MINNEAPOLIS — Here was the narrative entering the season: If healthy, Byron Buxton and Carlos Correa would carry this offense to greatness. Would there be enough pitching to catch up?
Has that held true for these 2022 Twins through the first series of the season, a four-game split at Target Field against the Mariners? Let’s take a look at three takeaways from the first set as the Twins prepare for the Dodgers to come to town.
1. Buxton hasn’t skipped a beat
Is it too early for the “M-V-P! M-V-P!” chants that started to ring around Target Field for Byron Buxton on Sunday? Perhaps. But Buxton’s production at this level hasn’t been localized to these first few games of 2022; it’s been who he is, more or less, every time he’s stepped on the field since last Opening Day.
Here’s the latest survey of the damage from Buxton’s bat after four games: three homers, two doubles, a walk, a hit-by-pitch and a stolen base. He’s hitting .333/.412/1.067 and leads the Majors in home runs, joining Nelson Cruz (2020) and Gary Gaetti (1982) as the only players in Twins history to hit three homers within the season’s first three games.
“The explosiveness in the bat, it always catches you by surprise,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “No matter how many times you see it, it kind of makes you sit up and gets you excited.”
There’s some comfort, he has said, in knowing that he’ll be around Minneapolis for the next seven years following the $100 million extension he signed this offseason. When asked before Opening Day if that meant he’d feel more pressure to take on a vocal leadership role, Buxton actually said no — because that’s not who he’s been, and that’s not who the Twins are asking him to be. He lets his bat and his energy do all the talking — and both have been plenty loud.
“I know I’ve got a lot of energy I bring to the clubhouse and the dugout,” Buxton said. “That’s kind of what gets us going, and once it gets us going it kind of fuels me more and more throughout the game.”
2. So far, so good for this pitching staff
The discourse all offseason — and rightly so — revolved around whether the Twins have enough pitching to support what should be an explosive offense. It’s early, but the pitching staff more than held up its end of the bargain in the season-opening series against the Mariners by allowing 10 runs across four games, capping the set with a two-hit shutout helmed by new acquisition Dylan Bundy.
“I would say our pitching has kind of carried us through this first series,” Baldelli said. “We’ve seen a lot of good all over the field, but you’re not going to do it without pitchers going out there and keeping you in ballgames.”
The bullpen in particular has been impressive, allowing only two runs across 17 innings despite all of the uncertainty that existed in the group entering the season. Danny Coulombe and Jhoan Duran in particular have emerged as early contributors who could lengthen the group — with the latter’s electric stuff making him a strong candidate to resolve the ninth-inning question that exists in the wake of Taylor Rogers’ departure to San Diego.
“I think we have a bigger statement to make,” Bundy said. “I think every guy in the rotation can go deeper into games and we will, going forward.”
3. This offense can beat you multiple ways
The Twins started the season with a historic flurry of homers as they scored their first 13 runs of ‘22 via the long ball, the most by any team since at least 1901, per the Elias Sports Bureau. But what happens when the long ball dries up?
They can win anyway — as they showed on Monday.
The Twins were anything but homer-reliant in their 4-0 series finale victory, scraping together runs with a walk, single and Jorge Polanco double in the first and five knocks in the span of six batters in the fifth to key a three-run rally. Considering all of the pop that exists up and down this lineup, they showed they don’t necessarily have to sacrifice the quality of their at-bats to reach that power.
“It felt like we should have had some more runs on the board,” Baldelli said. “We’re talking about that and trying to find ways to get it done, but we didn’t relent in any way.”