The Minnesota Twins' postseason losing streak has reached a stunning 18 games -- and now their 2020 season is over. The Houston Astros eliminated the Twins with a 3-1 victory on Wednesday at Target Field in Minneapolis, a disappointing finish for a team that had rallied to win its second consecutive American League Central title and finished with the best home record in the majors during the 60-game regular season.
The Twins' playoff streak is not only a major league record, but is the longest in U.S. sports history. The NHL's Chicago Blackhawks lost 16 straight playoff games from 1975 to 1979. Before the Twins, the previous MLB record belonged to the Boston Red Sox, who lost 13 playoff games in a row starting with the infamous Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.
"We haven't been successful in the playoffs lately, at all. That's a reality for all the fans and for everyone who follows the organization and cares about the Twins," second-year manager Rocco Baldelli said. "I'm aware of it now. The day I showed up here ... I had no idea that was even a thing. I didn't know it existed. I hear about it from people who care about this team. And you know what? We want to do better. We want to do better for ourselves, we want to do better for the organization and we want to do better for the fans, too."
The most recent Twins victory in the postseason was Game 1 of the 2004 American League Division Series against the New York Yankees, when they won 2-0 behind seven shutout innings from Johan Santana. Since then:
Three losses to the Yankees in that 2004 series.
Three losses to the Oakland A's in the 2006 ALDS.
Three losses to the Yankees in the 2009 ALDS.
Three losses to the Yankees in the 2010 ALDS.
A loss to the Yankees in the 2017 wild-card game.
Three losses to the Yankees in the 2019 ALDS.
Two losses to the Astros in the 2020 wild-card round.
"We weren't expecting this, you know? I don't think anyone was really expecting it to end this way. I mean, like life, baseball is also tough, it's unpredictable," Twins slugger Nelson Cruz said.
Said Baldelli: "It was a tough year with an unexpected ending. We believed in ourselves. We believed we were pretty much capable of anything. We went out there today, went out there yesterday, didn't play our best baseball. That is tough to take sometimes, but it's the reality of what happened."
The Twins have led in 11 of the 18 losses but have been outscored 107-48 overall -- including 44-14 from the seventh inning on. The Astros scored three runs in the top of the ninth in Game 1 to win 4-1 and scored the go-ahead run in Game 2 in the seventh inning. The Twins haven't scored more than four runs in any their past 15 defeats.
Along the way, there has been some bad luck. In Game 2 of the 2009 ALDS, Joe Mauer hit what should have been a leadoff double in the top of the 11th inning; his ball hit the left-field foul line, only to see umpire Phil Cuzzi call it a foul ball. Mauer singled and the Twins followed with more singles, but failed to score and the Yankees won the game in the bottom of the 11th.
Last season, some late injuries left the starting rotation a little short-handed against the Yankees. This year, Josh Donaldson and Byron Buxton were both injured in the final weekend of the season. Donaldson was left off the playoff roster because of a calf injury. Buxton, who was hit in the helmet by a pitch last Friday, started Game 1 but did not start Game 2 due to undisclosed physical reasons. He did enter in the eighth inning as a pinch runner -- and was picked off first base.
While the Twins will bring back most of their top players, they do have several key free agents to replace or re-sign, including the ageless Cruz, who led the team in home runs, runs and OPS. Pitcher Jake Odorizzi, who made only four starts due to injuries, is also a free agent. After the game, with his teammates back in the clubhouse, Odorizzi paused at the pitcher's mound and squatted over the rubber as the grounds crew cleaned up.
And Baldelli said he sees no reason the Twins won't be contenders again in 2021.
"This is a great organization, I love being here. I see no reason, and nothing stopping us, from having a ton of success the next time we get an opportunity to go and do this," he said. "We have all of the pieces, we have the right people, and I'll tell you what, this organization, from top to bottom, is a group of people that, if you know them, you would believe in them. Believe me."