The first two months of the 2021 season have been a disaster for the Minnesota Twins. The team came into the season with a 63 percent chance to reach the postseason according to Fangraphs. Just before June, that number has dropped to 9 percent as the Twins sit 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.
Since the start of May, the Twins are 8-14. After losing three of four to the Texas Rangers and splitting a rain-shortened two games series with the Detroit Tigers. The rest of the month featured nine games against first-place teams like the White Sox and Oakland Athletics. Now the next couple of weeks look to be a bit easier on paper.
Minnesota’s underwhelming start to the season can be attributed to a mix of poor play and regression in several different areas, especially from the bullpen. There’s a good chance this season is already over before the summer months arrive. But in the next two weeks, the Twins have their last chance to turn 2021 into something other than a catastrophe. This next stretch of 13 games will either save their season or make it a lost cause.
The Twins are currently in a six-game homestand against the Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Royals, followed by a seven-game road trip against, well, Baltimore and Kansas City. This homestand started with an 8-3 win, Minnesota’s 13th straight over the Orioles, and Baltimore’s seventh loss in a row. Fangraphs gives the Twins at least a 58 percent chance to win each of the next five games against the Orioles.
Then there are the Royals. Minnesota and Kansas City have only played one series so far this year, and the Twins won two out of three at Target Field. Minnesota mashed K.C.’s pitching staff, scoring 25 runs in the series. The Twins are favored to win all but two of the next seven games against the Royals by Fangraphs, and both of the games they are favored in are close enough to be toss-ups.
The Twins have already turned a corner by going 5-5 in their last 10 games. It would be crazy to think they could win 13 games in a row, but they can make up ground here — as long as the Twins come away with a 10-3 stretch, that would improve their record to 27-32. That record would not be close to first place as the Twins are currently 9.5 games back of the Sox who have a record of 27-19. but it could significantly change the outlook on their season from becoming sellers at the deadline to making a bonafide playoff push.
The likelihood of a hot stretch seems more and more realistic with how the Twins have been playing lately. The bullpen continues to be the team’s weak spot. But Alex Colomé continues to redeem himself after a disastrous start, and Hansel Robles looks like he can handle high-leverage situations.
Kirilloff returned from the IL over the weekend and picked up right where he left off, consistently making hard contact with an average exit velocity of 94 mph with a .300 BABIP. Larnach got his first taste of big-league action while Kirilloff was on the IL and could be here to stay if he gets hot. The lefty has a .314 OBP and is finding his power, including an absolute bomb to center field Monday night.
And the young guys haven’t been the only hitters making some noise. After looking clueless at the plate for most of the season so far, Miguel Sanó jumped from ice cold to flaming hot over the last few weeks. Since hitting a go-ahead home run against Oakland a couple of weeks ago, Sanó has mashed six home runs while hitting a .865 slugging percentage and recorded an isolated power of .568.
With a potent offense back in action, this stretch is Minnesota’s last hope to try and save this season. After facing Baltimore and Kansas City, their next opponents are the New York Yankees and Houston Astros, who are both in first place in their divisions. Like the Yankees, maybe the Twins can turn things around after a bad start. Both teams made the playoffs in 2019 and 2020 but failed to live up to expectations early. If New York can get back on track, why can’t Minnesota?
The Yankees and Twins were both 6-11 at the end of April, tied for the worst record in baseball. Even after the slow start, the Yankees were just too great of a team to play that poorly and now sit atop a crowded AL East race at 28-19. During their last 30 games, the Yankees went 22-8; Minnesota had an 11-19 record during that same span. For the Twins, it has to feel like some kind of a run is right around the corner. This team is too talented to be sharing the AL Central basement with the Tigers.
This Twins team is flawed, and they are not as good as they were the last two seasons. Despite the step back, it looks like Baldelli and the Twins have found ways to manufacture production, and now the lineup is starting to click. Still, even if the Twins get hot, it might be too late to get into the playoffs.
They have just under a 10 percent chance to win the division, which is about as steep as you can get a third of the way into the season. But the Twins need to act fast to salvage any chance they have of turning this season into anything other than a colossal disappointment.
They need to start winning games now.