Minnesota Twins: 5 Takeaways from an Ugly Wild Card Sweep

The Minnesota Twins were swept out of the playoffs once again, this time by the Houston Astros. We look at 5 takeaways from an ugly series loss.

If your faith in the Minnesota Twins wasn’t destroyed after watching the team play in the playoffs on Tuesday and Wednesday, I’m not sure what it will take. The Twins lost agonizingly on back-to-back games, dropping their 17th and 18th consecutive playoff games, the longest streak in North American sports history.

To make matters worse, these were games that the Twins should have won, as they hadn’t lost back-to-back games at home all year, while the Astros were the worst team in baseball on the road. Additionally, the Twins were a far better overall team and facing the team with the worst record in the playoffs.

So what happened? Well for starters, everyone who wasn’t named Nelson Cruz disappeared on offense, so that was the biggest issue, but there’s a lot of blame to go around. Rocco Baldelli, Jorge Polanco, and more all get some of it, as we take a look at five takeaways from an awful playoff series to cap a good season.

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Michael Pineda and Marwin Gonzalez of the Minnesota Twins walk through the dugout after being defeated. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Minnesota Twins Takeaway No. 1: Something is really wrong with the offense, and there are no easy fixes.

The offense is in trouble. Seriously, big trouble. Yes, Josh Donaldson missed the series and Byron Buxton was far from full strength, but that is no excuse for only scoring two runs and managing just seven hits across two playoff games against hittable pitching.

This has been the case all year, but it hadn’t been quite this bad. This team looked lost at the plate, with eight hitters not recording a hit throughout the series and Nelson Cruz being the only one to secure more than one That’s truly embarrassing, even in a two-game series.

How does it get better? For starters, Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach must be called up and playing next season. Both players are career .300 hitters with some pop and can’t continue to be held at the minors for service time. They are simply too good to keep out of a lineup this putrid.

Next, figure out what’s wrong with Miguel Sano and Jorge Polanco. Sano led the league in strikeouts and didn’t hit for power like normal while looking out of it for most of the year. Polanco regressed in every way possible (except defense) in 2020, and was a no-show in the playoffs. Both players are talented, but both players need to figure out what’s going on.

Lastly, let some people go. The lineup needs to be shaken up. Eddie Rosario has gone from a fan favorite to an emotional roller-coaster. It’s a tough sell bringing him back. Marwin Gonzalez and Ehire Adrianza are free agents and should be out the door, replaced by in-house options that are ready to be called up.

Jake Cave should be considered as trade bait, as he’s a reasonably good fourth outfielder and still Pre-Arbitration eligible, but he’s not a great fit with so many better minor league options. Alex Avila won’t be back, as the Ryan JeffersMitch Garver show should be really good in 2021. This will be a very interesting offseason after another early exit.

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Manager Rocco Baldelli of the Minnesota Twins speaks to starting pitcher Jose Berrios in the dugout during the fifth inning of Game Two. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Minnesota Twins Takeaway No. 2: Rocco Baldelli has a lot to prove in 2021.

Some people might not like hearing this, but Rocco Baldelli has now been completely outclassed in back-to-back postseasons. Managers play a huge role in their team’s playoff success or failure, a far bigger role than people think. Baldelli played a large role in the team’s playoff failure.

For starters, the decision to pull Jeffers for Garver makes sense when you think about the fact that Garver is a .300 hitter against lefties, but Jeffers is also a .300 hitter against lefties and has FAR better in 2020. Why mess up what works. Then to turn around and pull Garver and put in the lesser Avila as a defensive replacement? Huh?

Then, still in game one, he left Tyler Duffey and Sergio Romo in too long, causing the team to allow four unanswered runs. To complete it all, with the game on the line, instead of putting in a career .300 hitter in Kirilloff, Baldelli opted for Willians Astudillo, who promptly grounded into a game-ending double play. Oof.

In game two, he somehow got worse. The decision to pull Kenta Maeda after 91 pitches was probably the right one. Maeda was tiring and the bullpen should have been able to hold the lead. But pulling Jose Berrios after 75 pitches just because he was about to face the lineup a third time through? Analytics only works when combined with game feel, and pulling Berrios was a bad call.

After that, he only got worse. Again. Cody Stashak had one great inning and didn’t need to be forced into a second one. That cost them a run. Then, despite Taylor Rogers being AWFUL in back-to-back games all year, Baldelli put him in. You simply can’t do that. That inning isn’t on Rogers, it’s on Baldelli. And it cost the Twins the game.

Baldelli did a very good job in 2020, working through injuries, ineffectiveness, and a very brutal division to help the team earn its second straight division crown. He does have that going for him. But if the Twins miss the playoffs or face an early round exit again in 2021, Baldelli’s seat will start getting considerably warmer.

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Jorge Polanco of the Minnesota Twins warms up prior to the game against the Cincinnati Reds. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)

Minnesota Twins Takeaway No. 3: Jorge Polanco is in danger.

The Twins signed Jorge Polanco to a five year deal (at minimum) before the 2019 season, and he responded in a big way with a breakout season that saw him finish as the starting shortstop for the American League All-Star team and finish 13th in the MVP race. It was incredible.

This year, we saw a different Polanco. He started the year off fine, and he finished third on the team in batting average, led the team in steals, and significantly improved his defense. With all that being said, Polanco had a very bad year for his standards.

He didn’t homer after September 4th, had just three RBI in the month of September, and his average dropped thirty-seven points from a year ago. He wasn’t hitting the ball hard at all, leading to lots of weak groundouts and singles. It’s been ugly.

On top of all this, Polanco had an opportunity to earn the third out of the ninth inning on a very easy play, an out that would have ended the inning before the Twins were scorched for three runs and essentially put the beaten offense out of it. Instead, he made a horrible throw, pulled Arraez off the bag, and lost the Twins game one. This is a mental issue.

Royce Lewis isn’t ready to start for a playoff contender yet, so Polanco will hold onto the starting job at baseball’s most important position for at least one more year. If he doesn’t figure it out soon though, he won’t be here much longer.

 

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Trevor May of the Minnesota Twins pitches against the Chicago White Sox. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

Minnesota Twins Takeaway No. 4: This bullpen is not as good as we thought, and some changes will have to be made.

Now that the 2020 season is over, Trevor May, Tyler Clippard, and Sergio Romo (team option) are all ticketed for free agency. While the Twins would love to have all three of these guys back, at least one of the trio will not be back in 2021.

May is headed for free agency as one of the best relievers on the market after a third straight season with a really good FIP, a solid ERA and high strikeout numbers. Twins fans love to hate on him, but he’s been a really good reliever with the best fastball in the bullpen. He’ll get a very large contract offer that will be almost impossible for the Twins to match.

Clippard is due a raise as well, as even though he’s turning 36 in the offseason, he was very, very good in 2020 (Rocco should have turned to him over Rogers in Game 2). I would expect May to earn about $8-10 million a year and Clippard to earn about half of that. If the Twins offered him a two year deal, he might stay for cheap.

Finally for Romo, who will turn 38 in the offseason, his option isn’t a no-brainer. He was awful in the playoffs and had one of the worst seasons of his career. Is he worth the $5 million option? If the team loses one of May or Clippard, probably, but Romo won’t last much longer in Minnesota.

The bullpen was exposed in the playoffs, allowing 6 of the seven runs that the team gave up, and they did it over just 8 innings. That’s not gonna cut it. I expect more signings like Clippard and Matt Wisler to improve the pen, but a move for an elite reliever would be really nice.

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Miguel Sano of the Minnesota Twins walks through the dugout after being defeated by the Houston Astros. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Minnesota Twins Takeaway No. 5: Something has to change to get over this playoff hump.

As everyone on Twitter, the broadcast, and that really annoying friend has pointed out: the Minnesota Twins have now lost 18 straight in the playoffs. Here’s what the Twins have done in the playoffs since winning the World Series in 1991 (now thirty years ago), here’s what the Twins have done in the playoffs:

  • 2002: Won ALDS vs. Athletics (3-2), Lost ALCS vs. Angels (1-3)
  • 2003: Lost ALDS vs. Yankees (1-3)
  • 2004: Lost ALDS vs. Yankees (1-3)
  • 2006: Lost ALDS vs. Athletics (0-3)
  • 2009: Lost ALDS vs. Yankees (0-3)
  • 2010: Lost ALDS vs. Yankees (0-3)
  • 2017: Lost AL Wild Card Game to Yankees (0-1)
  • 2019: Lost ALDS vs. Yankees (0-3)
  • 2020: Lost AL Wild Card Series to Astros (0-2)

That is 18 straight losses, 2-23 in their last 25 games, and 6-26 overall. The team has tried multiple different approaches to building a contender throughout this time as well:

  • Scrappy, young team that fought hard (2002-2004).
  • Playoff favorite with a Cy Young Winner, MVP, and a batting champ (2006).
  • Powerful lineup to make up for pitching (2009-2010).
  • Best power-hitting lineup in history (2019).
  • Really, really good pitching (2020).

All have finished with the same result: playoff losses. The team can’t seem to get out of it’s way, and it’s killing us. Something has to change. Something has to flip the switch and make this team a fighter. We’ll see if the Twins can find that in the wake of the of another disappointing playoff outcome.