The Twins at least are getting more efficient in their playoff retreats. They didn’t even make it to October this time.
The most bizarre season in baseball history ended in the most familiar way possible for the Twins on Wednesday: A meek loss, this time 3-1 to the Astros, and an unceremonious sweep out of the playoffs. Barely 70 hours after celebrating their AL Central championship and reiterating their World Series ambitions, the Twins packed up for an extra-long winter, their offense already seemingly on ice.
“We weren’t expecting this, you know?” said a dazed Nelson Cruz. “I don’t think anyone was really expecting it to end this way.”
Well, maybe not in the clubhouse. But most Twins fans can sing these lyrics word-for-word by now: Eighteen consecutive playoff losses. Eight straight series lost, nine if you count a one-game wild-card cameo in 2017. Thirteen home losses in a row, in two different stadiums. The numbers are at once staggering in their scope and mundane in their resemblance.
The pitching was good but not impeccable, as it seems to be every postseason, and the hitting was uniformly lousy, another nagging playoff rut. Held to only four hits Tuesday, the Twins managed only three a day later, handing a team that finished the pandemic season with a losing record its ticket to the AL Division Series in Los Angeles.
The Twins, meanwhile, will begin their annual reckoning, trying to figure out how such a talented, confident regular-season lineup can turn into bread pudding in the postseason.
“I don’t think the types of at-bats that we had and the number of balls we squared up were what we’re used to,” sighed manager Rocco Baldelli. “It just felt like, regardless of what was going on or what part of the order was coming up, we just couldn’t put it together and push any runs across.”
Haven’t for awhile, actually. The Twins took glee in draping Cruz’s robe over home-run heroes in September, but that garment has remained on its hanger for a week. The Twins didn’t come close to hitting a home run in this brief series, and closed their season without a homer in their final 47 innings, their longest such drought in five years.
“Home runs don’t matter, it’s scoring runs any way you can. We put a lot of balls in play, it seemed like, but they were up in the air,” Max Kepler said. “It seemed like we played into their trap.”
They tried to escape it by filling the gap with patience — they drew five walks against starter Jose Urquidy and three relievers — and the occasional line drive, including Alex Kirilloff’s first big-league hit. The plan worked once, when Nelson Cruz lasered a double over left fielder Kyle Tucker’s head in the fifth inning, scoring Marwin Gonzalez, who had reached on an infield single. But Luis Arraez, on first base after a walk, took a wide turn around third and didn’t stop, and the relay from shortstop Carlos Correa beat him to the plate.
“I don’t know why [third base coach Tony Diaz] sent him,” Correa said with a smile. “So it felt good.”
Correa felt even better when he faced Cody Stashak with the score tied in the seventh inning. Stashak gave up only two home runs all season, and none since Aug. 8, but when he left a slider over the outside corner, Correa didn’t miss. It landed atop a tarp in the right-center stands, 430 feet away.
With that, Jose Berrios’ strong work — two singles, two walks and one run before being removed, much to his sadness, after only five innings and 75 pitches — was negated, and the annual gloom settled over Target Field.
Pinch runner Byron Buxton was picked off first base in the eighth. Taylor Rogers gave up a ninth-inning run, making the task a little harder.
All that was left was watching a former teammate, Ryan Pressly, close it out with a 1-2-3 ninth, freezing Jorge Polanco with a 97-mph third strike to end it — “Would have loved to see him give up a nice little five-spot, maybe a grand slam or something,” said Tyler Duffey, a close friend — and philosophizing about next year.
“We haven’t been successful in the playoffs lately, and that is a reality for all the fans and for everyone who cares about the Twins,” Baldelli said. “We want to do better.”
Maybe next year.