2011 was a season that Minnesota Twins fans have not endured in nearly a decade.
From the beginning of the season to the end, the hits kept coming…and they were not during the course of a game. Injuries riddled the Twins lineup and kept players like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Denard Span, Glen Perkins and Delmon Young on the bench. As the slide continued, the bullpen blew leads, the starters struggled and the team could not seem to get a run across the plate.
By nearly every account, the Twins season was horrendous. The Twins managed to score a mere 619 runs; the lowest amount in a non-strike shortened season since their inception. Their 63 wins tied for the lowest in franchise history and the team allowed the most runs (804) since 2000.
For a team that has been used to regular season success (the postseason being a glaring exception), such a depressing season hits hard. Over the last 10 seasons, the team produced five 90-win seasons and six postseason appearances with players winning batting titles and MVP awards. Despite lack of success in the playoffs, the Twins received a new ballpark and has now generated the second-highest attendance total in the American League.
But past successes don’t make the 2011 failures any easier to cope with for Twins fans, especially considering that there is not much in the way of hope on the horizon. However, despite the stats, injuries and poor play, this is hardly the most depressing offseason the Twins have faced in their history. Ten years ago, the Twins faced an offseason with more uncertainty and with more at stake.
In November, 2001, a Minnesota judge ordered the Twins to honor their Metrodome lease as MLB Commissioner and then-Twins owner Carl Pohlad worked towards contracting the Twins. For Twins fans, the offseason between 2001 and 2002 was filled with the understanding that after the coming season, the Minnesota Twins would cease to exist. The team finished the 2001 season with 85 wins, the highest since 1992—the year after the team won the World Series and the team had a promising core of young players.
With the fourth lowest payroll in baseball ($40 million), no one expected massive free-agent signings, especially with contraction imminent. Baseball owners from Seattle to Atlanta supported the plan that would have removed the Expos and Twins from the baseball map. Selig went to Congress stating that without a new ballpark, the Twins could not compete. Things looked bleak for the Twins and it was a long offseason.
But the saving grace came from the play of a virtual group of “nobodies” that kept playing while the Titanic was sinking. Their play in 2002 made it impossible for Commissioner Selig to contract the team and their success in the following years brought them a brand-new stadium, now lauded by the league.
Of course, the Twins that take the field now bring different expectations of success. Many fans saw the elimination of the Twins in 2002 as inevitable and therefore only hoped for one last hurrah to stick it to Bud Selig and an owner that they thought had betrayed them.
This year, with a beautiful new ballpark and huge contracts to superstar players, expectations are justifiably high. Offseason chatter has turned to speculating on moves the Twins need to make to turn the team around, and there are a lot of holes to fill.
This is not to say that Twins fans should just be grateful to have a professional baseball team but more of a positive way of looking at a season that by all accounts was lost before the end of the first series. The Twins need to prove to the state that the recent investments have been worth it and the front office must find a way to finally win in the postseason.
What the Twins have that many other clubs have do not is the fact that while the last season was a debacle, the organization has faced worse. Yes, the expectations are different and we as Twins fans are warranted in our high expectations; getting to the playoffs is no longer enough to consider a season a success as it was ten years ago. But if any organization can face these challenges, it would be the Twins.