The Minnesota Twins enter this week eight games under .500, eight games out of first place in the American League Central and saddled with the second-worst record in the AL. And yet, the Twins — as well as Minnesota ticket brokers — are in perfect position to strike as the summer officially arrives.
The Twins, seemingly already out of the pennant race at the beginning of June, are the hottest team in baseball and may be beginning the greatest comeback in the history of the sport. The Twins suffered through an almost unimaginable spate of injuries in the season’s first two months, during which seven starting position players spent time on the disabled list, including former MVPs Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, as did Opening Day starter Francisco Liriano and projected closer Joe Nathan.
The Twins appeared buried when they lost to the Detroit Tigers Wednesday, June 1 to fall to 17-37 and 16 ½ games out of first place. That put them on pace to finish 51-111, which would have been the franchise’s worst record since 1909.
But the injured players have begun returning for the Twins, who are 14-2 since Thursday, June 2, a span in which they have made up a remarkable 8 ½ games in the AL Central.
And Twins fans, already famous for their loyalty, are beginning to believe the Twins can make a run in a division that doesn’t have a superpower: After playing to an average crowd of 36,753 during their first 21 games this season at Target Field, the Twins averaged 39,375 fans per game at the 42,035-seat stadium during their just-completed 8-1 homestand.
Overall, the Twins are averaging 38,895 in 30 home dates, the second-highest figure in the American League behind only the New York Yankees and a decrease of just 30 fans per game from last year.
“It was like the perfect storm here — the novelty wore off with the stadium, they were playing poorly and the weather stunk,” Mike Nowakowski of Minneapolis-based Ticket King told TicketNews, referring to the early season woes. “But they’ve been winning again and we’ve seen a little uptick. I’m not sure if that’s due to the fact that summer’s finally here or it’s due to the fact that the team is playing better.”
Twins fans and ticket brokers have plenty of reason to believe even better days are ahead. Mauer and second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka returned last week after missing two months while Nathan, Jason Kubel and Jim Thome are all expected to be activated from the disabled list by the end of the month and Morneau and Denard Span could return by the All-Star Break.
“I don’t think we can really get a true feel of what the Twins’ ticket market is until they get back Mauer and all the other guys that are on the disabled list,” Nowakowski said prior to Mauer’s activation last week. “Because, let’s face it, people pay to see the stars. It doesn’t necessarily matter as much whether the team’s winning or losing, but people, if they’re going to pay big bucks, they want to see Mauer and Morneau and guys like that play.”
In addition, the Twins are certainly in the right division to mount the biggest comeback ever. The front-running Cleveland Indians are 9-16 since a 30-15 start, the Detroit Tigers have already been as many as five games under .500 and as many as seven games over .500, the Chicago White Sox haven’t been over .500 since Apr. 15 and the Kansas City Royals are 11-23 since May 13 and replaced the Twins in last place yesterday, Sunday, June 19.
The biggest comeback in baseball was pulled off by the 1914 Boston Braves, who surged back from a 15-game deficit to win the National League pennant. The biggest comeback in the division era belongs to the Yankees, who overcame a 14-game deficit to win the AL East in 1978 over the Boston Red Sox.
If the Indians remain on their 90-win pace, the Twins would have to go 60-32 the rest of the way to take the division with 91 wins. That’s a .652 winning percentage — daunting, but then again, considerably lower than the .875 clip the Twins have fashioned the last 16 games.