SHIPLEY: Twins fans, get excited for playoffs--but not too excited
MINNEAPOLIS—Don't get your hearts broken, Minnesota.
This isn't a prediction about the American League wild-card game Tuesday night, Oct. 3, between the Twins at Yankees in New York; it's advice from a friend. Baseball's new wild-card format is unforgiving, and what has taken months of emotional investment will be over, for one unlucky fan base, in an instant.
It's a 50-50 prospect, and if you're not ready, it will hurt if the Twins fall short. On this end, it seems the local nine are due; they haven't won a playoff series since 2002 and are 0-4 in postseason play against the Yankees with a 2-15 record. The good news: The dreaded Yankees are 1-5 as a wild-card team.
Major League Baseball's decision to add a second wild card has kept more fans engaged for longer, usually right up to the last weekend of the regular season. So, yeah, it's been a success. No doubt there were Angels and Rangers fans watching the Twins scores down the stretch this month.
Yet in some weird way it seems that maybe they were the real winners. Their seasons ended in the natural course of events, slipping slowly away, their teams succumbing slowly to the reality of their inadequacies. On Tuesday, one American League team not good enough to win its division will be summarily dismissed from a party to which they were surprised, and ecstatic, to be invited.
It's like some 1980s movie where James Spader invites the nerds to a party only to deliberately humiliate them.
After a 162-game season, a five-game series is short; a one-game playoff is barbaric. Baseball is meant to be lived in. It's America's soundtrack. For many of us, it will end Tuesday with one swift stroke.
This isn't to say wild-card teams have no business in the postseason. Since the first wild card was implemented when major league baseball moved to three divisions in 1994, six wild-card teams have won the World Series. Twice, the wild-card teams won the AL and NL pennants.
In the five postseasons since the second wild card was added, the fifth seed has won six games, three times advancing to the championship series and once, the 2014 San Francisco Giants, winning the World Series. The wild card has made winning the Series more difficult, and hence the playoffs more exciting.
What the Twins have accomplished this season has been exciting, invigorating and heartwarming. They are the first major league team to lose 100 games one season and make the playoffs the next; yeah, it was as the second wild card, but so what? It's a significant accomplishment. They earned it, and Minnesota fans enjoyed it.
This season feels like a beginning, and that won't change if it ends suddenly on Tuesday night. This feels a little like 2002, when a young Twins team featuring Torii Hunter, Johan Santana and A.J. Pierzynski won the division and advanced to the ALCS to start a run of six playoff appearances in 10 seasons.
This year's team might be even more exciting, nabbing the AL's final playoff spot by playing their best baseball after the front office traded away its all-star closer and a left-handed starter at the non-waiver deadline. No further help materialized, yet manager Paul Molitor continued to put a consistently winning combination on the field.
Veterans Brian Dozier, Joe Mauer and Ervin Santana led the way, but Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario have been electric. Right-hander Jose Berrios seems on pace for an all-star career, and lefty Adalberto Mejia appears to be a real major league starter.
Keep that in mind as you watch Tuesday. Enjoy it if the Twins win, but don't put all your energy into this season. There is more to come. Don't get your hearts broken, Minnesota.