Last year the Minnesota Twins found themselves in a unique situation. With the schedule reduced to 60 games due to the COVID-19 pandemic, each game’s value was magnified. There were sudden ups and downs, and a six-game losing streak in August seemed to end the Twins’ playoff hopes. In the end, they did make the playoffs but were swept by the Houston Astros in the first round of the playoffs.
The playoff version of the Twins seems to have carried over into the early part of this season. They started by taking series in Detroit and Milwaukee but have struggled against the Seattle Mariners and Boston Red Sox at home. Now that the Twins are owners of a five-game losing streak after Wednesday’s doubleheader sweep by the Red Sox, there is plenty of reason to panic.
But how much does an early losing streak really matter in a 162-game schedule?
In Milwaukee and Detroit, Minnesota’s shortcomings seemed to be bad luck. Although the Twins lost the first game of the Milwaukee series, it was on a walk-off hit. The Twins didn’t trail for the first time until the third game against the Brewers, and in that game, Minnesota used its power and Byron Buxton’s hot bat to come away with a series victory.
The Twins dropped a game at Comerica Park thanks to the extra-inning rule but bounced back to take two of three games from the Detroit Tigers, who are projected to be the worst team in the AL Central.
In both series, the Twins looked like a team capable of winning a division title for the third year in a row. But that changed when the Seattle Mariners came to Target Field.
After crushing the Mariners 10-2 in their home opener, the Twins regressed over the course of the series. After overcoming a 2-0 deficit, they dropped the second game only to see Alex Colomé blow a save opportunity.
But it was the third game of the Mariners series that exposed issues with their revamped bullpen. The Twins had a comfortable 6-0 lead going into the fifth, but newly acquired starter Matt Shoemaker ran into trouble. Once momentum got on Seattle’s side, the Mariners teed off on the Twins bullpen to score eight unanswered runs in an 8-6 victory.
Perhaps a hangover followed the Twins into the series with the Red Sox, but the bats were the next thing to go. After scoring just two runs in the first game against Boston, the Twins scored just three runs in a 14-inning doubleheader on Wednesday.
Even more concerning was the performance of the Twins’ starting pitchers. Kenta Maeda had a strong outing overall, but his second inning included a wild throw to third base that allowed Boston to score and extend the inning. With the Twins’ offense struggling, they couldn’t overcome in a 3-2 defeat.
José Berríos appeared to have the issue solved, throwing four shutout innings against the Red Sox in the nightcap. But things unraveled in the fifth inning as Berríos couldn’t find the strike zone. After Berríos left with the bases loaded, Tyler Duffey continued the bullpen’s issues, helping the Twins give up six runs en route to a 7-1 defeat.
In each game, Minnesota’s issues seemed to get worse. When one area was fixed, the Twins sprung a leak somewhere else, which isn’t unheard of during a five-game losing streak.
Fans will naturally be concerned during a downturn like this, but it’s been more about the fashion in which the Twins have lost. With blown leads, poor fundamentals, and rough outings on the mound, the Minnesota looks like they’ve teleported back to Yankee Stadium in October.
If there is good news, it’s that there’s plenty of time to turn this around. The Twins played most of this stretch without Josh Donaldson, who was injured during his first at-bat in Milwaukee. While having him out the first week of the year wasn’t ideal, he made his return in Wednesday’s nightcap, going 1-for-2 with a double.
The Twins also played the Red Sox series without Nelson Cruz, who is dealing with a non-COVID-related illness. One player normally doesn’t make a lineup, but with Miguel Sano, Max Kepler, and others getting off to a slow start, his absence is magnified.
Getting both those players back should mean good things for the Twins and doesn’t account for a hot streak later in the season for the players surrounding them. While Sano’s batting average dipped to .079, it won’t stay there over a 162-game season. He’ll either improve or get replaced in the lineup. The same goes for Kepler (.211), Jorge Polanco (.167), and Mitch Garver (.172).
If those struggles continue, the Twins have reinforcements in the minors that could help. Alex Kirilloff made his regular-season debut in the Twins’ second game against the Red Sox, and other players such as Brent Rooker and Trevor Larnach could also get a shot if they need an offensive boost.
This is a much better team than their performance against the Red Sox indicates. If the Twins can find a way to weather the storm, they’ll be in contention in a division where their only real competition is the Chicago White Sox.