The Minnesota Twins are back in the playoffs in one of the greatest turnarounds in major league history, clinching an American League Wild Card berth on Wednesday with a loss by the Los Angeles Angels.
The Twins, who lost 4-2 to the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday, are 83-75 on the season, assured of finishing ahead of the Halos, now 78-80.
Overcoming long odds has been the story of the these Twins, who rebounded from a 103-loss season in 2016, the most losses by any team that made the postseason the following year.
The Twins are in the playoffs for the first time since 2010, after averaging 94 losses in the six interim seasons.
Just three months ago, Minnesota had the first pick in the MLB Draft. That gets awarded to the worst team in baseball the previous year, and the Twins were just that, with nine more losses than any other team in baseball.
Even midway through this season, the Twins’ chances to compete seemed murky at best. They traded closer Brandon Kintzler to the Washington Nationals on July 31. They traded for starting pitcher Jaime Garcia, only to trade him away to the New York Yankees one week later after six losses in seven games dropped Minnesota five games back of the second Wild Card spot.
The Twins were four games below .500 as late as August 5, but since then are 31-18 (.633) and have outscored opponents by 97 runs during that time.
Most of this run for Minnesota has come without their best hitter. Miguel Sano, the 24-year-old power-hitting third baseman who leads the club in OPS (.870), slugging percentage (.514), wOBA (.365) and wRC+ (126) and is second in on-base percentage (.356) and home runs (28), last played on Aug. 19, missing time with a stress reaction in his left shin.
Sano is close to returning, though Twins general manager Derek Falvey said Wednesday that the third baseman won’t be available on Tuesday for the Wild Card Game.
Derek Falvey said Miguel Sano hasn't been officially ruled out of AL Wild Card Game. Joked he'd certainly take a Kirk Gibson-like moment.— Rhett Bollinger (@RhettBollinger) September 27, 2017
What has worked for the Twins is the emergence of Byron Buxton as a star in center field. Already one of the best defensive outfielders in the game, this season the bat has surfaced for the 23-year-old. Buxton is hitting .255/.317/.418 with 28 stolen bases, and since the All-Star break is hitting .305/.353/.560 with 11 of his 16 home runs.
Joe Mauer is healthy and doing Joe Mauer things again, hitting .305/.381/.417, and Brian Dozier followed up his 42-homer 2016 campaign with 33 more home runs this year, the first second baseman with 30 or more homers in back-to-back seasons since Dan Uggla (2007-11).
Minnesota is likely headed for a Wild Card matchup with the Yankees in New York — the AL Wild Card Game is on Tuesday, Oct. 3, on ESPN — which poses yet another obstacle for the team to overcome. The Twins have lost four of six games to New York this season and have lost 14 of their last 18 matchups to the Yankees dating back to 2015. In four playoff meetings (2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010), the Twins have lost all four series to the Yankees, losing 12 of 14 games.
Then again, clearing hurdles has been a mark of this Twins team all year long.