On the final sequence of last-gasp hope Monday against Cleveland, the Twins put together a sixth-inning rally after falling behind 4-0 when starter Sonny Gray was ineffective and left with a likely season-ending injury.
Down just 4-3, they got a one-out single by Gilberto Celestino, followed by a Jake Cave single. Matt Wallner was hit by a pitch, loading the bases. Mark Contreras, pinch hitting for Caleb Hamilton, who had replaced Sandy Leon, lined into an inning-ending double play. Cleveland went on to win 11-4, with infielder Jermaine Palacios pitching the final out.
You might not have heard of most of those players at the start of the season, let alone imagined they would factor into a quasi-meaningful September game.
The Twins are now eight games out with 14 to play after another loss Tuesday, this time 5-4 to Kansas City. They are 73-75 on the year, leading to a question I posed on Wednesday's Daily Delivery podcast: Which version of the Twins do we believe is the real team?
They vaulted to a 27-16 start, helping them build a 5.5-game AL Central lead. But that lead evaporated by early August and has been completely reversed in September. The cold reality is that the Twins are 46-59 since that start — a pace, as noted by Aaron Gleeman, that would lead to 91 losses over the course of a full season.
The poor play is the larger sample size. It has also been influenced by a rash of major injuries — which led to a collection of unknowns playing outsized roles.
Confusing things even more: The Twins are 47-39 when Byron Buxton starts this season, while they are 26-36 when he doesn't start. Is that bad luck, or is it bad planning to go into season so dependent on someone who has shown he isn't durable? (It should be noted, too, that Buxton has played just 53 games in centerfield this season, less than one-third of a 162-game schedule).
One area of relative durability this season: the back end of the rotation. Dylan Bundy and Chris Archer have combined to make 52 starts this season. But the Twins are just 20-32 in those games, depending heavily on their bullpen to compensate for short starts.
I'm inclined to believe the Twins' fade this year was at least some combination of bad luck and bad planning. Twins decision-makers better be clear on how much each of those factors contributed as they start planning for 2023.