Regular-season success was expected for the 2021 Twins. The unanswered questions were whether they could end their 18-game postseason losing streak and if they would have to go through the Yankees to do so.
With the season entering its third month, one team is not even close to playoff worthiness, and the other just was swept at home by the hated Red Sox to fall into fourth place in the AL East.
Both the Twins and Yankees could be making tee times in early October — although the chances that Josh Donaldson and Gerrit Cole end up in the same foursome seems remote.
For a Twins team that has largely been competitive since the 2000s and is coming off three playoff appearances in the past four seasons, a visit from the Yankees was supposed to be one of the highlights of the regular season. Yankees fans would fill Target Field and the Twins would see how they measured up — even if they ended up on the losing end most of the time.
This will be New York's first regular-season visit since the Yankees took two of three from the Twins in July 2019. That included an epic 14-12 win in 10 innings when Aaron Hicks' diving catch with two outs and the bases loaded robbed Max Kepler of a game-winning hit.
The postseason has been even more lopsided, as the Pinstripers have reeled off 13 consecutive wins over the Twins.
This week might be the only meeting of the year at Target Field between these equally flawed teams.
The Twins felt confident about changing their fortunes this season, with a powerful lineup, some potentially effective relievers and starters Kenta Maeda and Jose Berrios topping the rotation.
Instead the Twins are 24-35, 12 games back in the AL Central and nine games out of a wild-card spot. They have 11 players on the injured list and have used six different center fielders. They played a game at Kansas City last week with only one player from the Opening Day lineup in it.
The Twins need to play .641 ball the rest of the way just to reach 90 victories, requiring instant health and everlasting luck.
When the offense isn't producing, it puts more strain on a pitching staff that has been an eyesore at times. Twins pitchers are 26th in ERA, 28th in strikeouts and have given up the third-most home runs. They have pitched better against lefthanded hitters of late, but lefties are still batting .277 with an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .864 against the staff. Matt Shoemaker, who has mentioned everything from bad luck to sweaty palms for his struggles, has a 7.28 ERA yet remains in the rotation.
Twins pitchers could get a reprieve this week as they will face a toothless Yankees offense that is injured, righthanded dominant, lacks speed and is 25th in runs scored. New York has nine players on the injured list and has used seven different center fielders, including Aaron Judge in two games. And Judge is the only starter with an OPS over .800. Murderer's Row, they ain't.
Starting pitching was a concern on Opening Day, as Corey Kluber, Domingo German and Jameson Taillon combined to throw one inning in 2020 and another pitcher, Jordan Montgomery, threw 44. But the rotation has been a surprise.
Montgomery and German have been solid. Kluber was very good, throwing a no-hitter on May 19 before landing on the injured list for two months because of shoulder problems. Cole, Wednesday's starter, has pitched like an ace, going 6-3 with a 2.26 ERA. His next start will be interesting after Donaldson, during a rant about pitchers getting away with using foreign substances to improve spin rates, used Cole as an example.
"Is it coincidence that Gerrit Cole's spin rate numbers went down [Thursday vs. Tampa Bay] after four minor leaguers got suspended for 10 games?" Donaldson said before Friday's game. "Is that possible? I don't know. Maybe. At the same time, with this situation, they've let guys do it."
With the Twins on the outside of the postseason picture and the Yankees looking up at three teams in their division, the most interesting thing about this week's series might be what Cole spins up to Donaldson.