One of the lengthier postseason droughts in baseball has finally come to an end. For the first time in seven seasons, the Minnesota Twins are headed to the playoffs.
The Twins clinched the second spot in the American League Wild Card Game on Wednesday night. While they couldn’t pull it off by themselves, falling to the Indians 4-2, they got some help from the Los Angeles Angels, who lost to the White Sox to fall five games behind with just four to play.
But the Twins’ trip to the postseason isn’t just a feel-good moment for Minnesota baseball fans — it’s an unprecedented feat in MLB history. The 2016 Twins went just 59-103, making this year’s model the first team ever to make the playoffs after losing over 100 games the season before.
“It’s been awesome watching this team come together all season,” said first baseman and former AL MVP Joe Mauer during a clubhouse celebration, according to The Courier. “This is the best sound in the world. It’s been one of the most fun years that I’ve ever had.”
While the Twins certainly pulled off a massive turnaround in the win column, a look at their actual roster doesn’t reveal many major changes from last year. Instead, more modest improvements across the board, like a resurgent year from Mauer and the continued development of youngsters Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, powered the team to 800 runs, a 78-run improvement over last year. The pitching staff, too, was better, cutting its ERA by almost half a run in a year of increased offence.
And yet, there is another reason for the Twins’ quick turnaround: MLB’s relatively recent increase from eight postseason spots to 10.
Since 2012, each league has matched up its top two non-division winners in a one-game playoff, kicking off the postseason with a thrilling win-or-go-home dynamic. At the same time, parity in the American League has skyrocketed; at this writing, a whopping seven teams sit within 3.5 games of each other, all between 75 and 78 wins. There are a number of causes behind this — indecision at the trade deadline, increasingly homogeneous analytics departments, and plain old luck among them — but the bottom line is that it’s easier than ever to stumble upon a playoff spot.
With five more victories than the best of that cluster, the Twins have certainly earned their playoff spot, but it’s worth noting how they were helped by the league’s dynamics. They must win all four of their remaining games just to tie the 2015 Yankees as the worst Wild Card team in the history of the league. Before the one-game playoff was implemented, we saw 15 consecutive years of American League Wild Cards with at least 90 wins, a streak stretching from 1997 through 2011. Solid as they have been, it seems reasonable to say that the Twins’ unprecedented turnaround would have been impossible just a few years ago.
And yet, they will have a decent shot at the World Series if they can survive nine innings of sudden death. They will hit the road to play either the Yankees or the Red Sox on October 3.
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