The Twins lineup combined to strike out 15 times on Saturday. Twice they had base-runners thrown out at home plate. And they still scored seven runs.
That qualifies as … progress?
In this case, yes. The feeble-hitting lineup has awakened from its slumber. It’s a small sample size, but a 7-1 win over Cleveland marked the fifth time in six games that the Twins have scored at least seven runs.
Welcome to the party, guys.
“Any time you’re hitting and scoring runs,” first baseman Logan Morrison said, “it’s going to be lively.”
The offense has had the opposite effect before this stretch. Their lack of pop has been a real buzzkill and a big reason why the Twins find themselves in third place in the middling AL Central.
The Twins carry a 3-12 record in one-run games. Their season would look different right now if they had produced even a slight uptick in scoring.
Maybe this spark will lead to something reasonably sustainable that keeps them in the race and makes summer more than a painful slog of sub-.500 baseball.
“Some of the weight we’ve been carrying just trying to find ways to manufacture anything has been lifted somewhat,” manager Paul Molitor said. “Better results breed confidence.”
Their lineup should produce more than it has shown to date. They finished seventh in Major League Baseball in runs scored last season. On paper, this lineup looked as good, if not more potent.
Injuries and ineffectiveness have conspired to create a quagmire of ineptitude.
Miguel Sano spent a long stretch on the DL and continues to strike out at record pace. Joe Mauer has contributed 11 RBI. And Byron Buxton reached base only 17 times before joining Mauer on the disabled list.
And yet the Twins trail Cleveland by only 4½ games with a chance to narrow that gap even more in Sunday’s finale of what feels like a pivotal series.
“It’s a good sign that we’re starting to come along a little bit,” hitting coach James Rowson said. “The guys in this clubhouse feel good about the lineup. I feel good about the lineup. It’s just a matter of getting it together.”
That includes Sano, who would make the lineup more dangerous if he can improve his plate discipline and cut down on his whiffs. Molitor gave Sano the day off Saturday to rest but also noted “the matchup isn’t great” against Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer and his wicked curveball.
On Friday, Cleveland intentionally walked Eddie Rosario twice to face Sano in key situations. Nothing paints a more damning picture than that.
Sano made them pay the first time, smoking an RBI double to left field. He flew out the second time.
“The credit in that situation goes to how hot Eddie is,” Rowson said. “That’s more about Eddie than it is about [Sano] right now.”
Well, yes and no. Rosario certainly has earned that level of respect based on his production. Morrison called Rosario an All-Star after watching him hit another home run Saturday. Without question, Rosario been the team’s best player through 54 games.
The Twins need their full lineup to produce if they are going to stay in the race, not just one or two guys getting hot.
Sano has provided some power since his return with two home runs and 10 RBI in eight games. But he also has 14 strikeouts in 37 plate appearances and been susceptible to pitches outside the zone.
“I try to change my mind-set,” Sano said. “Try to concentrate on going opposite way. I try to have patience.”
He should improve as he gets more at-bats after a long layoff. Brian Dozier is starting to look more like himself at the plate, too. The bottom of the order has generated some timely hits during this mini-surge. And Jorge Polanco should provide a boost when he returns from his suspension.
“The big thing is getting everybody clicking together,” Dozier said. “The way this team is built offensively, we can do a lot of different things with our legs and power when everybody is going at least OK. You’re starting to see that.”
Now they must sustain it to stay relevant.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org