Minnesota baseball fans will forever remember the Twins’ two world championships. The roaring crowds in the Metrodome. “Sweet Music” Frank Viola baffling the Cardinals in ’87. Kirby Puckett’s walk off home run and leaping catch at the wall. Jack Morris dealing zeroes into extra innings to down the Braves in ’91.
Ahh, the good old days!
Unfortunately, the “good” is definitely getting “old.” Like 32 years worth, old.
Forgive Baby Boomers and Gen-X folks for getting a bit sentimental this time of year. But at least we were around for those happier times.
If you’re a Millennial Minnesotan, life hasn’t been fair. It’s not just that the Twins haven’t won much in the fall. They haven’t won at all!
Their last post-season triumph came on Oct. 5, 2004.
Back then, George W. Bush was about to win a second term as president. Joe Mauer was a rookie catcher. Minnesota’s “Soul Patrol” outfield consisted of Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones and Matt Lawton. Now those guys are pushing 50.
Eighteen straight losses can leave locals both deflated and skeptical. I get it. But my job today is to convince you things are about to change.
On Tuesday, the AL Central champs host the Toronto Blue Jays for a best-of-three Wild Card playoff series. And I think they’ll win.
Recently, a Twins’ fan created a documentary assessing the team’s odds of losing 18 playoff games in a row. The number he came up with is 69,000,000,000 to 1. So here’s the good news:
- Thirteen of the 18 came against the hated Yankees, who aren’t even in the mix this postseason.
- Another three were to Houston, and Sunday’s results helped the Twins dodge them, too.
- In nearly all of those games, the Twins were the underdogs.
- For once, Minnesota will host all three games, if necessary, at friendly Target Field.
- They finally clinched early enough to rest injured players and even plan a pitching rotation.
- Most of this year’s players had nothing to do with all those other defeats.
If you’re still unconvinced, it’s understandable. The Twins, Vikings, Wild and Wolves have left us with fragile egos these past three decades.
So let’s roll out some more concrete evidence.
Don’t be surprised if many of the national journalists pick Toronto to win this series. They’ll base that on the Jays having AL strikeout leader Kevin Gausman to start Game 1and expect the Twins to whiff, like they did a record 1,654 times this year. But they need to look closer.
Gausman has a history of struggling against the Twins. He’s given up 10 runs in four starts vs. Minnesota. He’ll also see a different club than the one the Jays faced in May, when the teams split six games. Not to mention, the Twins will counter with a rested Pablo Lopez, who was second only to Gausman in fanning AL hitters.
Byron Buxton is unlikely to play and Joey Gallo is injured. Their constant K’s came along with sub-.200 batting averages this spring and summer. Meanwhile, replacement youngsters like Edouard Julien, Alex Kiriloff, Trevor Larnach, Matt Wallner and Royce Lewis will still strike out some, but they’ve injected energy and more contact into the lineup now. Lewis is nursing a hamstring but if available even in a limited role, he’ll provide plenty of pop.
Another change is the emergence of Max Kepler for the Twins and the drop off of Toronto’s Matt Chapman. Kepler looked like he was destined for release in midseason but is sizzling now. He hit .467 this past week and leads the Twins in homers with 24. Conversely, Chapman had MVP-like numbers early, but the Jays’ third baseman cooled considerably in the second half.
Both teams defend well and have deep pitching staffs. Carlos Correa has dealt with plantar fasciitis all season but got a chance to rest and his range at shortstop is immeasurable for the home team. Expect both clubs to steal bases, with speedy Andrew Stevenson now a good bet to make the Twins’ 26-man roster.
Veteran Brandon Belt will be a key figure for Toronto, but the left-handed slugger won’t have much help from that side against a predominantly right-handed Twins’ rotation.
That all adds up to an even matchup, but I like the Twins at home and playing their best baseball when it counts.
Anyway, what are the odds that our guys can lose 19 or 20 straight?!
Don’t answer that.