An ode to one of the weirdest teams in MLB history: The 2011 Twins
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
A spirited discussion about MLB payrolls on Twitter Wednesday night got me to thinking about the biggest dumpster fire in Minnesota Twins franchise history:
That 2011 collection that went 63-99 with a franchise-record $113 million payroll.
Yes, the most expensive Twins team in history is also the Twins team that lost the second-most games in team history.
The premise of the Twitter payroll discussion revolved around some knucklehead taking the opportunity to boast, "See?!? Payroll matters!" shortly after the St. Louis Cardinals ($116 million) knocked the Pittsburgh Pirates ($66 million) out of the playoffs. Because, of course, why celebrate teams like the Pirates, Indians, Rays and A's for winning 90 games on shoestring budgets when we can instead discredit them when they lose in Game 5? Anywho...
We look back at the 2011 Twins with disdain, and rightfully so. How could they lose 99 games while spending that much money? How could a team that was competitive for a decade have its foundation crumble so suddenly?
The main thread coming out of spring training that season wasn't, "How can the Twins win the division?" It was, "When the Twins get back to the playoffs, will they finally be able to get past the Yankees?"
Due to multiple injuries, young players falling flat on their faces, and one particular chain-smoking import taking too many groundballs off his chest, the Twins turned into one of baseball's biggest embarrassments.
But here's the weird part about the hapless, franchise-altering 2011 Twins:
For a two-month stretch, they somehow played like the best team in baseball.
After losing three straight games in Detroit to drop to 17-37 - with funeral music figuratively blaring out of the visitor's clubhouse at Comerica -- the Twins headed to Kansas City on June 2 staring at a 16.5-game deficit in the American League Central. From that point forward, the Twins embarked on an incredible stretch of baseball, winning 15 out of 17 games to pull back to within seven games of .500 (32-39) and 6.5 games out of first place. The last win during this stretch took place in San Francisco, where the Twins scored eight runs in the top of the first inning off Madison Bumgarner.
It's also possible this may or may not have been the birthplace of the #ItsHappening hashtag.
The Giants went on to win the final two games of that series, and the Twins followed up by losing three in Milwaukee and another one at home to the Dodgers, 15-0, to come crashing back to earth.
But then, from June 28 through July 17, the Twins won 12 out of 16, bringing them to within five games of .500 (44-49) and five games of first place in the division.
To add more fuel to this improbable fire, it was believed that Joe Mauer ("bilateral leg weakness"), Jason Kubel (foot), Denard Span (concussion) and Justin Morneau (everything) would all be getting back to full strength as the second half of the season progressed, thus further solidifying the Twins' lineup for another stretch run.
It was truly one of the most bizarre stretches of baseball in recent MLB history.
The Twins managed to hang around for a couple more weeks, into August, before the carriage turned back into a pumpkin, but from July 30 through the end of the season they won just 13 more games.
Other fun facts about the 2011 Twins:
• Outside of those two aforementioned improbable June and July stretches, the Twins went just 36-93.
• The Twins went 6-20 in September and 7-21 in August.
• The Twins had a losing streak of nine in May, and another losing streak of 11 in September. The Twins also had a winning streak of eight in June.
• The Twins lost 99 games, yet they weren't sellers at the July 31 trade deadline.
• Nick Blackburn's ERA was 3.15 on June 22.
• Francisco Liriano threw a no-hitter in Chicago on May 3.