Twins players have a long history of rolling their eyes when their postseason losing streak is brought up, mostly because two decades of Twins teams have a long history of building that streak to its current 18 consecutive losses.
But Pablo López is new to Minnesota, and the Twins' Game 1 starter Tuesday has clearly given some thought to what it has meant to his adopted hometown.
"The majority of us have not been a part of that unfortunate streak, but I know our fans have. Our fans, the community, the state of Minnesota have been part of that," López said. "I think we're embracing that and we're going to use it as motivation and fuel we want and need to not only do it for ourselves — because ultimately, the goal is to win the championship — but also to give the fans something to root for, to celebrate."
And several players expressed their opinion that they feel particularly poised to not only eliminate the Blue Jays in this week's best-of-three but advance even further than that.
"You've got to do it on the field, we know that, but we do what you need to do [to be successful] in the playoffs," catcher Ryan Jeffers said. "Teams that win in the playoffs, they strike guys out and they hit home runs. And we do those things really well."
Really well. The Twins led the American League in both categories, hitting 233 homers to tie the Rangers and striking out 1,560 batters to outdistance second-place Toronto by 32 whiffs.
And Jeffers is right about the significance. Of the 11 postseason series conducted in 2022, no team was eliminated by a team that hit fewer home runs — until the World Series, when Houston was outhomered by Philadelphia 8-5 but won the title in six games. And the Astros' and Phillies' pitching staffs struck out more hitters than their counterparts in every series.
That's why lefthander Dallas Keuchel, injured on the eve of the playoffs, believes the Twins are being discounted too quickly.
"I don't think people realize how good this team has been in the second half," said Keuchel, who joined the Twins on Aug. 6. "I know they started slowly, but if you take the second-half record [42-29] over a full season, that's more than 90 wins, and a lot of people would be talking about this team as one of the favorites. People would be saying the Twins are one of the best teams going in."
People are saying it in the Twins clubhouse, anyway.
"We have the best pitching staff in baseball, and that matters a lot," catcher Christian Vázquez said. "We've got swing-and-miss [pitchers who get] a lot of strikeouts. That's how you win."
George Springer has hit 19 postseason home runs in his career, or one more than his former Houston teammate, Carlos Correa. Their reunion could be pivotal in deciding who advances this week to the second round, where they will play — by coincidence — the Astros.
"It's cool. I know who he is, [and] the things he can do," Springer said of the Twins shortstop. "The lights get bright and he gets better — it's been that way for as long as I've known him."
Actually, it was Springer who was in no small part responsible for Correa's only World Series championship, over the Dodgers in 2017. Springer hit five home runs in the series, batted .379 with a .471 on-base percentage and earned MVP honors when the Astros won in seven games.
Correa homered twice in the series and batted .276, and was one of the leaders in the clubhouse.
"He knows how to lead. He knows how to talk to guys, how to navigate the situation," Springer said. "He is a mental giant. He seems to block everything out. He has that innate ability to control the flow of things. We saw that here in this building in 2020," when the Astros eliminated the Twins in two games.
* Louis Varland has never been to a Twins playoff game, and he was only 6 years old the last time they won one. But the St. Paul native is pretty sure he knows what to expect. "It's going to be electric," said Varland, who will pitch out of the bullpen. "The place should be packed and just loud. Minnesota fans are hungry for a winner."
* The Twins are drawing upon their playoff history for pregame honors Tuesday and Wednesday. Former manager Tom Kelly, who guided the Twins' 1987 and 1991 World Series champions, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 1, with Kent Hrbek serving as catcher. Kelly's successor, Ron Gardenhire, will serve as catcher for Game 2, receiving the first pitch from former AL MVP and current Twins broadcaster Justin Morneau.