This is the final installment of a series examining every Twins team that has made the playoffs. Whether the current version of the Twins is 20 games over .500 or stuck in last place, fans can always hold onto memories of successful teams past.
It was just a year ago, but it feels as ancient as the Roman Empire. The same Twins team that has bumbled to a likely100 loss season in 2011 was actually pretty good in 2010.
On September 22, 2010, one day after clinching the Central Division title, the Twins completed a sweep of the hapless Cleveland Indians. It was their 15th win in 18 games, and it tied them with the Yankees for the best record in baseball at 92-60. The first year of baseball at state of the art Target Field was a smashing success. Sellout crowds crammed the seats virtually every game, and the Twins seemed to win almost all of them. Minnesota’s on-field product was arguably the best it had ever been in this, the team’s 50th year of play.
The Twins were far from the biggest sports headline of 2010. LeBron James managed to upstage them, partly because the Twins didn’t take the time to record a one hour prime time TV special. Millions of baseball fans (and millions of Seinfeld fans) will remember 2010 as the year that George Steinbrenner, a titan of the game, passed away at age 80. Meanwhile, in 2010, 33 Chilean miners were rescued after a tense rescue operation that captivated much of the world’s attention. And in Washington D.C., the Republican Party won back control of the House of Representatives.
|2010 Twins at a Glance
|94-68, first in American League Central
|Justin Morneau .345/.437/.618, 18 HR, 56 RBI
|Carl Pavano, 17-10, 3.75 ERA, 221.0 IP, 1.19 WHIP
|C Joe Mauer, 1B Morneau
|September 21, with 6-4 win over Cleveland
|Lost to Yankees in ALDS, 3-0
The Chicago White Sox tried to win back control of the AL Central Division in 2010, and for a while it looked like they might. The Twins roared out of the gate, winning 19 of their first 28 games, but they soon cooled off. And by June the Twins hit a rough patch. The White Sox and Detroit Tigers used that opportunity to pass the Twins, and it looked like Minnesota might fall to the middle of the pack. As late as August 8th, the Sox clung to a slim lead in the Central. But the Twins penchant for strong second-half finishes came through again. They went 48-26 after the All Star Break, and by the end of the season the race was not even close. Minnesota won the division by six games.
Joe Mauer had been the 2009 AL MVP, but the true hitting star of the 2010 Twins was Justin Morneau. He hit .347/.490/.640 in April, then followed that up with a .400/.496/.710 performance in May. By early July, when Morneau was voted the starting first baseman in the All Star game, he was leading the league in average, OBP, and slugging, and he had socked 18 homers in 81 games. Then disaster struck. Morneau was at first base in Toronto when Michael Cuddyer bounced a double play ball to short. Morneau executed a gritty takeout slide that prevented the succesful relay throw, but suffered a concussion on the play. The Twins initially thought Morneau would be out for a few days, but that stretched into weeks, and then months. He ended up missing the rest of the season.
Michael Cuddyer took over for Morneau as the starting first baseman, and did a decent job, but he had an off year at the plate with just 14 homers. Fortunately, aging slugger Jim Thome filled the power gap. In just 340 plate appearances (most coming after Morneau’s injury), the 39 year old hit 25 home runs, including one that passed Twins’ legend Harmon Killebrew for 10th place on the all time list. Another pleasant surprise was left fielder Delmon Young, who had his breakout year with a .300 average and 21 homers. Mauer didn’t repeat his 2009 performance, but he still hit an impressive .327/.402/.469. The middle infield was solid, if unspectacular, with SS J.J. Hardy and 2B Orlando Hudson manning their positions effectively.
On the mound, the Twins lacked a true ace, but Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano provided a solid 1-2 punch. Liriano was electric in April, earning AL Pitcher of the Month honors, but he struggled in May before settling down and pitching well the rest of the season. He ended up with 14 wins, 201 strikeouts, and a 3.62 ERA. Pavano was less flashy, but more workmanlike, eating 221 innings and winning 17 games. Veteran closer Joe Nathan missed the entire season due to ligament replacement surgery, but Jon Rauch filled in well in the first half. After the All Star break, the team traded for Matt Capps, who was effective as a closer in 2010.
It all added up to a very talented team that blew the competition away once they figured out how to play together. But after that September 22nd sweep over Cleveland, the energy seemed to disappear from the Twins. They traveled to Detroit and got swept, then finished the year with series losses to Kansas City and Toronto. Minnesota limped into the playoffs having lost eight of its last 10 and losing the chance to finish with the Major Leagues’ best record.
But the weak finish was forgotten in time for the ALDS. For once, instead of the Twins traveling to hostile Yankee Stadium, the Bronx Bombers had to visit Minnesota to open the series. Target Field promised to be the Twins’ wild card. Game 1 started of very well. Cuddyer launched a two run homer in the 2nd, a passed ball scored Young in the 3rd, and Liriano cruised through the early innings. But in the 6th, Liriano came unglued and gave up four runs. After the Twins tied the game, Mark Teixeira hit a two run bomb off reliever Jesse Crain, and the Twins couldn’t recover. They lost 6-4.
Game 2 was a similar story. The Twins grabbed an early lead, but starter Carl Pavano couldn’t hold it. The Yankees won 5-2, delivering a fatal blow to the Twins’ morale. Game 3 in Yankee Stadium was never close, as New York won 6-1. It was the Twins’ 12th straight playoff loss, a dubious achievement that places them within one of the Major League record.
As of the time I am writing this, the Twins’ losing streak has not ended. The Twins finished 2-11 counting the ALDS, and they have been awful in 2011. The Twins will not have a chance to snap their playoff losing streak in 2011, and nobody knows when their next chance will be. For now, 2010 is the last of The Winning Teams.