In 2016, the Minnesota Twins had an abysmal record of 59-103, nine games worse than any other team in the majors. They finished 35.5 games back in the AL Central and 30 games back in the AL Wild Card.
And now, the Twins are going to the playoffs.
Minnesota (83-75) locked up the second AL Wild Card slot — and their first playoff berth in seven years — after the Angels lost to the White Sox on Wednesday night.
The moment… pic.twitter.com/unQQnkB84y
— Dustin Morse (@morsecode) September 28, 2017
AND WE CAN BUILD THIS DREAM TOGETHER pic.twitter.com/oqKZ36CdMp
— Parker Hageman (@ParkerHageman) September 28, 2017
By clinching the postseason berth, the Twins became the first team in MLB history to lose 100+ games and make the postseason the following year.
There it is. Angels lost in 10 innings. The Twins are headed to the postseason. First @MLB team to ever go from 100 losses to the playoffs.
— Rhett Bollinger (@RhettBollinger) September 28, 2017
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) September 28, 2017
The Twins will face the Yankees in the one-game AL Wild Card playoff, and if they win that game, will have to face the Cleveland Indians or Houston Astros. Minnesota would be underdogs in every playoff game, and even with short-series randomness, FanGraphs and Five Thirty Eight both only give the Twins a 1% chance of winning the World Series.
But this Twins team certainly doesn’t care about the odds. FanGraphs gave the Twins a 4.8% playoff shot entering the season, and here they are with a postseason berth locked up.
Even the Twins’ front office seemed to accept that the team’s playoff odds weren’t great in late July. Less than a week after acquiring starting pitcher Jaime Garcia from the Braves, the Twins traded the left-hander to the Yankees. Minnesota had just lost five of six games and saw their playoff odds take a big hit.
From my write-up on the Garcia-to-Yankees deal on July 30:
Well, the Twins’ playoff chances have gone downhill since the trade. The team has lost five of six games, while the Indians have won nine straight games. The Twins (50-52) are now seven games back in the AL Central, and they’re 4.5 games back in a crowded AL Wild Card race (in fifth place for two spots). FanGraphs now gives the Twins just an 8.5% chance to make the playoffs.
One day later, the Twins traded closer Brandon Kintzler to the Nationals. Their playoff odds were already viewed as poor, and then they traded a starting pitcher and closer, with only two months remaining in the season. And they’re going to the playoffs!
So, how in the heck have the Twins been able to make this run? Mainly because their offense has been a force over the last two months.
In the second half, the Twins’ offense ranks first in the AL in runs scored, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and wRC+. Second baseman Brian Dozier (.946 OPS, 3.1 WAR per FanGraphs in 2nd half) has looked like the player the Dodgers were desperately trying to acquire over the offseason, and center fielder Byron Buxton (.921 OPS, 2.7 fWAR in 2nd half) has made huge strides on offense while continuing to play elite defense in center field (his 24 defensive runs saved this season lead all CFs). We’re seeing why Buxton was a consensus top-two prospect in baseball from 2014-16.
Additionally, the Twins benefited from a very bad group of AL teams competing for the second Wild Card slot. Clinching a playoff berth with 83 wins, with four days still remaining in the season, is probably something we won’t see happen too often.
Then again, we did see it happen with this Twins team, after they were sellers at the trade deadline, and 4.5 games back with four teams ahead of them for an AL Wild Card slot. And after they just lost 103 freakin’ games last season.
If the 2017 Twins can make the playoffs, who’s to say a team that looks awful right now can’t make a playoff run next season?