For most of the past decade, the Minnesota Twins were playing big games in September. They won six division titles from 2002-10, and when they weren't winning them, they were in the race, even losing a one-game playoff to the Chicago White Sox in 2008.
So a second straight losing season has been particularly hard on the guys who were around for the glory years, and with nine of the last 12 games this season against two contenders, the Detroit Tigers and the New York Yankees, the Twins are going to be surrounded by players still vying for a shot at the World Series.
"It's tough looking at," first baseman Justin Morneau said.
The Twins start a three-game series at Detroit on Friday, then head back to Target Field for three against the Yankees and three more against the Tigers before ending their season with three in Toronto.
"There's nothing like it, that's (being) in a pennant race, where you're leading or trying to catch somebody, scoreboard-watching, as we all still do," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We look at it, but we know we're not a part of it."
The Twins completed a battle of also-rans with a 4-3, 10-inning loss to the Indians on Thursday at Progressive Field, where the baseball was weak and a motivated observer could have tallied the attendance by hand. It will be different against the Tigers, who enter this weekend's series chasing the first-place White Sox in the American League Central.
The Twins are in a tie for last place, losers of six of their past nine games but eager to finish the season strong. They need two wins in their last 12 to eclipse last season's record of 63-99.
"It shouldn't be too hard to get the level up," Gardenhire said. "I mean, you're going in there to Detroit; they're battling their tails off, so we should be able to go in there and have some fun. These are fun ballgames, even though we're out of it. It's still fun to compete against teams that are really battling. They have a lot at stake; every pitch means something. Hopefully we'll put our best foot forward and get after it."