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Zulgad: Twins need to stop ignoring remarkable 18-game playoff skid and start embracing it

Rocco Baldelli
Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli watches from the dugout during the eighth inning in Game 3 of a baseball American League Division Series against the New York Yankees, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

The Twins were preparing to play the Yankees in the 2019 American League Division Series and the majority of questions in the visiting clubhouse were focused on a 13-game playoff losing streak that dated to 2004. The Twins’ most recent playoff loss had been in a wild card game against New York in 2017.

Considering most of those defeats had come in 2006, 2009 and 2010, the standard response from those associated with the Twins was that the losing streak had nothing to do with them.

If that was true then, it certainly is no longer the case.

The Twins team that will open the season on Thursday in Milwaukee would be wise to admit that what has become an 18-game postseason losing streak, the longest in North American professional sports history, is very much something they own. Derek Falvey, president of baseball operations; Thad Levine, general manager; Rocco Baldelli, manager; and all the players. This is now their losing streak and it’s on them to end it.

Whether it’s fair, Twins fans will not open this season simply hoping for a third consecutive AL Central title or another playoff berth. That has become an expectation given the Twins’ success the past two years. The next step is to win a playoff game. Not a playoff series, not a World Series, but a single playoff game. Sound simple? It hasn’t been.

The Twins certainly have a team that can do it. Kenta Maeda and Jose Berrios give the Twins one of the best 1-2 punches they’ve had at the top of their rotation in many years. There remains plenty of punch in the lineup with designated hitter Nelson Cruz showing no signs of slowing down and third baseman Josh Donaldson returning for a second season in Minnesota after battling calf problems last year. The addition of Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons, and the move of Jorge Polanco to second base, should make the Twins much better defensively, and if center fielder Byron Buxton can finally stay healthy (a huge if) he will provide Gold Glove defense and be a nightmare on the base paths.

This space went so far as to predict the Twins will not only repeat as AL Central champs, beating out a White Sox team that enters the season with huge expectations, but also win 96 games. But then there is that ugly playoff losing streak — something Yahoo! Sports referred to as a curse in a conversation with Levine.

“You know, the reality of it is that so much of it predated my participation in the organization and predated a lot of our players and coaches,” Levine told the website. “So as we get into September, as we clinch playoff spots, it becomes such a dominating theme of stories told about the Twins — like no one writes a story at that time without referencing the consecutive playoff losses. I would say, pretty objectively, outside of that timeframe nobody thinks about it too much, in terms of the people most directly connected to the team.

“And by and large, a lot of our players have no idea about it because they just haven’t been part of it for long enough to have it really hurt and be personal to them. That being said, it’s clearly an ominous cloud that hangs over our fan base, and if we could give them no gift than to shirk that it seems as if they could breathe a little bit easier. There’s a weight on their chest which is certainly impeding freedom of deep breaths, and so we would like to give them that gift.”

Levine is a very smart guy but his approach of accepting the playoff streak, while at the same time trying to distance himself from it, isn’t the right one. Not when the current club is responsible for five of the losses.

What the Twins need to do is not only acknowledge the streak but embrace it. The suggested slogan for 2021 should have been: “0-18! Bring it on!” The worst thing the Twins can do as an organization is ignore this remarkable stretch of futility until they near a playoff berth, or qualify for the postseason.

Standing in the Yankee Stadium clubhouse that day in 2019, it was clear that while players were providing all the right answers, they also were susceptible to the doubt that creeps in when being bombarded with the negative. This streak might be frustrating or embarrassing or a simply a nuisance but it’s also very real, and the longer the Twins try to ignore it the more it will creep into their thoughts at the worst possible time.

There’s only one way to end it and that’s to stare it down.