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Zulgad: Not Sweet 16: Twins presented with perfect opportunity to put postseason losing skid in the past

Reds Twins Baseball
Members of the AL Central champions Minnesota Twins pose for a photo in the rain after their baseball game with the Cincinnati Reds, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Minneapolis. Twins clinched the AL Central championship with the Chicago White Sox’s loss. The Reds won 5-3. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig)

The Minnesota Twins last won a playoff game on Oct. 5, 2004, when Johan Santana started in a 2-0 shutout at the old Yankee Stadium. Just looking at that date, it’s easy to not have a true appreciation for how much time has passed.
Instead, consider this: Twins manager Rocco Baldelli was 23 years old and had just completed his second season with the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Second baseman Luis Arraez was 7 years old, and Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco and Byron Buxton were 11. Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler and Mitch Garver had just reached their teenage years.
On Tuesday, Baldelli and his players will look to end the discussion of the significance of that date and break what has become the longest losing streak in MLB postseason history at 16. It started with three consecutive losses to the Yankees that ended the 2004 American League Division Series. In 2006, the Twins were swept in the ALDS by the Oakland Athletics and then were swept in back-to-back years by the Yankees in 2009 and ’10. The Twins’ run of mostly woeful seasons that followed kept them well out of the playoff picture until 2017 when the Yankees beat them again, this time in their new ballpark in the Bronx, in the AL wild card game.
In Baldelli’s first year as manager in 2019, the slugging Twins won 101 games to capture their first AL Central title since 2010 and clubbed an MLB record 307 home runs. The Yankees again were waiting in the first round, but this time it was going to be different. This time the Twins were going to go toe-to-toe with the Yankees. These weren’t Ron Gardenhire’s Twins, right? The final scores were Yanks 10-4, Yanks 8-2 and Yanks 5-1.
It seems almost impossible for a big-league team to drop 16 consecutive playoff games. That matches the North American major sports record held by the Chicago Blackhawks from 1975 to ’79. If the Twins are to avoid holding sole possession of the record, they will need to beat Zack Greinke and the Houston Astros on Tuesday afternoon in the first game of a best-of-three series at Target Field.
Strange things can happen in any postseason, and the format for this one means there are certain to be a few upsets among the eight series’ that will be played in the AL and NL. But if the Twins are ever going to end this skid, this is the time to do it and the opponent to do it against. The Twins, who repeated as AL Central champions, are the third seed and the Astros are the sixth. That’s only because MLB decided to make the second-place team in each division the Nos. 4-6 seeds and make the two best third-place teams the wild cards. Houston (29-31) is the only AL playoff team with a losing record and yet is above the White Sox (35-25) and Blue Jays (32-28).
This makes little sense — the entire seeding in the AL and NL could have been done by record — but the Twins aren’t complaining. These Astros have had plenty of playoff success in recent years, winning the World Series in 2017 and losing in seven games to Washington last season, but this collection is without ace pitchers Gerrit Cole (now with the Yankees) and Justin Verlander (awaiting Tommy John surgery), not to mention 2019 AL Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez (knee), and then there is the cloud of the cheating scandal hanging over their heads.
These aren’t the same Astros and, more importantly, they aren’t the Yankees. Considering 13 of the Twins’ 16 consecutive losses have come to the Bronx Bombers, avoiding them in the opening round seemed like a good plan. As the Twins prepared to open the ALDS last season in New York, they continually said the franchise’s then 13-game losing streak wasn’t weighing on them because those losses hadn’t been their losses. Those were different teams that featured many players who long ago had departed the organization.
This sounded good but the reality was that they had to answer the questions about what had happened, what it would mean to break the losing streak and if they thought they were capable of doing so. In the end, the answer turned out to be no, and by losing three more games, the history of those Twins teams from so many years ago was now shared by the guys who currently occupy the Target Field clubhouse. This isn’t even mentioning the countless loyal Twins fans who have been around for this entire run of playoff failure and are desperate to see it end.
So once again, in this pandemic-shortened season, these Twins will get a chance to bury the losing streak they haven’t been able to shake. The Twins can’t win the series in one day, but they can take a big step toward eliminating the Astros with a victory. Just as importantly, they can end all of those questions about how one big-league team has managed to lose so many postseason games in a row.