MINNEAPOLIS — The Twins had aspirations of playing deep into October this season.
In the end, they didn’t even make it there.
Just days after celebrating their second American League Central title in as many years, the Twins were the first team to bow out of the playoffs after being eliminated by the Houston Astros, the only AL playoff team to finish below .500 this season, thanks an anemic offensive performance. While the Astros will head the playoff bubble in Southern California, the Twins will pack up for home after falling 3-1 in Game 2 of the best-of-three Wild Card Series on Wednesday.
It’s a bitter, familiar feeling for the Twins, who suffered the same postseason fate last year and have now lost 18-straight postseason games, a streak dating back to 2004.
“It felt eerily similar to last year,” starter Jake Odorizzi said. “I hate to say it that way, but that’s kind of how it felt after how everything went down.”
Eerily similar to last year in that when the Twins reached the postseason, the bats went quiet. Eerily similar to last year in that a talented Twins team underperformed in the postseason.
The Twins finished the series with just two runs — both driven in by 40-year-old designated hitter Nelson Cruz — and seven hits in the two games. They were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position over the two games and left 13 men on base.
“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,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “You need the baserunners normally to make that happen at first and I don’t think we had enough baserunners and when we did have those baserunners, we didn’t get them home. Certainly not.”
Their only run of the day came on a Cruz double, which brought in Marwin Gonzalez. Second baseman Luis Arraez was thrown out at home on the play trying to score. The Astros then surged ahead in the seventh inning on a Carlos Correa solo homer off Cody Stashak that carried out to right-center field. Kyle Tucker, who drove in the Astros’ first run of the game in the fourth inning off Jose Berrios, delivered an RBI single in the ninth to pad the Astros’ lead.
The Twins weren’t without opportunities on Wednesday. They drew five walks, and their best chance came in the first inning when a pair of walks and an error loaded the bases. But rookie Alex Kirilloff, making his major league debut, flew out to end the threat and for the second straight day, the Twins stranded the bases loaded in the first inning.
“The Astros came right at us. They came right at us,” Baldelli said. “They threw a lot of fastballs, too, in different parts of these games, and we weren’t able to make the adjustment.”
The Twins got what they needed from their starting pitchers in the two-game series — five scoreless frames from Kenta Maeda on Tuesday and five innings of one-run ball from Berrios on Wednesday — but didn’t play their crispest baseball on Tuesday and didn’t hit anywhere near close to enough on either day to support those pitching performances.
This wasn’t supposed to play out this way. Not this year.
After an offseason in which their front office made two big splashes, inking former MVP Josh Donaldson to the richest free agent contract in team history and then parting with their top pitching prospect to acquire Maeda, along with other moves to supplement their roster, their expectations were sky high. Baldelli emphasized in his first meeting with his group in Fort Myers, Florida, that this group was capable of playing for a World Series trophy.
This was a group built to win a division and make a deep postseason run. And after navigating through the pandemic-shortened 60-game sprint, clinching the division on the last day of the regular season and drawing what looked to be the best-case first-round opponent, the Twins appeared poised to do just that.
“It was a tough year with an unexpected ending for us. We believed in ourselves, and we believed that we were capable of pretty much anything,” Baldelli said. “We went out there today, we went out there yesterday, didn’t play our best baseball. That is tough to take sometimes, but that is the reality of what happened.”
And perhaps that’s what makes Wednesday even harder on the group. While the Twins will return much of their core, key players like Cruz, Odorizzi, Gonzalez and Trevor May are among those headed for free agency with their futures in Minnesota in question.
These Twins were built to win. And instead, they felt the same familiar feelings that their predecessors did.
“Our aspirations were a lot more than what we achieved,” reliever Tyler Duffey said. “Guys who end up back here will remember that feeling again, and come spring training, that’s what keeps you going. That sting of today carries over into next year, and this time next year, hopefully we’re sitting in a different spot.”