The most impressive thing about this? The Twins are the first baseball team to ever lose 100 games and then make the postseason the next year.
Talkin' magic numbers once again
It seemed like a near certainty for a while now, but there's just something about officially clinching that gives you all the sports warm and fuzzies. Plenty of suds soaked the visiting clubhouse in Cleveland during the late-night celebration. It brings back memories of the 2000s when the Twins won their string of AL Central Division titles.
The Twins had a magic number of 1 headed into play Wednesday night, needing a win or an Angels loss. Unfortunately, the Twins and their bats was no match for Danny Salazar on the mound for the rolling Indians (a team that's lost just three games in the past month or so). The Twins finally managed a couple hits in the 9th, with a two-run homer off the right-field pole from Jorge Polanco, but the Indians won 4-2.
So, the Twins didn't get to celebrate on the field. They probably didn't care a couple hours later though. Instead, they went back to the clubhouse to watch the end of the Angels game v. the White Sox in Chicago. Naturally, the Angels tied up the game 4-4 and it went to extra innings. Nicky Delmonico hit a two-run homer in the 10th, and it was time to pop the champagne.
The little team that could
Fox Sports North stayed on with their coverage after the game and through the celebration. They talked with Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. Falvey mentioned the word "resiliency" for this team, because he said he couldn't think of another word for this group of guys.
It really is true. Fans could have written off this team (and maybe they did) more than once this season. The awful series against Houston in May. The dreadful road trip out west just before the trade deadline. There was some frustration from players when the front office dealt closer Brandon Kintzler at the deadline in a throwing-in-the-towel move.
They went on some modest losing streaks but always came back with a solid series or by beating a team with a better record.
One of the fun things to watch with this team is their home-run power. The Twins have hit 83 home runs since August 8, the most in baseball. They have 202 homers for the season, which ranks in the top five all-time for the Twins. They have four players with 20-homer seasons; Max Kepler needs one more homer to reach 20 to make it five players for the first time in team history.
So many great storylines this year
Sometimes, you point to a moment or a player that is the biggest reason for a turnaround. The list is pretty lengthy with this club. The front office didn't end up trading Brian Dozier in the offseason like some thought might happen. He's not on the home-run tear of late in 2016, but he's still come on strong in the second half and leads the team with 33 homers. His biggest one came late in Tuesday's game with the Twins down by a pair of runs. He went opposite field for a three-run homer to right to give the Twins the win.
There's Ervin Santana, a veteran pitcher who also wasn't traded away. He has complete games, shutouts and plenty of solid outings to his name this season. He was nearly unbeatable early in the year with a nonexistent ERA.
Youngster Jose Berrios has come around on the mound, too, settling his nerves after last season and turning into a go-to starter in the rotation tagged as a future ace. Kyle Gibson has made a complete turnaround this year after being sent to AAA; all he does is lower his ERA lately. The bullpen has come through in key moments, with some rookie faces, too. Matt Belisle has found a home as a closer. Guys like Taylor Rogers and Alan Busentiz are reliable arms.
Joe Mauer is having one of his best years yet, hitting .300+ and playing Gold-Glove defense at first base. He's probably saved his infielders some errors on the scoresheet. Polanco came back from a dreadful start at the plate to hit homers and drive in runs. Eduardo Escobar has filled in well at third base in the absence of slugger Miguel Sano (he's been out since mid-August with an injury).
The outfield is pretty well set with Eddie Rosario-Byron Buxton-Kepler. Rosario has a great arm and also had his best season at the plate, whacking away at homers. Buxton's offense was slow early on but has really come alive. To me, it doesn't matter anyway because his defense outweighs everything. His speed allows him to cover practically the entire field by himself, resulting in highlight-reel catch after catch.
Enjoy the journey
This year has been so much better than the last. The Twins starting winning games. They held the division lead for a while before settling in to the wild card race. If they took a lead in a ball game, their pitchers held the lead and the offense went to work adding runs. Just this month alone the Twins have hit double-digits in runs seven times, including 17-0 and 16-0 shutouts. They've hit six homers in a game more than once, plus a seven-homer game at Target Field, setting a park record.
No matter how the Twins clinched, or who they play (not going there right now), or the debate about whether the wild-card game is considered the postseason, the jump from 2016 to 2017 for these Twins is one to enjoy. It's hard to believe too many people expected this at the start of the season.
What a fun ride.