Twins slugged 6 homers runs - a word about the 5 hitters who got it done
Minnesota salvaged one game, an easy win against the Cleveland baseball team. These are the guys who made it happen.
The Twins hit 6 homers Wednesday against the Cleveland Baseball Team and perhaps more subtly, as a team they smacked 15 different pitches back the other way at 100 mph or greater. For a club that had been in need of one, that was a really great sign.
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It’s hard to overstate the importance of Byron Buxton to this Twins team. Perhaps, in hindsight, we couldn’t overstate his importance to any Twins team since 2017?
That’s the year Buxton hit his career-highs in plate appearances (511), home runs (16) and Wins Above Replacement. His overall offensive numbers don’t look too strong but two points to remember on that. First is that he’s an elite centerfielder, and sometimes those guys don’t hit their weight in wOBA, so we really ought to compare Buxton’s numbers against that crowd first, before deciding whether he’s “above average,” or “below average.” The second point is that in his final 50 games of the year, Buxton hit .305/.350/.567, with 11 of his 16 home runs in 205 plate appearances. That’s a strong and prolonged offensive outburst, and it was really the beginning of the superstar player you’re seeing today.
Buxton won his first Gold Glove that year, and he got a few down-ballot MVP votes. (Other players receiving votes that year, in reverse order of points: Josh Donaldson (Blue Jays), Marwin Gonzalez (Astros), Buxton, Jonathan Schoop (Orioles), Brian Dozier (Twins), Nelson Cruz (Mariners), Andrelton Simmons (Angels); and José Altuve won the award, which some now consider tainted because of the cheating scandal that rocked the sport and centered on the 2017 World Series champs.) There’s probably a whole series of columns contained there. Mental note for a rainy day.
Then 2018 was more or a less a complete loss for Buxton for various reasons, primarily injuries.
In 2019 he played about a half of a season. And in 2020, COVID’s impact doesn’t need to be restated here.
Enter present day, when Buxton appears to have the skillset to challenge for an AL MVP award.
Donaldson, Cruz and Buxton are carrying this club offensively. I would probably include Luis Arraez in that group, as well. Eventually, what I’d expect to happen is that these guys would cool off a bit and the rest of the lineup would need to contribute more than the very little that they’ve produced so far this season. Donaldson is the one of the Carrying Group that I could envision maintaining most of his great April production. Although this would be the best batting average of his career, if you track those things closely, the power production and slugging percentage seem right in line with what he’s capable of in his mid-30’s.
The point I wanted to make here was that after he crushed his homer — the second of the game for the Twins and one of the three from the team’s first four hitters — he pointed to the dugout and smiled as he made his way to first base. That gesture became a footnote in a 10-2 route, but I always wonder about the impact of little things like that over the course of a year. What he meant, at whom the point and smile were aimed, and the effect. I could guess, but I’d only be guessing.
A couple weeks ago a reader asked me to look into Polanco’s run at the plate dating back to June 1, 2019. Remember, this was a guy who I found so impressive because his bat disappeared in the first four months of the 2017 season. If memory serves me correctly for once, I believe Paul Molitor benched him for a few days to clear his mind and clean up his approach and/or mechanics (these things often all are inter-related). It must have worked. From Aug. 1 until the end of that year, Polanco hit .316/.377/.553 as a shortstop, pairing with Buxton as the surprise offensive surges driving an underdog club in pursuit of a postseason spot, which they would eventually earn in the final week of the season.
Anyway, from June 1, 2019 until mid-April this year, Polanco had fallen off again, hitting .259/.313/.391, if my math and spreadsheet magic was done correctly. So to see him catch a barrel and crush a ball out of the park from the cleanup spot was a nice sign for the Twins.
He deserves a mention here because he roped a ball the other way with the bases loaded, which nearly went out for a grand slam. Instead, he hit the wall and scored two more teammates to make it 6-0.
He’s endeared himself with fans and teammates alike, it seems, and I do like a good story. I don’t intend to rain on this parade because fun stories help make baseball fun! I personally don’t think he’s a great hitter, and he’s stretched a bit as an everyday player, but remember that the Twins are still playing without at least two players that they had planned to use as regulars in the lineup, so I’m curious to see how this looks in the coming weeks. He’s definitely an interesting hitter! And his max exit velocities seem to fall just below that line where some analysts start to believe in power based on its underlying metrics. That kind of seems like a bad place to be in a year that Major League Baseball intended to deaden the baseball and take some distance off long fly balls.
One other thing that must be noted. I truly appreciate how many different gloves Astudillo is willing to wear, even if I don’t think he’s a great fielder at any one place. Having someone who can be competent at a number of different positions really allows some roster flexibility that would be hard to achieve if a dozen or so position players only had one spot they were comfortable playing. So, good on him for that.
In 2019, Garver was Superman. I co-hosted a baseball show at the time and we started referring to him as Babe Ruth in Catcher’s Gear because the numbers that he was putting up were unbelievable. He was death to lefty pitchers, never saw a fastball he didn’t love, and he hit so many homers in a short time that many fans were clamoring for him to play more, against Rocco Baldelli’s prescription Rest & Recovery.
Last season, you’ll remember, did not go so well. Nor has the start of this year, when he’s striking out almost 10 times as often as he’s drawn walks (27:3), he’s getting beat by fastballs, and surprisingly to me, he’s offered to swing at pitches outside the strike zone way more often than he had in his monster 2019 season.
Oh right, he did it twice Wednesday.