MINNEAPOLIS — Not enough, but still plenty. That’s probably how I’ll look back on this Minnesota Twins season, my 21st writing about the team.
Coming off back-to-back losing seasons and picked to finish second or third in the American League Central, the Twins cruised to the division title, winning by nine games and all but wrapping things up with several weeks to play. More importantly, they made some postseason noise for the first time in two decades, providing a much-needed jolt to disillusioned fans and creating new ones.
First they snapped the longest postseason losing streak in North American pro sports history, winning their first playoff game since 2004 to mercifully bury the 0-18 narrative. Then they won their first playoff series since 2002, sweeping the Toronto Blue Jays in back-to-back games at Target Field that overflowed with the excitement, pride and hope that have been so severely lacking.
From there they moved up in weight class and ultimately came up short against the reigning World Series champions, falling to a star-studded and battle-tested Houston Astros team that reached the ALCS for a remarkable seventh straight season. Even in a 3-1 series loss, the Twins gave their playoff-scarred fan base a forever memory with a thrilling, Pablo López-led Game 2 win in Houston.
“We’ve got a sense of what this is like,” Ryan Jeffers said. “We’ve got a sense of what’s next. We’ve gotten over a lot of humps this season that we needed to go over. Now we have a new hunger for October baseball.”
— MLB (@MLB) October 9, 2023
This wasn’t a great team by any stretch of the imagination, but they were good and they were fun and they were different, snapping two historic losing streaks that loomed over everything the Twins did for 20 years, like a restrictor plate on happiness. Now the slate is finally clear, and they can simply be a normal team, freed from carrying the overwhelming weight of endless October suffering.
“I think the future is going to be bright for this team,” said Edouard Julien, a rookie who hit .294 with a 1.043 OPS in his first postseason. “Now, to have a taste of what it is in the playoffs, I just want to be back.”
For too long, those playoff losing streaks have served as a cudgel to beat down any sense that good things can happen to the Twins. Why be enthused about smart trades or signings if they’re never going to win in the playoffs anyway? Why get hyped up about good games or months or even seasons if it only leads to failure in October? Why get your hopes up, only for them to come crashing down?
But now the Twins have proof of concept. They’ve won in October, and they’ve given their fans some of the highs and lows that come with experiencing playoff baseball with your mind open and your guard down. There’s no longer reason to assume they can’t do it — and even more — again next season, which is such an essential part of fandom that Twins supporters had been deprived of completely.
“It was awesome,” Joe Ryan said. “The regular season feels like, I mean, I don’t want to discredit the big leagues or anything, but it just feels like a wash at this point, once you make the postseason. Like, this is what it’s all about. I think everyone’s energy is reignited and feels great and this is where you want to play the whole time. You just want to get back.”
— MLB (@MLB) October 12, 2023
Now that only losing in the playoffs is no longer inevitable, it’s safe to dream of winning. Games, series and even championships. That belief is the lifeblood of sports fandom, and now it’s flowing again through Twins fans’ veins thanks to López, Julien, Royce Lewis, Carlos Correa, Jhoan Duran and other players who showed that the October lights don’t always have to be too bright.
“The team is hungry in a way that I don’t think we probably even were before,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “You get a taste of something like this, you show this to people, what this looks like, what it is. We’re not that far from playing in the World Series.”
Exactly how far away is certainly up for debate. There will be plenty of time to analyze and discuss what comes next for the Twins. For now, though, the most valuable development from the 2023 season might have been changing what a modern Twins fan believes is possible in October and ending the soul-crushing notion that everything should be viewed through the lens of playoff ineptitude.
They won three playoff games this month after winning a total of six playoff games in the previous 30 seasons combined.
“I want this to serve as fuel for the guys for next year, because we’re going to be in this spot once again for a long time,” Correa said. “If you look at the group of players we have here, they’re young, they’re going to be here for a while and we can build something special.”
(Top photo of manager Rocco Baldelli: Daniel Shirey / MLB Photos via Getty Images)