Which Were the Best Twins Teams in History Not to Win a World Series?
Image courtesy of © Ben Ludeman-USA TODAY SportsFifth place — 2009
The 2000’s Twins had a great deal of talent, managing to stack five 90-plus wins seasons in the first eight years with Ron Gardenhire at the helm. 2009 wasn’t one of those seasons, as they “only” reached 87 wins, but a number of players had their career year that season. Most noticeably, Joe Mauer was probably the best player in the world, taking home all possible honors, including the MVP award. But he wasn’t the only one.
Take Jason Kubel, for example. He finished his career in 2014, with a total of 4.1 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and 3.5 of those were earned in 2009, while slashing .300/.369/.539 (.907) and hitting 28 home runs. With Kubel and Mauer, Minnesota had the highest WAA average in the majors by both, catcher (3.1) and designated hitter (1.6). Three other position players had extremely good years: Justin Morneau (126 wRC+), Michael Cuddyer (124) and Denard Span (118) helped the Twins have its best offensive performance since 2001, with a 104 team wRC+. Four players hit at least 28 dingers, which took the team total to 172, then the second highest since 1987.
Per Baseball Reference, Minnesota also had the highest WAA average by relief pitchers that year (4.0), with great individual performances from Joe Nathan (210 ERA+), José Mijares (188) and Matt Guerrier (186), who each pitched at least 70 games and kept their ERA’s below 2.37. Overall, the bullpen provided the team with 5.07 WPA, ranking sixth in the majors. The Achilles' heel of that team was its rotation, which by the end of the regular season had -3.17 WPA. Ironically, during the ALDS against the Yankees the offense and the bullpen underperformed, while Nick Blackburn and Carl Pavano delivered a couple of decent starts, but the Twins couldn’t avoid the sweep.
Fourth place — 1988
If the 2009 Twins didn’t need to reach 90 wins to win their division, the 1988 Twins had the misfortune of becoming the fourth team in club history to win at least 90 games and not make it to the playoffs. The 91-71 record was the fourth best in the majors, even better than AL East champions Boston Red Sox (89-73). Thank God for wild card, right?
The late 80’s Twins were incredible. That year they were coming off their first ever World Series title and the appreciation for that group of players was through the roof. Also, plenty of Twins had their career years that very season. The team’s best player was definitely Frank Viola, who logged 255 1/3 innings, with a 2.64 ERA, good for 6.3 fWAR and the Cy Young award, the only one in his career. Another starter who had a great year was Allan Anderson, who had the best ERA in the AL (2.45) and the highest ERA+ in the majors (166). He never had a single season that was nearly as good in his six years in MLB. Closer Jeff Reardon also played some of his best baseball that year, going back to the All-Star Game and tabbing a career-high in saves, with 42. Going in the opposite direction, though, was Twins great Bert Blyleven, who had the worst season of his career, which included a career worst 17 losses. Those probably proved costly later in the season.
A lot of position players also reached their peaks that season. Kirby Puckett led the majors in hits, with 234, while slashing .356/.375/.545 (.920) all career-highs except for OBP. He was worth 7.1 fWAR and finished third in the MVP vote for a second consecutive year. Same thing happened with Gary Gaetti, Kent Hrbek and Dan Gladden, who had career-highs in several stats. Minnesota’s offense produced the fifth highest combined fWAR (26.4) and runs scored (759).
Sadly, an incredibly bad start to the season (4-11 in the first 15 games) and a poor month of July ended up costing them better chances later on. After the first week of August, they were already seven games behind Oakland, who clinched the division in mid-September after beating the Twins in California. The A’s would finish the season with the best record in the majors (104-58), the second best in club history, but would end up losing to the Dodgers in five games in the World Series.
Third place — 2019
The deeds of the “Bomba Squad” are very fresh in our memories, so we might not need to make a big effort to remember that campaign. However, maybe we’re too close to it to realize how historically good it actually was. Maybe five years from now we will be looking back at this team and consider ourselves one of the luckiest generations of Twins fans, just because we’ve witnessed all that.
Rocco Baldelli’s Twins had one of the most impressive lineups of all time. Not only did they set a new single-season home run record, with 307, but they also ranked top 10 in nearly every single offensive metric. From standard stats to very advanced ones. They also broke many club single-season records, including total runs, runs batted in, extra-base hits and slugging percentage.
Although the 2019 Twins will be primarily remembered because of what they accomplished offensively, you should never overlook what was done from the mound. Minnesota’s pitching staff ranked third in the majors in fWAR (24.0), including the third most by any bullpen in the league (7.4).
Even though they couldn’t put together a good postseason, they managed to provide Twins fans with an amazingly fun regular season, which resulted in their first division title in almost ten years and the milestone of reaching at least 100 wins for the second time in franchise history. And luckily for us, this group of players is far from having finished writing their stories yet.
Second place — 2006
Regarded by many as one of the most talented teams in Twins history, the 2006 squad managed to put together an astonishing 96-66 record, then the most by the club since 1970. They ended up two wins shy of the best record in the majors. A lot of the players who would shine offensively three years later were already with the team and playing very well. Morneau would end up winning the MVP award ahead of Derek Jeter and former Twin David Ortiz (who hit 54 homers, by the way). Mauer was already on his way to becoming the legend he is, leading the team in fWAR (5.8) and wRC+ (141), while slashing .347/.429/.507 (.936). Torii Hunter was also an important piece of that offense, contributing 31 homers. But the offense was definitely not the most attractive aspect of that team.
Led by historical performances from starter Johan Santana and closer Joe Nathan, the Twins had one of the best pitching staffs in the majors, gathering 20.6 fWAR and 11.40 WPA (both ranked second). Santana and rookie Francisco Liriano had amazing years, with Johan easily winning the second Cy Young award of his career and Liriano finishing third in the Rookie of the Year award, earning more fWAR (3.6) than the actual winner Justin Verlander (2.8). Santana led the team with 6.7 fWAR. Led by another fantastic season from Nathan (3.1 fWAR), the Twins bullpen had the most fWAR in the majors, with 8.1. Relievers like Dennys Reyes, Juan Rincon, Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain also had great years.
Also ironically, the superb regular season bullpen struggled during the postseason, but shouldn’t be blamed. Minnesota’s bats were completely dominated during the series and couldn’t provide the proper run support against Oakland, which got its revenge from the 2002 postseason.
First place — 1965
In an era when making it to the World Series was a much less complicated task, one might take for granted the ‘65 Twins, assuming they had it easy. No wild card, no division series, no championship series. But there’s no way you could overlook the majestic season the Twins put together that year, if you really look into it.
Six Twins players were named to the All-Star Game that year and that tells you a lot. A very well balanced team, with great offense and pitching, which had the best run differential in the majors, scoring 1.1 run more than they allowed. The bats scored the second most runs in the majors and ranked at least top four in each, AVG, OBP, SLG and OPS. Shortstop Zoilo Versalles had himself a fluky season, in which he was worth 7.0 fWAR, stole a team best 27 bases, led the majors in doubles, with 45, and took home the MVP award.
On the mound, the Twins rotation had the fourth best ERA in the league, at 3.08. All-Star Mudcat Grant and Twins great Jim Kaat had outstanding seasons once again and made up for the time Camilo Pascual spent sidelined by injuries. Jim Perry didn’t have the same level of workload as Grant and Kaat, but he did manage to finish the season with the eighth best ERA+, at 136. Al Worthington started to increase his responsibilities as a closer and finished the season with a career-high 21 saves.
With all of those pieces put together, Minnesota went on to have the best record in the majors and still the best in franchise history: 102-60. In the World Series, although they were off to a 2-0 start of the series, they saw the Dodgers win the next three in LA, before coming back to Bloomington. At home, they took game 6 with a convincing 5-1 win, but were absolutely dominated by Sandy Koufax and his complete-game shutout in game 7. That Twins generation went on to win at least 90 games in three of the following five seasons.
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