Perhaps the most amazing part about this remarkably efficient new Twins offense — the take-and-trot — is how excited it has gotten people about inactivity.
As each errant pitch went by Saturday, the Target Field crowd grew louder, saving its biggest roar for those climactic moments when successful Twins hitters calmly handed their bats to the batboy. The atmosphere in the dugout, players said, grew more aggressively passive with each free pass. Heck, the manager’s biggest complaint was that the Twins passed up a few more scoring opportunities when “we got a little aggressive — and swung.”
That’s Twins baseball, 2014 style. They rode their newly discovered formula of not swinging to rise above .500 once more Saturday, beating the Tigers 5-3 despite collecting only four hits. The Twins, baseball’s runaway leaders in walks, scored twice before even bothering to collect a hit and constructed a four-run rally out of one stray single and five walks.
“You score runs however you can. When you look up at the scoreboard, it doesn’t say how you scored them,” first baseman Chris Colabello said. “They don’t keep track of that in the won-loss column.”
There’s where he’s wrong. Walks have become the touchstone of the Twins offense this season, and their eight Saturday only reinforced the point. When the Twins draw four or more walks in a game, they are 11-5. When they don’t, they are 1-6.
“As we’ve talked about many times, we’re taking our walks, getting people on,” said manager Ron Gardenhire, whose team’s total of 121 walks in March/April already has shattered the club record of 113 set in 1996. “You score runs like that. It’s a good way to go about your business.”
So is getting good pitching, and for once, the Twins managed that as well. Phil Hughes, the only Twins starter to record a quality start in the previous eight games, was at his best Saturday. He gave up two quick first-inning runs — on a Torii Hunter single, a Miguel Cabrera double, a Sam Fuld throwing error and a sacrifice fly — but then retired 16 consecutive hitters before Hunter broke the streak in the sixth inning.
“He threw great today. He didn’t over throw the ball. He went right at ’em,” Gardenhire said. “He pitched in and he pitched away, and he did a really nice job.”
One thing he didn’t do: walk hitters. The Twins obviously know how damaging walks can be, so Hughes threw 80 strikes among the 107 pitches he needed over seven innings, and 19 of the 25 hitters he faced saw first-pitch strikes.
“I’m always a guy who’s going to attack the zone,” said Hughes, whose outing reduced the Twins starters’ ERA to 6.03. “Sometimes I miss over the plate too much, but I have the mind-set that I don’t want to fall behind.”
As opposed to Detroit pitchers, who happen to walk fewer batters than any AL team and had not walked more than five in a game before Saturday. Anibal Sanchez walked a pair of hitters in three innings before leaving with a blister on his middle finger that landed him on the disabled list after the game. Suddenly, instead of facing one of the toughest starters in the AL, the Twins faced Jose Ortega, who was just called up from Class AAA Toledo.
Ortega faced nine batters, walked four of them, and hit another. Phil Coke relieved him and was just as wild, at least at first. Hello, Twins offense.
“It’s just about having a professional at-bat,” Colabello said. “If [the pitcher is] a little erratic, you try not to expand the [strike] zone at all.”
The Twins were hitless in the fifth inning when Fuld and Aaron Hicks walked and Eduardo Escobar tried a sacrifice bunt. Catcher Bryan Holaday threw the ball into left field for an error, scoring Fuld. When Ortega walked Brian Dozier to load the bases, he was removed.
Coke allowed the tying run by walking Joe Mauer, then went to a 3-1 count on Trevor Plouffe, who lined the next pitch into center for the Twins’ first hit, scoring two runs and putting his team ahead for good. Josmil Pinto homered later to add an insurance run, but the walks were the Twins’ best weapon.
“We’ve got good awareness at the plate,” Colabello said. “If they don’t throw them where you want them, you don’t have to swing.”