The Twins reached baseball’s postseason late Wednesday night when the Los Angeles Angels lost in Chicago to the White Sox. The Twins’ reward is to be substantial underdogs in a wild-card playoff next Tuesday in Yankee Stadium.
Tom Kelly, the team’s former manager, was asked this week for his opinion on the one-game playoff and he said: “It is better than a no-game playoff.”
You can declare this to be a gimmick and complain of the watered-down quality of the postseason. There is also an opportunity to diminish such a Twins accomplishment by pointing out that the teams pursuing them all wound up bringing water pistols to a gunfight.
So, we have that stuff taken care of and now can make the point:
I’ve always contended there is nothing more enjoyable for sports followers than unexpected success, and seeing this team in the American League’s final five ranks as incomprehensible.
The Twins were on a 2-6 road trip at the end of July when Derek Falvey traded starter Jaime Garcia to the Yankees and closer Brandon Kintzler to Washington. Second baseman Brian Dozier said the Twins should be adding, not subtracting, and many of us defended Falvey’s front office.
The Twins lost three of five to start August and were 52-56 — the 11th-best record among the 15 AL clubs.
Dozier didn’t accept this. Neither did Joe Mauer, nor Eduardo Escobar, nor Eddie Rosario, nor Byron Buxton, nor Jorge Polanco, nor Taylor Rogers, nor a new reliever named Trevor Hildenberger … not even Kyle Gibson or the new closer, Matt Belisle.
The needed upgrade came from a solid number of players being the best they have ever been, or at least the best they have been in years. The Twins went on an 18-7 run from Aug. 6 to the end of the month, and when it was over, they were fifth overall and 1½ games ahead of the Los Angeles Angels for the second wild card.
The Twins have backed up that terrific August with a 13-12 record in September, following Wednesday night’s 4-2 loss in Cleveland.
There are ups and downs in baseball, always have been, always will be, but this hasn’t been the stumble-along pursuit that allowed the 2015 Twins to have a chance at the second wild card entering the final weekend.
The August surge and the September survival included numerous beatdowns of opposition pitching. Mollie’s Muggers reached an even 800 runs Wednesday, and are fourth in the major leagues behind the Astros, Yankees and Cubs in runs scored.
Did you ever think Rosario would be the amazing clutch threat — the lineup leader — he has become? I did, but you probably didn’t.
Did you ever think Buxton was going to quicken his swing and stop chasing endless pitches anytime soon, in order to start fulfilling that huge promise? You probably did, but I didn’t.
Did you ever think Jorge Polanco could become a capable No. 3 hitter in a playoff pursuit, after he had four hits in a hapless month of July? We’re lying if we say yes.
Did you suggest Dozier was being stubborn and Paul Molitor misguided in letting Brian continue to hit first? If so, he now has 33 home runs, 103 runs scored, 90 RBI and no pitcher wants to face him right off the bat, and he’s there every night.
Did you ever expect to see St. Paul Joe return to hitting more balls hard than soft, and adding Gold Glove-worthy fielding at his new position? No, we didn’t … not one of us.
Did you want the Twins to get rid of Belisle when he took those poundings early this season, and then scoff at Molitor’s idea to have him replace Kintzler as the closer? I was “no” on the first part and “yes” on the scoff.
Did you never want to see Gibson start again for the Twins? Were you skeptical of two nonpower pitchers, a stoical lefty (Rogers) and a funky, rookie righty (Hildenberger), as the setup crew?
Admit it: Yes, in both cases.
Finally, did you think it preposterous that a 5-10 (not really), 185-pound utility infielder could take over for an injured Miguel Sano in the middle of August, and make the Twins miss the 285-pound slugger hardly at all in the lineup, and less than zero at third base?
Eduardo Escobar, from here, you are the face of the 2017 Twins:
A team too plucky to give in, even when media members continually dismissed your club (I’m raising my hand) and the wiseguys upstairs lined you up against the clubhouse wall for a St. Ignatius Day* massacre.
*Note: The feast day of St. Ignatius Loyola is the July 31 trading deadline.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org