Despite end of postseason hopes, Twins surpass expectations

Despite end of postseason hopes, Twins surpass expectations

MINNEAPOLIS -- The surprising Twins' postseason hopes came to an end on Saturday in the penultimate game of the season, as their 5-1 loss to the Royals ended their late push for the second American League Wild Card spot.

The Twins fell 2 1/2 games back of the Astros -- pending Houston's game against Arizona on Saturday evening -- with one game left in the regular season, closing out their hopes of making the postseason for the first time since 2010. But it was still an impressive turnaround for a franchise that had lost at least 92 games in each of the last four years.

"You celebrate the fact that we've been able to get our team back into a competitive situation and have meaningful games the last weekend, but we came up short," said an emotional Twins manager Paul Molitor. "When you get as close as we did, you like to think you could've found a way to get over the hump, but you learn."

The Twins (83-78) were almost universally picked to finish last in the AL Central before the season. But they finished second in the division and posted a winning record for the first time since 2010.

"The coaches changed this clubhouse and a winning attitude came back," veteran right fielder Torii Hunter said. "These guys gave it their all and tried to prove the critics wrong. And we pretty much did that. The loss today beat us down because we wanted to play in the postseason. But these guys are resilient and fighters, and they learned a lot."

The future looks bright for Minnesota, which saw Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Tyler Duffey and Trevor May, among others, make a major impact. Aaron Hicks, Eduardo Escobar and Kyle Gibson also took steps forward in their development, while stalwarts Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe got their first taste of meaningful baseball late in the season.

"A lot of guys learned a lot this year," veteran Joe Mauer said. "It was good to see the progression from Spring Training to now. I hope the guys take the sting of the loss and take it into the offseason."

The Twins showed resiliency throughout the season, bouncing back from a 1-6 start and several bumps in the road to remain in the playoff race until the second-to-last day of the season in Molitor's first year at the helm. Hunter was the club's veteran leader, and while the 40-year-old's future remains uncertain, he left an indelible mark on the clubhouse, keeping his teammates loose with their dance parties after every home win.

"The [team's] personality was tremendous and it was reflected primarily by Mr. Hunter," Molitor said. "We have a lot of interesting characters, and it's fun to see them display who they are. A lot of it was under his umbrella. He encouraged all of them so show a little flavor, and when you put them all together it's a good mix."

The season ended with back-to-back losses to the Royals at home, leaving the Twins disappointed. But given their preseason expectations -- and the young core poised to keep the club relevant for years to come -- it's hard to call the 2015 season anything but a success.

"You always want to win and go to the World Series, and some people might call that unsuccessful. But for us, everybody -- whether it was the critics, analysts or Sabermetrics -- said the Twins were gonna be in last place, and they were wrong," Hunter said. "We did a great job. I'll give it a B-plus. We can always do better, but we had a winning season and I'm proud of these guys."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.