ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — The Rays have hit more home runs than any team in the majors this year, and the Twins have struck out more often than anyone. So Tuesday night's game was like a showcase for the two wildly different first-place teams.
Not exactly a mystery who won, is it?
Luke Raley smashed a Louie Varland changeup 450 feet to straightaway center, Jose Siri clobbered a slider seven feet farther, and the slump-ridden Twins whiffed 12 times en route to their third consecutive loss, 7-0 at Tropicana Field.
The Twins, who have scored a total of four runs in their past four games, put a measly six runners on base during the game, via two doubles, two singles and two walks — but not one of those baserunners ever moved up a single base.
"I'm not going to sit here and rip our guys because we're not hitting right now. We know we have work to do," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said after the Twins were shut out for the fifth time this season. Work on what? "The quality of the at-bats, decision-making, things like that," he said. "Using the whole field."
Or any of it. The Twins have struck out 625 times this season, the only MLB team with more than 600, and are averaging more than 10 per game. They have struck out 43 times in their past four games and are on pace to become the only team in MLB history to strike out more than 1,600 times in a season (the Cubs hold the record with 1,596 in 2021).
"Yeah, the strikeouts, they are an issue and there's no way around that," Baldelli said. "I'd be feeding you something if I told you it wasn't something that we're thinking about and talking about. The consistency at which we're not making the decisions that we want at the plate, it has to change."
Rays righthander Zach Eflin had something to do with it, too, striking out the first four hitters he faced in the game en route to leading the Rays to their 10th win in his 11 starts. He carried a no-hitter into the fourth inning, when Carlos Correa hit a one-out double, but easily pitched his way out of the "threat," finishing the inning by striking out Trevor Larnach.
"We need to find a way to cut down on the strikeouts," said catcher Christian Vázquez, who didn't whiff against Eflin, but did against reliever Jalen Beeks. "We need to swing at strikes. That's it. The Rays, they have a philosophy to attack the zone until two strikes, and then throw pitches for [chasing]. I saw that a lot of years with Boston. We need to make better decisions."
Varland, meanwhile, battled through the worst start of his young career, though he managed to complete six innings. But the rookie righthander walked four, and though he only allowed six hits, three were for extra bases — the pair of prodigious home runs, plus a triple into the right-field corner by Raley, a former Twins prospect now thriving in Tampa Bay.
"I felt decent. It was just a bad day," Varland said. "I didn't throw that many strikes to get ahead of hitters, so maybe that was a factor."
Raley's fourth-inning triple was briefly controversial, because it hit the baseline chalk about 15 feet from home plate and appeared to go foul by inches as it passed first base. But umpire C.B. Bucknor signaled it was fair — a call not subject to replay challenges — and the ball book a bounce away from Max Kepler in the corner, allowing Raley to reach third base with his first career triple.
Randy Arozarena followed with a single to score Raley, and the Rays tacked on two more runs on Christian Bethancourt's RBI single and a squeeze bunt by Vidal Bruján. Varland's night ended shortly after Siri walloped a ball onto the concourse behind the seats in left-center, then stood at the plate facing his dugout while the ball sailed over the fence.
"We looked around the field — they have good athletes on the field, everywhere you look," Baldelli said of the 44-19 Rays. "We talked about their offense and the way they move and run around — they did all that today."