December 5, 2022

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Twins puzzled as mighty bats quiet again

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BOSTON – When this season began, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to imagine a 3-6 start through the first nine games for these Twins, considering the questions that existed about the pitching staff. But it would have been difficult to expect a 3-6 start borne largely of struggles by what should be, on paper, a productive and star-powered offense.

The starting rotation, this team’s biggest question mark, has done its job so far, and second-year right-hander Bailey Ober continued that run of success with six strong innings in an 8-1 loss to the Red Sox on Sunday, lowering the rotation’s ERA to 3.12 in the first turn and a half through the starting six.

Except an offense expected to pack a mighty punch after the surprise signing of superstar Carlos Correa hasn’t yet found its stride, held to four or fewer runs in seven of the club’s nine games. Twice so far, opposing starters have carried no-hitters into the fifth, including Michael Wacha’s outing on Sunday and Clayton Kershaw’s bid for perfection on Wednesday. The Twins have scored 11 runs in five games — and that includes an eight-run outburst on Friday.

“Our offense hasn’t got it going yet like it should,” Correa said. “But that’s what happens when you play 162 every year. There are some ups. There are some downs. We just happened to start in a down right now. But it’s going to pick back up. When it picks back up, it’s going to be fun again.”

On the other hand, the Twins had been squaring up the ball, with top-six ranks in baseball in batted ball metrics like hard-hit rate, average exit velocity and barrel rate entering Sunday – meaning that when they are making contact, they’re hitting it somewhere hard. They’ve been making pitchers work, leading the American League in pitches seen per plate appearance.

An offense that seemed to have things figured out in Spring Training just seems a little off with its timing – both with regards to individuals at the plate and in terms of chaining together those hits.

It’s tough for them to say why. Maybe it’s the cold. Perhaps, as Correa pointed out, it’s the need to feel out more consistent timing when hitters would normally still be playing spring games.

“We put a lot into that camp, and I think when we broke, I felt like our guys’ confidence was very high and guys were swinging the bat real well,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Why that hasn’t carried over, it’s tough to say. We’ve had a few opportunities to blow a game open or take a multi-run lead with just a base hit and it just feels like when we’ve had those chances, we obviously have not gotten the job done.”

But through this stretch, there’s encouragement in the clubhouse in that the Twins have actually given themselves a chance to win every game this season. Only once have they entered the eighth inning trailing by more than three runs.

Much of that has to do with the success of a starting rotation that relied on the avoidance of sophomore slumps from young cornerstones like Ober and Joe Ryan and bouncebacks from veterans like Dylan Bundy and Chris Archer – and so far, they’ve gotten that. It’s just slipped away late three times now, twice against the Dodgers and once against the Red Sox, turning those close games into blowouts.

It’s too early to draw any striking conclusions, especially in a small sample size in which the Twins have faced three playoff-hopeful teams to begin a season preceded by a highly unusual Spring Training. Still, it’s not the start any of them could have expected considering the names in that lineup.

The Twins trust the hits will start to fall – and if this pitching can sustain, they’re confident the wins will follow.

“We’re very close, I feel like,” Ober said. “We’re just waiting on someone to step up. We feel like one through nine, any of those guys can, and anyone in our bullpen or any one of our starters can do that, and it’s just up to us to go out there and get it done.”

“We’ve always been in the games,” Correa said. “It’s just that one hit that’s been missing.”

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