How Did the Twins Squander This Opportunity Against Baltimore and KC?

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan (USA TODAY Sports)

Just a couple of weeks ago, the Minnesota Twins had a great opportunity to gain ground after a slow start to the season. According to FanGraphs, the Twins had a 63 percent chance to reach the postseason when the season started. Two weeks ago, the Twins sat in last place in the AL Central with a record of 17-29 and 9.5 games back of the division-leading Chicago White Sox.

The season looked to be over, but there was one last chance to get back into contention. They were about to embark on a 13-game stretch where the Twins would play two series against the Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Royals.

Baltimore was in the midst of a 10-plus-game losing streak, along with a then-seven-game losing streak against the Twins dating back to 2018. Kansas City was doing better than most had expected this year, but Minnesota had still enjoyed success against them in the last few seasons. Along with that, the Royals were ending a double-digit losing streak of their own.

The Twins had started to find their footing, going 5-5 in their last 10 games before the series against the Orioles. It didn’t seem too crazy that they could turn their season around. Miguel Sanó had been starting to crush the ball again after a disastrous start to the season. Rookies Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach looked solid off big-league pitching. After a poor start to the year, Hansel Robles and Alexander Colomé were doing better in late-game situations, and the bullpen was beginning to hold it together.

Going 13-0 wasn’t going to be realistic. But 10-3 didn’t seem to be out of the realm of possibility and would have put themselves just five games under .500 in early June with momentum and plenty of season left to keep chipping away at the Chicago White Sox’s division lead. The last two weeks felt like Minnesota’s last shot to make something of a season that was already beginning to look like a lost cause.

Well, things didn’t exactly go the way the Twins would have hoped.

They only managed to go 7-6. That record may not seem underwhelming on its face, but it feels like a lateral move because of the hole the Twins dug themselves into in the first two months of the season.

The first series against Baltimore started off on the right foot. A three-game sweep at home against a struggling Orioles bunch moved their record to 21-29. The offense teed off by scoring 18 runs in the series, and the pitching staff only allowed nine. Oh yeah, and Sanó continued his hot streak with a three-run bomb late that set the Twins up for the sweep in the final game of the series.

So far, so good.

The Royals had only scored five runs in their series against the Tampa Bay Rays. But they found their offense again in Target Field and scored five runs in the seventh inning off Randy Dobnak on their way to an easy win. The Twins won the next day but went on to lose the rubber match 6-3 thanks to another poor start from Matt Shoemaker.

It also didn’t help that the Twins offense wasn’t able to take advantage of multiple innings with the bases loaded. Sanó struck out and grounded into a double in two of those situations, emblematic of Minnesota’s efforts overall. A growing issue this season has been the inability to score runners in scoring position. According to Team Rankings, the Twins ranked 24th in baseball, averaging 3.61 runners left in scoring position per game. As a result, the Twins left the K.C. series with a 21-31 record and a missed opportunity at home.

Everything was in place for a winnable series in Baltimore. The Orioles were still on their losing streak, and the Twins offense could get the bats going with the hitter-friendly Camden Yards.

Unfortunately, Rob Refsnyder, a guy who had been playing well in center with no previous experience and was providing a spark for the Twins, had a wicked collision with the wall in center field. It felt symbolic of the year as a whole. Just like that, the team was once again looking for another centerfielder.

They called up prospect Gilberto Celestino from Double-A to take his place. Until then, Willians Astudillo was penciled in right field and immediately was exposed. The Twins were short-handed, but putting a guy nicknamed La Tortuga in the outfield for a stretch of time didn’t seem great.

And as if it couldn’t get any worse, Mitch Garver needed to be taken to the hospital for surgery after what the Twins could best describe as a “severe groin contusion” during last Tuesday’s game. Another crushing blow — not only for Garver, who will be out indefinitely — but also for an injury-riddled team. They now just lost a catcher that was becoming one of their better hitters this season.

Speaking of hitting, the Twins bats didn’t show up. Once again, struggling with runners in scoring position, and Sanó went ice-cold by going 0-9 in the series. Colomé gave up a pair of runs late in the series finale that would put the game out of reach and would lose the game and the series. However, the Twins let the Orioles snap out of their losing spell, and Minnesota’s record was 22-33 after losing their second series in a row.

The last hope for the Twins was a strong showing in Kansas City. The Royals took the first game after Larnach and Celestino crashed into each other after a miscommunication on a routine fly ball, followed by a throwing error that scored the go-ahead run. Then the Twins got clobbered the next night, giving up 14 runs after Shoemaker couldn’t even record two outs in the first inning. If there was ever a time to stick a nail into this season’s coffin, this was it.

The Twins were able to salvage the final two games, split the series, and enter the New York Yankees series with a 24-35 record. They are tied for last place with the Detroit Tigers in the Central, 12 games back of the White Sox, and their FanGraphs playoff odds shrunk down to 3.9 percent.

A winnable period of games that could have saved the season has passed the Twins by. They played like the team we’d seen so far this season. Unfortunately, they have an inability to bring in runners from scoring position, bullpen issues, poor defense, free agent signings not working out, along with injuries and regression from key starters. However, there are some positives. Josh Donaldson is raking. Kirilloff and Larnach continue to develop and grow with every big league at-bat. And more prospects are getting playing time like Celestino, Ryan Jeffers, and Nick Gordon.

With the easy stretch wrapped up, the Twins have a much tougher homestand, featuring series against the Yankees and Houston Astros — two talented teams expected to be in the thick of the postseason race. Unfortunately, the games aren’t going to get much easier. With how the Twins performed in the last two weeks against much easier competition, it’s almost impossible they can somehow turn it around this far into the season.

The Twins squandered their last chance to make something of this season.

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