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  • 0-18. Who Got Us Here? Part 1: 2004-2006

    Greggory Masterson

    What's in a streak? Let's consult everything, from game tape, to Baseball Reference, to Greek philosophy to find out. Get ready to Remember Some Guys™.

    Image courtesy of Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

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    It's been a long time since the Twins won a playoff game. I don't have to belabor that point. However, allow me to belabor that point. In the last 19 seasons, the Twins have made the playoffs seven separate times. Seven separate teams have taken the field since the last time. When the 2023 playoffs start, five separate, distinct cores will have attempted to win just one playoff game.

    The first team in this string of futility featured not one but two players born during the John F. Kennedy presidency. One player for the Twins in 2023 was born a month before George W. Bush was elected. It's been a long time.

    I invite you to come along on this journey with me as we examine the anatomy of the team that has reached a level of playoff futility never seen before, a level that may even reach higher this year. We'll even consult philosophers dead for nearly 2000 years and ask: Have the Twins lost 18 consecutive playoff games?

    If you haven't already had the thought that Greggory Masterson is the most insufferable Twins Daily contributor you've ever read, you will today. I'm going to discuss one of Baby's First philosophical questions. If you've ever had the misfortune of sitting in an introduction to philosophy course (or worse, watching Marvel's WandaVision), you may have heard of the thought experiment called Theseus's Ship.

    It goes something like this. Imagine a great wooden ship. Years go by, and it makes many voyages. Occasionally, it needs repairs. Rotten or damaged wood is removed and replaced with new boards. Eventually, all of the original pieces of the ship have been removed and replaced. None of the original pieces of the ship are currently part of the ship. Is this still the same ship, or did it become a new ship?

    If it became a new ship, at what point did it cease being the old one? When every single original piece was finally removed? When it 50% old and new materials? Is it a new ship every time that a single piece is removed?

    If it is still the original ship, what if all of the old, original pieces were kept and reassembled back into a ship? Is this newly constructed ship a new one, distinct from the first, even though all of the original pieces are back in place, or do we have two of the same ships?

    I'm not here to answer those questions. I am here to document the absurdity of the number of boards that have been added and removed from the Twins ship. You can call it whatever you want—the Champion Ship or the Friend Ship are the names I like.

    Let's start at the beginning.

    2004: The Maiden Voyage
    A bully good crew manned this ship captained by Ron Gardenhire. The Twins were coming off back-to-back-to-back AL Central championships, and they were led by a group who had been there from the first one in 2002, like Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, Corey Koskie, and Christian Guzman. Even Matthew LeCroy was still around, and Brad Radke was getting the last out of his shredded arm.

    This core was the first of five to lead the team unsuccessfully into the belly of the whale. In truth, many were already on the way out, as fellow members of the early 2000s core like Doug Mientiewicz, A.J. Pierzynski, and David Ortiz had already begun the phasing out process. Ironically, the three would each win a championship in 2004 or 2005.

    Supplementing the core affectionately known as the team that saved baseball in Minnesota or the Get to Know 'em Twins were veterans like 2003 trade deadline hero Shannon Stewart, journeyman catcher Henry Blanco—who was thrust into the starting role after an early injury to then-rookie 21-year-old Joe Mauer—and pinch-hitting extraordinaire Jose Offerman.

    A second core was beginning to emerge with players like Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer—who played second base down the stretch that year—and a pre-wrecked-knee Jason Kubel—who batted six times as a DH in Game 2. Also along for the ride were batters thought to be part of the following core like Luis Rivas and Lew Ford, neither of whom had terribly productive careers with Minnesota after 2004, though Ford received MVP votes that year and had a solid 2005.

    On the pitching side, supplementing Radke was a crew of Cy Young Johan Santana, Kyle Lohse, and Carlos Silva, who each took wildly different career paths following 2004. In the bullpen, Joe Nathan was beginning his reign as one of the top closers in the game behind Mariano Rivera. Other notable names in that pen were J.C. Romero, Juan Rincon, and Jesse Crain.

    Oh, there was also Terry Mulholland, a great name to know if you're into Immaculate Grid. The wily veteran served as the team's long reliever and spot starter. He predates the Kennedy assassination, and when paired with backup-backup-backup catcher Pat Borders—who was also born before the incident at the grassy knoll—he was the pitching side to a battery whose ages added up to the third-highest number of any pitcher-catcher combo in MLB history.

    Also, Borders was the MVP of the 1992 World Series.

    That's a lot of names, and with the Twins coming off three consecutive division crowns, the sky was the limit.

    Twins who played in the 2004 ALDS: Grant BalfourHenry BlancoPat Borders, Jesse Crain, Michael Cuddyer, Lew Ford, Christian Guzman, Torii Hunter, Jacque JonesCorey Koskie, Jason Kubel, Matt LeCroyKyle Lohse, Justin Morneau, Terry Mulholland, Joe Nathan, Jose Offerman, Brad Radke Juan Rincon, Luis RivasJ.C. Romero, Johan Santana, Shannon Stewart
    Italics indicate the player never appeared in the playoffs for Minnesota after this year

    2006: Sunk in the Bay
    After something of a disaster in 2005, the Twins bounced back in 2006 to secure their fourth division championship in five years. However, the years were already showing on the construction of the ship. Of the 24 players who appeared in the 2004 ALDS, only nine returned to the field for the 2006 playoffs—Hunter, Morneau, Cuddyer, Ford, Santana, Radke, Nathan, Crain, and Rincon. Technically Ruben Sierra could have made the cut, as he was a member of the 2004 Yankees (as you may well remember), but he didn't make it to the end of the year with the Twins.

    In truth, Mauer and cult hero Nick Punto were members of the 2004 team but were injured before the 2004 playoffs. Likewise, Kubel did not play in the 2006 playoffs, but he would return in the following years. You can make your own judgments on whether those count as continuous pieces.

    Luis Castillo and Rondell White—the closest Terry Ryan got to acquiring hitmen—made their only appearances for the Twins in the playoffs this year. A bit more obscure were Phil Nevin's three plate appearances. This is your reminder that Phil Nevin was a Twin and that he played in a playoff game for them. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the man who played DH and hit 8th instead of Nevin in the final two games—Jason Tyner.

    On the pitching side, much looked similar regarding the most notable names from 2004. Still, Matt Guerrier and standard-issue bullpen goofballs (big LOOGY) Dennys Reyes and (submarine pitcher) Pat Neshek made appearances. While I have you here, look up Dennys Reyes's statistics as a Twin. He was way better than you remember.

    Folk hero and September Rookie of the Month Boo(ooooooooooo)f Bonser replaced Silva in the rotation, pitching Game 2 Radke's final MLB appearance came in the third game, pitching with half an arm and enough cortisone in his body to kill a horse.

    2006 also featured a third of an inning pitched by a rookie, 23-year-old Glen Perkins, who would never throw another pitch in the playoffs. Sadly, these were the last playoffs in Minnesota for Santana, Hunter, and Morneau. Morneau's case is unfortunate, as although he was a Twin in 2009 and 2010, injuries kept him out of the playoffs both years. 2006 was the last time Twins fans could watch him swing it in the postseason for their hometown team.

    By now, the only remaining leading cast members of the early 2000s teams were Radke and Hunter. Sure, some players like Santana and Cuddyer were around in those days, but they weren't the faces of the franchise. At this point, the focus had turned to the core built around the M&M Boys: Mauer and Morneau.

    But, for the first time in this streak, the Twins were swept. They couldn't muster even one win like they had in 2004. The count is at six.

    Returning pieces from 2004: Jesse Crain, Michael Cuddyer, Lew FordTorii HunterJustin Morneau, Joe Nathan, Brad RadkeJuan RinconJohan Santana
    New pieces in 2006: Jason BartlettBoof BonserLuis Castillo, Matt Guerrier, Joe Mauer, Pat NeshekPhil NevinGlen Perkins, Nick Punto, Dennys ReyesJason TynerRondell White
    Italics indicate the player never appeared in the playoffs for Minnesota after this year

    Look out for part two, which will cover 2009-2017.

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