, the Twins laid most of their playoff misery on the doorstep of the big, bad, New York Yankees, who knocked Minnesota out of the trophy chase in ‘04, ‘09, ‘10, ‘17, & ‘19. It was always “the Yankees are a better team than us” or “we’re cursed by the Bronx Gods” or something to that effect. When this team kept running into them over and over and over again, it was easy to fall into that line of thinking.
That narrative is now dead and buried. The 18 consecutive playoff loss streak? The blame is squarely on the team doing the losing rather than the “other guys” doing the winning.
In 2020, the Twins avoided the dreaded New Yawk-ahs in the first round. Didn’t matter.
In 2020, the Twins drew an average-at-best Houston Astros team that finished 29-31 and quite literally everyone in the country wanted to see ousted. Didn’t matter.
In 2020, the Twins went an astonishing 24-7 at Target Field, where all the Wild Card games were to be played. Didn’t matter.
In 2020, the Twins got excellent performances from starting pitchers (Kenta Maeda & Jose Berrios). Didn’t matter.
More than anything, that’s the thing I’ll take away from the latest playoff debacle. It isn’t about the opponent anymore. The Twins simply don’t play their best baseball—or even quality baseball—in October. Eventually that will change, but it will only happen when the Twins do the changing.
In 2020, the Twins were home-run dependent. They didn’t swat one bomba against the Astros.
In 2020, the Twins were a solid defensive club that didn’t beat themselves all that often. Nearly ever mistake against Houston was self-inflicted.
In 2020, the Twins had a solid bullpen. In the Wild Card games, the bullpen was shaky and not entirely trustworthy.
The streak did not continue because of bad juju or bad luck (Donaldson & Buxton situations excepted). It continued because the Minnesota Twins played poor baseball in the biggest moment of the season.
I’ll close with one positive and one negative as the long offseason begins:
Up: A second consecutive AL Central crown, the first time such a feat has transpired in ten years. This club has yo-yo’d in the standings for awhile, so consistent success was nice to behold.
Down: I can’t say that Rocco Baldelli is a worse manager than Paul Molitor. In fact, I’d pretty vehemently argue the opposite. I can say, however, that the ‘19 and ‘20 Twins playoff squads have looked startlingly, similarly lifeless. In the ‘17 WC playoff game, at least Molly’s bunch had some life to them. Rosario and Dozier were emotionally leading that team, and I’ll go to my grave believing that if Ervin Santana had anything that night the Twins would have been moving on. They were ready for that series in a way Baldelli’s bunch seemingly has not been. Staying calm and even-keeled is one thing. But when it borders on passivity it makes me take notice.