(Tampa, FL) — The signs of a potent lineup were evident with the
Minnesota Twins in spring training, factoring in the addition of a
few accomplished power hitters and the anticipation of further
development by their homegrown players.
Even the most optimistic member of the organization would’ve had
trouble envisioning a start like this, though. One-third of the way
through the season, the Twins have been hitting like the famed 1927
New York Yankees. Well, better than that, actually.
The Twins (37-17) lead the major leagues in several hitting
categories, the most obvious reason they have the best record in
the major leagues. Their 106 home runs are the most, fueling a .515
team slugging percentage that, if sustained, would be the best in
big league history. Those ’27 Yankees slugged at .488, a clip that
stood until the Boston Red Sox finished at .491 in 2003.
”Everybody’s happy when you’re hitting a lot of bombas,” left
fielder Eddie Rosario said as he switched from English to Spanish
with a sly smile.
Rosario, who leads the Twins with 39 runs, 17 homers and 47 RBIs,
is one of six Latino regulars in the lineup, and the Twins have
already been touting on social media the ”Bomba Squad ” as the
official hashtag-based nickname. Other catchy options like ”`Sota
Pop,” ”The HR Department,” and ”New Power Generation,” in
tribute to Minnesota music icon Prince, have been bandied about.
Given the messaging from rookie manager Rocco Baldelli, though,
these Twins don’t appear to be at risk for getting caught up in the
accolades or the gimmicks.
”It’s a good start to a long season, but I think all of us in here
are just trying to stay in the present, work on our day-to-day
tasks, and not get too ahead of ourselves,” said right fielder Max
Kepler, who along with Rosario, center fielder Byron Buxton, and
third baseman Miguel Sano debuted with Minnesota at various points
during the 2015 season. Shortstop Jorge Polanco, another product of
the Twins farm system, beat them to the majors by a year but didn’t
become a regular until 2017.
With the arrival this year of first baseman C.J. Cron, designated
hitter Nelson Cruz, second baseman Jonathan Schoop and
multi-positional player Marwin Gonzalez, all of whom topped the
20-homer mark within the previous two seasons, the Twins clearly
were going to field at least a deep, versatile lineup. They’ve
displayed much more than that, tallying eight-plus runs in 16
different games and reaching double digits six times.
Even the catchers, Jason Castro, Mitch Garver and Willians
Astudillo, have been difficult outs. Their combined .901
on-base-plus-slugging percentage is a collective second best in the
majors at the position , behind the Chicago Cubs (.976).
With 55 home runs in May and two games left in the month, starting
Thursday with at Tampa Bay in the opener of a 10-game trip, the
Twins have set their team record for homers in one month. They’ve
got eight players on pace to finish with at least 20 home runs.
They’re on their way, along with four other teams in this
especially power-packed season in baseball , to break the season
record of 267 homers set just last year by the Yankees.
What’s remarkable about the Minnesota method is the lack of whiffs.
The Twins have struck out 410 times, the third-fewest in the
majors. They’ve assembled a bunch of aggressive hitters seeking to
drive the ball where they can as soon as the first pitch.
From Baldelli to hitting coach James Rowson to assistant hitting
coach Rudy Hernandez, the Twins have also encouraged their hitters
to adopt an approach – both before and during the game – that
they’re comfortable with rather than conforming to an
organizational standard. That’s often music to a millennial’s ears.
Baldelli has also fostered an encouragement of players to rest at
appropriate points on the schedule, like
”The more relaxed you are, in theory, the more comfortable you
play,” Baldelli said. ”We want the lowest-stress environment
possible, so that when our players show up to the field, they just
worry about going out there, having a good time, and playing as
best they can.”
That philosophy has been working so far. The defense has been sound
and the pitching has been somewhere between reliable and superb,
with rookie Devin Smeltzer’s six shutout innings of the Milwaukee
Brewers on Tuesday the latest example of the latter.
With 108 games remaining, if they played at merely a .500 winning
percentage the rest of the way, the Twins would still reach 91 wins.
”I know what the last few years felt like when we were the ones
not in this position,” Buxton said, ”so to be in this position
with the focus and the mindset and the determination and the
dedication or whatever you want to classify it as, that’s the top
of the list right now.”