Twins

Will Minnesota's Regular-Season Record Matter If They Make the Playoffs?

Photo Credit: Brett Davis (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Twins had a 30-22 record on June 1st and a five-game lead over their top two opponents in the AL Central. Since then, the team owns a 29-33 record and is now two games back of the top spot in the division and the final Wild Card spot. It’s still way too early to say what will happen to the team over the course of the regular season. However, it’s safe to say the Twins have been underwhelming through the summer months.

Their recent slump has led many fans to wonder what the point is of even reaching the postseason. How far can they go if they don’t have a record like the Houston Astros or Los Angeles Dodgers? What are the odds this team can win a playoff game for the first time since 2004 and a playoff series since 2002?

Recent history suggests regular season success doesn’t always indicate postseason success. The 2019 Washington Nationals and the 2021 Atlanta Braves recently had unlikely playoff runs, eventually leading both to hold the Commissioner’s Trophy in their respective seasons.

In 2019, the Nationals were coming off a string of NL East titles, but they kept coming up short in the first round of the postseason. Until 2019, the Nats had never won a playoff series since coming to Washington and only one playoff series win since 1981 in Montreal. Washington lost Bryce Harper to free agency in 2018 and struggled early in the season. They turned a 19-31 record on May 23 into a 47-24 run over the next three months. They finished the season with a 93-69 record and on an eight-game winning streak.

A wild card berth was all it took for the Nationals to advance to a World Championship with series wins over a 106-win Dodgers team and a 107-win Astros squad. Washington’s bats cooled off about 80 points down from the regular season average, but their top-end pitching delivered in clutch moments. Washington turned a 4.27 team ERA in the regular season into 3.47 in the playoffs.

Something like Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, and 2019 Patrick Corbin together doesn’t exist in Minnesota. Still, the Twins have Tyler Mahle, Sonny Gray, and Joe Ryan, a trio of starters they should be able to start in the postseason. Top to bottom, it looks more competent than what the Twins have had in recent postseason runs. The only exception was 2020, with a staff led by José Berríos and Kenta Maeda.

Everything gets tighter in the playoffs, and lineups typically are less productive, especially with pitching staffs as good as the Astros and New York Yankees. If the Twins were to resemble Washington’s path to a championship, they would need to get elite-level pitching from their starters and high-leverage bullpen arms.

Maybe 2023 is a better opportunity for the Twins to make noise. Roster staples like Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, and Royce Lewis will be healthy to run it back, creating a more full team. At the trade deadline this year, the Twins could have decided that it seems more advantageous to wait for the right time to go all-in with a fading team. But it’s still fun when a team reaches the tournament. Just get in and see what happens because it’s a new season. Those Nationals and Braves teams could ride their momentum into something special.

The 2021 Braves are an excellent example of a team just going for it. Braves star player Ronald Acuna Jr. went down with a knee injury during the home stretch of their season. Atlanta was also without their ace starting pitcher Mike Soroka for most of the season. Instead of packing in the season when Acuna went down, the Braves completely remade their outfield, adding Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall, and old friend Eddie Rosario. Each player was an unlikely key piece to the team’s improbable championship run.

Minnesota has also been knocked around with injuries, but management still pushed their chips into the table for a 2022 run. The front office retooled the back end of their bullpen and supplemented the rotation. Jorge López and Michael Fulmer give the Twins greater flexibility in late-game situations. Newly acquired starter Mahle adds a top-of-the-rotation arm to provide the team with three competitive starting pitchers for a potential playoff series.

Sometimes it’s not always how well a team plays but who they play. The 2019 Nationals and 2021 Braves both enjoyed a relatively easy final stretch of the season. From Aug. 13 onward for the 2019 Nationals and 2021 Braves, this time of the year helped propel them into their playoff positions. Washington’s final 13 series featured just six of them against teams with winning records and a 29-14 record in that time. Atlanta had it even easier with eight of their final 14 series against losing teams for a 28-16 record.

The Twins are enjoying a stretch of winnable at the right time too. It couldn’t have come at a more opportune time because the team owns a 33-39 record over their last 72 games. A path is wide open for the Twins to climb back into the standings. Their final 14 series have six opponents with losing records along. The San Francisco Giants and Boston Red Sox have enjoyed recent success, but they are beatable .500 teams. If that’s not enough to get the Twins back into first place, they have two series left against Cleveland and three remaining with Chicago. Plenty of games and plenty of opportunities for Minnesota to take advantage of a softer remaining schedule, just like Washington and Atlanta did in recent years.

The Nationals and Braves also had postseason experience. They had their fair share of playoff disappointments but learned how to win on the biggest stage. This year’s Twins team may have one of the younger rosters in baseball, but there is crucial postseason experience. A good amount of players from the 2019 and 2020 squads are still in Minnesota, while Carlos Correa has played in three of the last four World Series. It doesn’t always mean success, but teams that go on these kinds of runs are typically able to avoid getting washed out in the bright lights of October baseball.

I’m not saying the Minnesota Twins are primed to win a World Series in 2022. But there still is enough talent on this team. Something might still be there that could put this team in a good spot to make a postseason run. It still is a longshot, but there is enough recent history to give the Twins some hope that they can be this year’s version of those Nationals and Braves teams.

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Photo Credit: Brett Davis (USA TODAY Sports)

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