Byron Buxton’s power surge has been startling.
Nelson Cruz’s bat is as lethal as ever — when he’s healthy.
And, wow, did you see Miguel Sano hit that ball onto Waveland Avenue last week?
The Twins sure know how to turn on the power. Their 91 home runs through Friday (1.6 per game) were tied for fourth in baseball, coming off a 2019 when they set the major league record for home runs with 307 (1.9 per game).
But they are finding out this season that there’s more to offense than home runs, Bomba Squad T-shirts and Rally Robes.
While they are among the MLB leaders in home runs, they were just 18th in runs scored. Solid pitching and defense have played a larger role this season in getting them to the playoffs, which start Tuesday at Target Field.
The Twins haven’t totally become a one-trick, home runs-or-bust pony, but they aren’t getting enough runners on base or stacking enough hits to have as many big innings as they had in 2019.
For example, the Twins are batting .278 with runners in scoring position, which was fourth in baseball as of Thursday. They have scored 165 runs in those situations — 22nd best.
And then there are the home runs. Sixty-two of the Twins’ 91 home runs — 68.1% — have been solo shots. The league average is 57.3%.
There’s an old-school saying about having more bus riders — baserunners — than bus drivers. There are bus drivers up and down the Twins lineup.
They need more bus riders.
“We’ve struggled to get guys on base all year long is what it seems like to me,” third baseman Josh Donaldson said. “Some of the games that we have gotten guys on, games that we haven’t won, we’re not getting the timely hits to go with it.
“First goal needs to be able to get guys on base, second goal needs to be able to drive them in, third goal is hitting home runs. The home runs come, in my opinion, are predicated off having quality at-bats.”
One example came on Tuesday against Detroit when Marwin Gonzalez got ahead 3-0 against Detroit’s Tarik Skubal. Gonzalez went after the 3-0 pitch and fouled it off. Nothing wrong with taking a shot there, but then Gonzalez started chasing pitches out of the strike zone and eventually struck out.
Manager Rocco Baldelli commonly talks about good at-bats: plate appearances that build momentum. Bad at-bats in run-scoring situations can aggravate a team. During the Twins’ seven-game road trip to Chicago last week, they went from the fifth inning Sept. 14 against the White Sox to the sixth inning Sept. 19 against the Cubs without scoring a run via a single, double or triple. And they went 2-for-21 with runners in scoring position in the first two games of the White Sox series.
As they prepare for their second consecutive postseason trip, they don’t want to be the team that socks four home runs in a playoff game and loses 5-4.
“Are there individual baseball adjustments that you make or conversations that you have? Of course,” Baldelli said during the Chicago trip. “We’ve had a couple of times where we’ve gotten our group together to talk about different things with everybody in a room. Socially distanced, but in a room. So we’ve taken the opportunity to talk to our guys throughout.
“It’s been a very unique year. There have been a lot of different things to go over, in addition to the baseball part of it. Sometimes the baseball part of it, it’s our job to keep that in the forefront.”
Part of the issue this season has been continuity. The Twins had their first-choice lineup on the field twice over their first 57 games just two times. Lengthy injuries to Buxton, Mitch Garver and Donaldson have led to a variety of batting orders. Max Kepler and Luis Arraez also have been on the injured list.
Arraez profiles as the classic bus rider, but he was batting only .288 when he landed on the IL after batting .334 last season. Arraez’s knee injury has led to Gonzalez getting 187 plate appearances — and he’s batting just .207.
“I haven’t really seen our full lineup out there on a regular basis so it’s kind of hard for me to sit here and say, ‘Do you feel like something’s holding us back?’ ” Donaldson said. “I’d say being able to stay on the field and having our team out there has kind of been somewhat of a difference-maker to that.”
The injuries to Donaldson, Garver and Buxton could be one reason why the team’s on-base-plus-slugging percentage against lefthanded pitchers is just .636 compared with .780 against righthanders. Playoff opponents surely will test the Twins on that.
A wonderful thing happened for the Twins in the third inning Wednesday during their 7-6 win over Detroit. Jorge Polanco singled — then stole second. Gonzalez followed with an RBI single. Ryan Jeffers singled, sending Gonzalez to third. Then Buxton hit into an RBI fielder’s choice.
The Twins actually strung some singles together and scored runs without hitting a ball over the fence. What a concept.
As the playoffs approach, the Twins would help their cause by mixing in more at-bats like those before unleashing the Bombas.
And getting all their starters in the lineup before Tuesday could make that possible.
“I’m pleased with where we’re at and the way we’re coming together at this part of the year,” Baldelli said. “Healthwise, being able to get certain combinations of players together out there on the field … It’s easy to say when you win a few games and the atmosphere is great and guys are having fun, but I really do think the guys are coming together well at the right time of the year.
“We have a lot of our guys that we want out there ready to go.”