The Minnesota Twins looked like they were turning their season around when they left on a six-game road trip last week. Although they had dropped three of four games to the Boston Red Sox, a walk-off single by Max Kepler figured to be the catalyst for a climb toward the top of the division standings.
Instead, the Twins went winless in the four games they played, with two being postponed by the league due to a COVID-19 outbreak in their locker room. But it wasn’t just that they returned home without a win; it was how they lost and what happened that made it the worst road trip in recent memory.
This Hollywood nightmare began in Anaheim, where the Twins planned to play a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels. Minnesota took an early 3-2 lead, but the bullpen they bolstered in the offseason let them down again.
Randy Dobnak entered the game and immediately gave up a pair of runs to give the lead back to the Angels. In the next inning, everyone’s favorite Uber driver loaded the bases for Caleb Thielbar, who served up a majestic grand slam to Justin Upton and the Twins lost 10-3.
Any team will have games like this, but the Twins had to think they could get the Angels back the next day. Well, their next game didn’t arrive until the following Tuesday.
After a week where Andrelton Simmons declined to be vaccinated before testing positive for COVID-19, Rocco Baldelli’s status on the trip was in jeopardy after a positive test. Kyle Garlick, Kepler, and another staff member also tested positive, which sent the Twins into a lineup-shuffling frenzy. With the positive tests accumulating, the final two games of the series were postponed, and the Twins were confined to their hotel rooms until Monday night.
Upon their late-night arrival in Oakland, the Twins squared off with a team that had won eight straight games. This series came right after facing an Angels team with a winning record, a Red Sox team that had won eight consecutive games before Kepler’s walk-off single, and a three-game series against the AL West-leading Seattle Mariners.
Not only were the Twins running through the American League’s early-season gauntlet, but they were also doing so while fending off COVID-19. The result was a Tuesday doubleheader where the Twins didn’t score a single run. In what could have been a tribute to the Oakland A’s pitching staff, a bank of lights went out at RingCentral Coliseum, causing a 25-minute delay in the middle of the second game.
The A’s polished them off with a 1-0 victory in Game 2, and the Twins were shut out in both halves of a doubleheader for the first time since their inaugural season in 1961.
However, with a victory over the Athletics in Game 3, Minnesota could at least go home with a win and look to build momentum beginning with this weekend’s homestand. But Wednesday’s game was a never-ending set of peaks and valleys. Twins fans had to be thrilled to see Josh Donaldson hit his first home run of the season, but even that excitement was fleeting. Kenta Maeda was shelled for seven runs and was chased away after three innings.
Things looked up when Nelson Cruz made a Kirk Gibson impersonation, slugging a pair of home runs while limping around the bases, and the optimism continued to build after the Twins got up 10-7 after the sixth inning. But things unraveled when Baldelli went back to his bullpen. Hansel Robles struggled to get the A’s off the field, and Taylor Rogers allowed two runs before Byron Buxton made a diving grab in center field to seemingly preserve the game.
Even with a 10-9 lead, the Twins still had to close it out, and Baldelli turned to his most trusted weapon, Alexander Colomé.
Colomé posted a 0.81 ERA for the Chicago White Sox, but the success hasn’t translated with the Twins. With Baldelli almost begging for Colomé to validate his offseason signing, he trotted him out to the mound only to have the game tied on a Matt Chapman sacrifice fly. Just as disappointment set in, Buxton was ready to pull the Twins out of the loss column. He hit a 423-foot bomb, and the Twins had a 12-10 lead.
But Baldelli kept Colomé in the game, even as his pitch count climbed into the high 40s. He picked up the first two outs, but the Twins were not safe. The Athletics loaded the bases and set the stage for Baldelli’s lineup decisions to go wrong.
With the Twins’ bench exhausted from the COVID-19 outbreak, Baldelli was working with a roster that had four catchers. One of the few non-catchers, Travis Blankenhorn, entered the game as a pinch-runner for Donaldson in the 10th and booted the third out to let the A’s make it a one-run game.
The inherited run was the 17th allowed this season, meaning the Twins have allowed 73.9% of inherited runners to score. Entering Wednesday, no other team was higher than 50%, and the league average sat at 32%.
A slow roller that should have ended the game found Luis Arraez at third base. Instead, Arraez threw the ball into Nevada and the game-winning run scored in a 12-11 defeat.
Wednesday’s game was a microcosm of the Twins’ problems this season. They’ve been battered by injuries and COVID-19. They’ve run into teams when they’ve been white-hot. When one aspect is going well, the other is enduring a total system failure. It’s like the Twins got trapped in October and can’t find their way out of it.
The good news is the Twins will head back to Minneapolis on Wednesday night and begin a three-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday. Nothing that happened on the road trip went their way. But like anything in baseball, there’s always tomorrow.