Minnesota Twins: 2011 Twins and 2021 Twins are One and the Same
By Otto Johnson
The 2021 Minnesota Twins have seen their hopes of contention evaporate, and the back-to-back division championships feel like a decade ago. Unfortunately, the Twins team from a decade ago feels all too similar to this one.
Let’s look back to March 2011. Minnesota sports fans had just gone through a Vikings season where the team had lost 13 games, a Wolves season that saw them finish last in the NBA, and a Wild season that was a disappointment in Head Coach Mike Yeo’s first year. The Twins were the sole beacon of hope.
The 2011 Twins were coming off of division titles in 2009 and 2010 and though the team made some changes, there was a lot of optimism heading into the new year. Led by a strong lineup and solid pitching, the team had hopes for a third straight division title and an end to the playoff losing streak. Sound familiar?
The 2021 Minnesota Twins season is just like the 2011 season, and it’s still not fun.
If that rings a bell, let’s break down how we felt about the 2021 Twins in March. The 2021 Twins were coming off of division titles in 2019 and 2020 and though the team made some changes, there was a lot of optimism heading into the new year. Led by a strong lineup and solid pitching, the team had hopes for a third straight division title and an end to the playoff losing streak.
The only real difference in those two descriptions is that the playoff losing streak was 12 games back then, while it’s now 18 games this year. The similarities between the two teams are eerily similar, as it looks like we’re reliving the nightmare that was 2011. Let’s break it down.
Minnesota Twins Rotation: 2011 vs. 2021
This hurts to look back on, as the most obvious comparison here is the implosion of the staff ace from one year to the next. In 2020, Kenta Maeda finished second in Cy Young Voting after a dominant year before injuries and poor pitching ruined his first full year in a Twins uniform. The 2011 comparison? Francisco Liriano.
Liriano had an excellent 2010, winning 14 games with an ERA of 3.62 (2.66 FIP) and an incredible 201-58 K-BB ratio. He was finally living up to his potential, and the Twins had a true frontline starter to pair with the ever-consistent Carl Pavano. What happened in 2011? Liriano dealt with consistent struggles and a few injuries.
Liriano made 24 starts and posted a 5.09 ERA over 134.1 innings. Maeda posted a 4.66 ERA over 21 starts and 106.1 innings. Predictably, the rotation fell apart behind the ace in both 2011 and 2021.
In 2011, Carl Pavano wasn’t as effective as he had been in 2010 and he could best be described as okay (Michael Pineda in 2021), their best starter was a pitcher who didn’t finish the season in Scott Baker (Jose Berrios), and the other two pitchers in the rotation were disasters despite better years the year before (Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey then, J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker now).
The only clear differences was Baker got hurt while Berrios was traded and Blackburn and Slowey were way better than Happ and Shoemaker. In both years, young starters were called upon to fill in. Anthony Swarzak (2011) and Bailey Ober (2021) performed admirably. Liam Hendriks (2011) and Griffin Jax (2021) did not.
The woes of the starting rotation were a large reason the team struggled in both years, but it was far from the only reason that the teams struggled. Another reason was the bullpen, particularly two struggling closers.
Minnesota Twins Bullpen: 2011 vs. 2021
It’s very hard to build a bullpen when the pitcher at the back end is struggling. The Twins found this out the hard way in 2021 when Alex Colomé had one of the worst months of any pitcher ever before calming down to put together a solid year. The 2011 Twins had a similar issue with Joe Nathan.
Both Nathan and Colomé had awful starts to the year, losing their jobs as closer (Nathan to Matt Capps, Colomé to Hansel Robles), then getting the job back by the end of the year. Both teams also had a fantastic lefty (Glen Perkins and Taylor Rogers) and a whole lot of injuries.
The 2011 Twins and 2021 Twins had one last thing in common: both were massive disappointments from the year before, mostly because they let key contributors walk. The overconfidence each front office had cost them dearly.
Minnesota Twins Lineup: 2011 vs. 2021
In 2010, the Minnesota Twins hosted one of the best lineups in baseball led by Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jim Thome, Delmon Young, and Michael Cuddyer. That year, Morneau’s MVP season was cut short by a concussion, but the other four players picked up the slack and carried the team to the best record the team had in half a decade. There was little reason to believe it wouldn’t again.
In 2020, the Twins lineup was nowhere near as good as they were in 2019, but there was a lot of optimism that they would carry this team to it’s third straight to division title. Spoiler alert: the offenses didn’t carry the team in either season.
In 2011, the main issues was injuries. Only three starters played 100+ games: Danny Valencia, Ben Revere, and Cuddyer. That’s not gonna get it done. The 2011 offense struggled mightily, finishing in the bottom 5 in the American League in batting average, homers, runs, OBP, slugging percentage, and OPS. The culprit was pretty much everyone.
Jim Thome showed his age, slashing .243/.351/.476 but playing in just 71 games. Delmon Young hit .266 but his power evaporated. Both were traded in August. Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Denard Span played a combined 221 games. Cuddyer was the only positive player on the whole roster. But that’s not the worst part. That would be Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
The Japanese superstar was signed to a 3 year, $9.25 million contract that made him the eleventh-highest-paid Twin in 2011. He broke his leg in his sixth MLB game and never recovered in an awful season before publicly apologizing and requesting his release to go back to Japan.
Twins fans can’t blame him and it’s hard not to feel bad for him as a person, but he was a disaster. And when your biggest free agent signing falls apart doesn’t help a team already falling apart, not a lot is going right. By 2014, most of the team was completely gone.
Injuries marred the 2021 Twins too. Alex Kirilloff, Byron Buxton, and Mitch Garver all have missed massive amounts of time. Jorge Polanco, Andrelton Simmons, Josh Donaldson, Miguel Sano have stayed healthy, but the team has seen 20 different hitters already this season with one or two more than likely on the way. That’s really tough.
In addition, while the 2021 team has been far better statistically than 2011, they are currently eighth in the AL in runs, batting average, and on-base percentage. Individually, they’ve been solid, but as a team, incredibly disappointing.
Overall, the two teams didn’t accomplish much after back-to-back division championships in the years prior. A dumpster fire of a rotation, a problematic bullpen, and a subpar lineup sunk both teams. It’s hard for Twins fans to watch, but 2011 and 2021 are way too similar. Hopefully 2022 will go better than 2012 did.