December 1, 2022

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'We rake': Twins mash six homers en route to first win

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MINNEAPOLIS — Carlos Correa maintained that Minnesota’s lineup was far too talented to be held down for long after being held to one run in its Opening Day loss — and he helped lead the charge in Sunday’s course correction.

Look up and down this Twins lineup, and it certainly looks as though the true talent level of this offense should be closer to the version that mashed six home runs in Sunday’s 10-4 win over the Mariners at Target Field than the group that was held to four runs and eight hits in their first two games of the season, both losses.

“We know we’re going to hit, right? It was just a matter of time,” Correa remarked. “The first couple of days, [the Mariners’] pitchers did their jobs. Today, it was our day.”

The record-breaking “Bomba Squad” from 2019 only mustered one homer through its first three games. This team has already smashed nine, the most in club history in the first three games of a season. And before Gary Sánchez’s RBI double in the seventh, the Twins had scored their first 13 runs of ‘22 all on homers, the most to start a campaign by any team since 1900, per the Elias Sports Bureau.

“I love saying that.”

Let’s take a closer look at Sunday’s fireworks:

No. 1: Buxton, 100.1 mph, 363 feet
First inning
After mashing a letter-high fastball at 100.5 mph to the third deck in his final act of Saturday’s game, Buxton was back with a vengeance against a very different pitcher in soft-tossing lefty Marco Gonzales. He got a 88.6 mph sinker running in on his hands for the fourth pitch of the game and tucked it fair inside the left-field foul pole.

His six career leadoff home runs now tie Zoilo Versalles for seventh-most in Twins history, even though he’s only made 36 of his 455 career starts atop the lineup.

“I know I can bring a lot of energy to lead off a game, and for me, that also gets me going,” Buxton said. “So, it’s kind of a win-win for myself to go out there and have that quality at-bat.”

No. 2: Sánchez, 106.9 mph, 446 feet
First inning
Sánchez almost ingratiated himself to Twins fans immediately on Opening Day, when he fell barely shy of a walk-off blast. This time, he made sure it was out of the park.

After Minnesota had started its season 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, the Twins took advantage of a rare Adam Frazier error at second to load the bases. Sánchez broke the seal with a 446-foot, third-deck blast on a changeup down in the zone that marked the longest grand slam by a Twins hitter in the Statcast era (since 2015), making it 5-0 Twins in the first.

“Everyone was like, ‘All right, this is a Home Run Derby right now,’” starter Bailey Ober said. “It’s awesome.”

No. 3: Buxton, 108.4 mph, 350 feet
Second inning
Different pitch, same result. This curveball was in a similar location to the sinker, again in on Buxton’s hands, but he once again kept it fair — though he didn’t think this one was gone off the bat. He’s now hit three homers through the first three games of the season, joining Nelson Cruz (2020) and Gary Gaetti (1982) as the only Twins to do so — and he did so on three different pitches in tough spots to square up.

“He’s keeping some balls fair that are maybe pitches that sometimes are pulled foul in this game,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “And you do that by being sound at the plate and having that direct path and staying through the ball real well. He’s finding ways to do some special things.”

No. 4: Max Kepler, 102.7 mph, 411 feet
Third inning
Kepler slid to the ninth spot in the batting order with the lefty Gonzales on the mound, but he was in position to take full advantage when the homers chased the southpaw early and forced Seattle to insert right-hander Matt Festa in the third.

That’s how the impact of these homers build on each other — in this case, by giving Kepler a crack at a more favorable matchup, as he has a career .471 slugging percentage against righties, compared to a .350 mark against lefties.

“Trust me, these guys that are coming in [from the bullpen], they have good stuff, and they are challenging at-bats,” Baldelli said. “You have to stay real disciplined in what you’re trying to do.”

No. 5: Jorge Polanco, 104.9 mph, 424 feet
Fourth inning
How can you tell when Polanco is at his best? It’s when his left-handed swing is able to deal major damage. That was his calling card in ‘19, when he was the AL’s starter at shortstop in the All-Star Game, and that’s what held him back in ‘20, when ankle issues made his swing from that side uncomfortable. He rebounded to an .838 OPS from the left side in ’21 — and got on the board this year with a left-handed blast off Festa.

No. 6: Correa, 113.4 mph, 458 feet
Sixth inning
Correa doesn’t gauge his performance by the results, he says. Instead, he counts the number of times he squared up the ball in any given game. On Sunday, that number was three — and the last of those was a blast to the third deck for the fifth-longest home run of his career. That’s one way to make a big first impression on his new home fans.

“You can go triple-deck [here],” Correa said. “You can’t say that very often in a lot of ballparks. When you go triple-deck, it’s extra-special.”

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