February 3, 2023

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Homers aside, Twins pepper Royals with patience

4 min read
Minnesota benefits from pair of 4-run frames as opposed to swing-for-the-fences approach
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MINNEAPOLIS — This isn’t the offensive environment of 2019 anymore. That’s what the numbers bear out, with MLB as a whole having entered Friday with the lowest cumulative batting average since the “year of the pitcher” in 1968, and averaging three-tenths of a run fewer per game than a year ago.

The Twins understand that. While they’ll certainly still take runs in bursts on homers like they did on blasts by Carlos Correa and Jorge Polanco in a 10-7 win over the Royals at Target Field, manager Rocco Baldelli also acknowledged before the game that they’ve had to adjust with a different approach than Minnesota took with the “Bomba Squad.”

The club proceeded to show that off with gritty at-bats and prolonged rallies that featured productive plate appearances from the entire lineup, with all nine hitters reaching base multiple times and eight of them scoring at least one run.

“We’re just trying to find ways to push runs across,” Baldelli said. “I think here in Minnesota, we’ve played a lot of different types of ballgames that we have not even thought about playing the last few years that didn’t feel conducive to winning at the time, but now it does. And so I guess we’re going to continue to just try to push one run across at a time.”

Against the Royals, the Twins pushed one run across at a time quite a lot. A seemingly endless stream of patient plate appearances and line-drive contact all over the field led to a pair of four-run rallies, with Minnesota sending all nine to the plate in the first and eighth innings.

The contributions ranged from Polanco’s two-run homer in his first plate appearance since missing three games with ankle soreness to Gary Sánchez’s three singles to Trevor Larnach’s three walks — with even a Nick Gordon sacrifice bunt mixed in.

Perhaps no player has been more emblematic of that mindset than Gio Urshela, who has come through seemingly time and time again this season — and particularly this homestand — with the go-ahead RBI in all three games of the series earlier this week against the Tigers and another pair of two-out, RBI knocks in Friday’s big innings.

That sort of approach has made a difference, along with the stalwart defense at the hot corner that has already featured a pair of tricky line-drive snags this series as part of Minnesota’s vastly improved infield defense.

“We’re going to hit some balls out of the ballpark, we know that,” Baldelli said. “But if you can’t have those types of at-bats like we had today, getting some baserunners, forcing the action a little, making the other team uncomfortable and getting someone to the plate like Gio in those spots, if you don’t have guys that can do those types of things, you’re going to end up real hit-or-miss.”

Though the offensive results throughout this homestand might not necessarily have indicated as such, the Twins’ lineup has continued to force the issue in all of these tight games with good at-bats, and, in fact, the Twins led the American League with a .328 team on-base percentage, though they’ve lacked the big hit in recent games, particularly with the bases loaded. They insisted that this approach would soon see the hits start to fall — and against the Royals, they fell in a torrent.

“When you can hit the long ball and you can walk, good things are going to happen, and then we got a couple guys that don’t even strike out,” Correa said. “So it’s a well-balanced lineup with a collective approach, and that’s the key to success at this level.”

The Twins have played more than their share of tight games of late — 11 of their last 13 games have been decided by a margin of three runs or fewer — and with runs at a premium, they’ve had to win games through crisp defense, bullpen escapes and clutch, productive at-bats, which hadn’t necessarily been the M.O. of this team in years past.

But in this new environment, the Twins are 28-18, five games clear of the remainder of the American League Central — and they’re confident they can carry it forward.

“I like the way that our team has really taken to this type of baseball,” Baldelli said. “We have guys that can do some different things, and they’re very open to doing them. It’s led to us winning some ballgames because of it, and I think we’ve executed well.”

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