If you're expected to win, and then fail to do so in spectacular fashion, people are going to have thoughts.
It's also safe to assume that those thoughts don't stay surface level for very long. For the 2021 Twins, the last few weeks have been a long trudge past the acceptance of things as they are, and have begun to approach the next station down the line: Why?
"Why" is an important question that has consumed the game of baseball since its creation. It is a question that drives everyone involved in the game and almost everyone that follows it. Careers are made and broken attempting to answer it. Out of all the major spectator sports in the world, baseball is one of the most random, volatile, and unpredictable. The best team in the league facing off against the worst still isn't as heavy a favorite as you might expect. This makes answering the question even more important. But this game has been played for over a century, and despite front offices being invaded by every Ivy League sabermatrician with programming experience, there's a lot about the game that just cannot be accounted for.
It is within this vacuum that narrative begins to form, and like a gas, expand to fill every available inch of social media. Our emotional investment in the Twins demands an attempt to make sense of a senseless sequence. Words like "implosion" don't feel adequate, because it doesn't do justice to how much it feels like it's a force being inflicted upon the team, rather than the results of internal motivations. Regardless, we try and take an inventory of what hurts, and search for accountability.
Is the roster underperforming? Unquestionably. I can't recall ever seeing so much of a single roster falling to the bottom 20% of their preseason projections with such synchrony. Are the Twins seeing their share of injuries? Yes, and then some. Are the Twins unlucky? According to the stats, they're the unluckiest in the league, and have a lot of production stats in common with the Oakland A's, who have more wins than the Twins have losses. Everything is happening, it's all bad, and it's happening all at once.
And then, to rub salt in the wound, the White Sox got hot. They started their rebuild later, they were on a trajectory to give the Twins a bit more time to contend, and then they leapfrogged them in the standings while destroying them mercilessly along the way. They're doing this while also suffering from their best players sidelined and being managed by a guy who started his pro ball career when John F. Kennedy was in office, and hasn't updated his worldview since. Where the Twins are punished for their faults, the White Sox seem to glide through life. As a Twins fan, this was supposed to be our time, and the spotlight got stolen by the worst possible division rival.
Watching all this transpire, attempting to process it, you're left holding the bag and being asked to put a nice neat bow on a morass of misfortune. Unable to wrap your arms around it, the narrative becomes more and more tempting.
"The coaches are too calm, they need to fire up this team and yell more!"
"Rocco's lost the clubhouse, it's time to fire him."
"The players don't want it enough!"
Any time you hear missives like these, and they aren't accompanied by direct evidence from the clubhouse or a credible source, Colin Cowherd-sized alarm bells should start going off in your head. You are being asked to accept generalities to rationalize a giant sea of inexplicable fate. Explaining data points by assuming the motives of strangers is a task that should be reserved for criminal profilers, not Twins Twitter. Kenta Maeda isn't struggling because of some nebulous lack of leadership, it's because he's lost the ability to locate his slider.
There's a notable clip from ESPN's First Take in 2012, when Mark Cuban came onto the show, and used every available moment to go after Skip Bayless and his notions of 'narrative'.
Throughout the exchange, Cuban lays out his argument for why statements like how the one team "played harder" aren't worth the airtime they're eventually given- because they're not backed up by any meaningful data and are fueled by apathy at best, and intentional ignorance at worst.
If you want to convince me how the Twins got to 13-26 and have someone to blame, you're going to have to do a lot more than sell me on a lack of motivation, clubhouse chemistry, or some kind of failing strategic approach, because in the words of Kronk, it doesn't make any sense.
Baseball is a cruel game. You can assemble the same roster and play the same way, and end up with radically different results by the end of the season. I have a hard time finding obvious fatal flaws in the approach by the front office, management, or the players themselves. Sure, I'll always agree that ownership could stand to spend some more money, but a few million dollars doesn't magically repair Byron Buxton's hamstring, and it doesn't solve why any game that doesn't go exactly 9 innings becomes an automatic loss.
I'm not angry at the team, the coaches, or the FO. I'm just sad. This roster- and by extension, this fanbase- deserves better than the hand they've been dealt, right as the window of contention seemed to be opening wide (and, by some accounts, ahead of schedule). And now, after six weeks of unprecedented horror- which is saying something for a team with this kind of history- the voices are growing louder that it's time to pack it in and start over from scratch.
All that said, I'm going to continue rooting for this team. They clearly want it enough. The clubhouse knows what they're capable of, and would love the opportunity to showcase it, if fate and luck would just get out of the goddamn way. In the meantime, I'll be watching, and screaming into the nearest pillow every time a barreled ball goes straight at an opposing fielder.
The Twins are dead. Long live the Twins.