The Minnesota Twins probably weren’t expecting to be where they currently sit heading into this season. Minnesota reached the playoffs in three of the last four seasons, and were looking to return once again in 2021 in the hopes of actually winning a playoff series for the first time since 2003. So far though — 35 games into the season — the Twins are 12-23, last place in the AL Central, and ten games out of first place — tied for the most of any team in The Bigs.
Minnesota is a much more interesting case study than their record shows, though. The Twins are 12-12 in 9-inning games this year, but they are 0-11 in 7-inning and extra-inning games.
This can’t be anything more than a statistical anomaly, right? In a sense, it is. No matter what circumstances a team finds themselves in, going 0-11 is highly unlikely. However, this streak is indicative of a couple of larger problems with Minnesota.
The Twins are 0-7 in extra inning games. In five of those games, the Twins bullpen allowed at least one run in either the 8th or 9th inning, allowing the game to be pushed into extras. Throughout 2021, the Twins have surrendered 19 runs in the 8th inning (.61 runs/inning) and 14 runs in the 9th (.56 runs/inning). Minnesota’s bullpen currently holds a record of 1-13 (.071 – the worst record in MLB) with a 5.09 ERA — the third-highest mark in the American League, ahead of only the Angels and the Tigers. They also have the fewest saves in the American League with five. The next closest are the Houston Astros… with 8. It has not been pretty after the Twins’ starters leave the game.
The Twins also lack a true power arm out of their bullpen. Only one reliever, Caleb Thielbar, has more than 20 strikeouts, and only two relievers — Taylor Rogers and Derek Law — have a strikeout-per-inning rate greater than one, while also maintaining an ERA under 3.50. All in all, the Twins bullpen has recorded a very mediocre 141 strikeouts in 132.2 innings pitched.
The bullpen isn’t all to blame though. The Twins have also been exceptionally bad at hitting with runners in scoring position. Despite having a runner start on second base at the beginning of every half-inning in extras, the Twins have scored just two runs in seven extra frames. This inability to drive runners home isn’t just a symptom of extra innings though. So far, Minnesota has stranded an average of 7.2 runners-on-base per game, more than any other team in the American League.
The 7-inning losses are more difficult to explain, and can probably just be chalked up to coincidence. Perhaps the team just wasn’t focused in those games. The Boston doubleheader came immediately after Minnesota police shot and killed Daunte Wright. Meanwhile, the Oakland doubleheader followed three of Minnesota’s games being suspended due to COVID-19 complications. Maybe those external matters played into the team’s lack of success. It’s not hard to believe considering the Twins have scored the ninth-most runs per game this season, but only posted three runs across all four 7-inning games.
All that being said, without a doubt, the Twins have a lot of problems they need to solve if they plan on returning to the postseason. Are they easily fixable? No, but based on previous season performances, we know that the Twins are capable of being much better than they currently are. Maybe some call-ups later in the season will boost the bullpen and improve the team’s clutch factor. All I know is that the Twins are winless in 11 games that weren’t exactly 9 innings, and there’s likely going to be a whole lot more of those before their season ends.