The opening day of the 2021 season was a beautiful sight for the Minnesota Twins. With the sun shining through the Milwaukee Brewers’ retractable roof and the fans filling 25 percent of the bleachers, nature was healing. On the second at-bat of the game, Josh Donaldson stepped to the plate and laced a double into the gap.
Things turned sour before he reached second base.
When Donaldson rounded first, he felt something in his hamstring and limped into second. He was removed from the game at the end of the inning. But the injury had a much more significant impact than a 10-day stint on the injured list.
Donaldson’s injury foreshadowed what was to come. This season has been littered with injuries for the Twins. While other flaws have dragged Minnesota to the bottom of the American League Central, injuries to key players have played a significant role.
While Donaldson’s stay on the injured list was short, the impact was felt in the Twins’ early-season plans. The Twins were hoping to get by with a combination of Jake Cave, Kyle Garlick and Luis Arraez in left field until they could call up Alex Kirilloff. But when Donaldson got injured, Arraez was moved to third base, thwarting the idea of his “super-sub” role.
Two weeks later, Andrelton Simmons tested positive for COVID-19. The virus spread through the Twins clubhouse putting Garlick, Max Kepler and reliever Caleb Thielbar on the COVID reserve list. With three of their outfield options unavailable, the Twins were forced to lean on Cave more than they had planned and fully exhausted their taxi squad on a six-game road trip between Anaheim and Oakland.
Things got worse when Miguel Sanó went on the injured list with a hamstring strain. Although Kirilloff was called up to replace Sanó at first base, he went down with a wrist injury a couple of weeks later, which rushed Sanó back to the lineup.
Sanó’s hamstring isn’t the sole reason he’s hitting .158 on the season, but he has a history of not recovering quickly from injuries. With Sanó struggling to size up the ball, he’s recorded some of the lowest Statcast measurables of his career, which has taken production out of the Twins lineup. Meanwhile, Kirilloff smashed four home runs during a series win against the Kansas City Royals but went on the injured list with a sprained wrist on May 3.
One week later, the Twins lineup took a fatal blow when Byron Buxton injured his hip while trying to make a leaping catch in center field. Buxton had gotten off to the best start of his career, but his injury left the Twins without a legitimate option in center field.
Kepler took over for Buxton initially, but the move sapped their defense in right field. Cave started to see more work in center field, but a stress reaction in his back has given us the legend of Rob Refsnyder, who wound up on the shelf after crashing into a wall at Camden Yards.
But the slew of injuries hasn’t limited itself to the lineup. The starting rotation has fallen victim to the injured list. Michael Pineda enjoyed a 10-day stay with an “abscess removal procedure” and Kenta Maeda landed on the list with a strained groin.
This put strain on a rotation that was supposed to have depth this year, including Matt Shoemaker (2-6, 5.90 ERA), Randy Dobnak (1-4, 6.49 ERA) and J.A. Happ (3-2, 5.24 ERA). With most of their top prospects hindered by losing a year of development, the Twins have had to reach deep into their system, which has resulted in Bailey Ober and Lewis Thorpe receiving starts.
It should also be mentioned that another top prospect, Royce Lewis, isn’t playing this year because he tore his ACL slipping on some ice — in Texas.
With Kepler (hamstring) and Mitch Garver (groin contusion) the latest to land on the injured list, it’s not only curious to see who the next player will be in the lineup but how the next injury will occur. With Garver’s injury coming on a foul tip to the groin, it’s only logical that the next injury will be a reliever trying to iron his shirt while wearing it or cutting their pinky fixing a drone.
The Twins have had plenty go wrong that has been within their control in this season, but with how injuries have piled up, it’s just not their year.