Twins

How Can the Twins Rediscover Their Positive Vibes From Last Year?

Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The vibes were immaculate at Target Field last fall. The Minnesota Twins had won a playoff game and a playoff series and had taken the Houston Astros to four games in the ALDS. They created a new wave of fans, and the team took momentum into the offseason. It seemed like it would take a lot to kill the good feelings from Minnesota’s most successful season in over 20 years.

As it turned out, all it took was 17 games.

The Twins fell to 6-11 on the season after losing in walk-off fashion to the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday afternoon. The good vibes are gone as they return to Target Field for a six-game homestand beginning with Friday’s game against the Detroit Tigers, and apathy has replaced the traditional spring optimism.

So, how did the Twins get here? And how can they bring a positive vibe back to Target Field?

It begins by realizing that it didn’t take 17 games to kill the good fortune. It took about six months.

November was a trying month for Twins fans. Sonny Gray and Kenta Maeda left in free agency, and a report that the team was slashing payroll soon followed. A history littered with penny-pinching left fans with a sour taste in their mouths. But so was Joe Pohlad’s attempt at transparency, first with Dan Hayes’s report at The Athletic and an interview with WCCO Radio in February.

Twins fans could care less about “right-sizing” a major league baseball franchise, but they had some things to hold on to. Play-by-play announcer Cory Provus hinted that more die-hard fans would be able to watch the Twins on television under a new distribution deal, and new stars such as Royce Lewis and Pablo López, along with established ones such as Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton, piqued the interest of casual ones.

The television deal ultimately fell through. Minnesota took a guaranteed payout from Diamond Sports, the parent company of Bally’s Sports North, rather than uncertain revenue by diving into online distribution. That not only kept the status quo in place but also kept Twins fans in the dark.

Think of it as an “out of sight, out of mind” situation. Twins fans couldn’t even watch Spring Training games, leaving the team as a virtual unknown when they took the field for their March 28 opener in Kansas City.

Lewis did his best to bring the good vibes back with a home run in his first plate appearance of the season, but it turned out to be another tease when he suffered a severe quad strain rounding the bases in his second at-bat.

That triggered the injury woes that the Twins have known too well. Lewis has the most charisma on the team, but he has spent more time on the injured list than on the field over the past three seasons. Top prospects Brooks Lee and Walker Jenkins landed on the injury list shortly after Lewis did in Kansas City. Correa said that aggressive sneezing and nose-blowing may have contributed to an intercostal strain that landed him on the shelf.

The endless march to the training room brought up the usual ill-informed comments on social media, but the Twins haven’t helped themselves by getting off to a miserable start.

The Twins offense came into Wednesday’s game 27th with 3.5 runs per game and had the eighth-most strikeouts with 166. Minnesota’s woes got even worse when Baltimore right-hander Albert Suárez, who owned a 6.46 ERA at Triple-A Norfolk and hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2017, tossed 5.2 scoreless innings on Wednesday afternoon. There don’t seem to be any signs of improvement.

There were also the pitching woes that fans could see back in November. Louie Varland was a middling starter before excelling in the bullpen down the stretch last season. However, the Twins ruled Anthony DeSclafani out for the season with a flexor tendon injury, forcing Varland back into the rotation. Chris Paddack has resembled Barney Fife more than Sheriff Bart.

Pablo López, Joe Ryan, and Bailey Ober (outside of his first start) have been serviceable to a degree. However, their razor-thin margin for error has magnified their blemishes.

That creates the feel of the worst possible trip to Target Field. The Twins strike out 10 times against a right-hander called up from Toledo, their pitching gives up 10 runs, and the price of a Michelob Golden Light and a Kramarczuk’s bratwurst requires a second mortgage.

But if there’s good news, it’s that the Twins have been here before.

On June 28 last year, the Atlanta Braves swept the Twins, dropping them to 40-42. The offense couldn’t carry the pitching staff, and Minnesota appeared to be falling out of contention. In the second half of the year, the Twins finished the season with a 47-33 record, won the AL Central, and had their best playoff run in two decades.

Many players who are still on the Twins roster were part of that run. Lewis’s return should help, and Correa looked like the franchise player he was expected to be before landing on the injured list. Buxton looks like his old self, and Alex Kirilloff and Edouard Julien look like important cogs in the lineup.

The pitching is a question, especially if they can’t figure out the back half of the rotation. But the bullpen has been solid outside of Griffin Jax, allowing a walk-off homer to Cedric Mullins on Wednesday afternoon.

That doesn’t mean Twins fans should walk into Target Field in an oblivious mood this weekend. But it also doesn’t mean the season is done after 17 games. Minnesota should be able to turn it around, and the vibes that followed this team into the offseason could return if the Twins can keep everything from falling apart in April.

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Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

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