The Twins are one home run behind the Yankees entering the final week of play — 298 to 297 in the race to see which team will hold the record for most homers in a season, at least for the next 365 days.
Minnesota has six games left (the Yankees have just five), and all six are against the bottom-feeders of the AL Central. It’s a decent bet the Twins get the record. It would be a shame if they didn’t after all the talk of bombas this season, but it wouldn’t be a travesty.
The most important thing is winning — and we know the home run formula works. The top five teams in the majors this season in homers (Yankees, Twins, Astros, Dodgers and Oakland) are likely headed for the postseason, as are Nos. 7 and 8 (Atlanta and Milwaukee).
While the team home run record chase is very much wide open still, one thing is settled: The Twins will finish dead last in the majors in stolen bases. Our Phil Miller wrote about the diminishing art of the steal about a month ago, noting that a “predictable side effect” of all the Twins’ home runs was a decreasing emphasis on stealing bases.
“It’s better to [trot] around the bases than to run,” explained Eddie Rosario in the story, though several other factors from slow players to not wanting to make outs on the bases were cited as factors.
At the time of publication (Aug. 26), the Twins had a meager 26 stolen bases on the season. It is now almost a month later and the Twins have … 26 stolen bases. They have just three successful steals since the All-Star break, and even with other teams also slowing to a crawl the Twins stand out. The next-lowest total is San Francisco with 43 total steals, and the average MLB team has swiped 73 bags with a week to go. Even the lumbering Yankees have nabbed 55 bases, more than twice as many as the Twins.
The Twins have traded their “piranha” offense of nibble, nibble, nibble, score for a shark that takes big bites.
If you’re a baseball traditionalist, all these homers might seem strange to you. There’s also a chance you are worried that once October baseball rolls around, the Twins’ reliance on homers will be to their detriment.
Two things on that: First, it’s obviously nice to be able to score in multiple ways. Good example: LaMonte Wade Jr. basically stealing a run in extra innings against the White Sox on the last home stand by taking second on a fielder’s choice, third on a wild pitch that barely got six inches from the catcher and taking home on a medium-shallow fly ball. It tied the game, which the Twins ended up winning 9-8 with three more runs (mainly via sharp singles, the last on a bases loaded hit batter).
And second — perhaps more importantly — the statistical evidence actually shows that teams that rely on home runs fare BETTER in the postseason than those who don’t.
Sports researcher/statistician James Smyth did a great Twitter thread on this earlier in the year.
All the data is summarized nicely in a pair of tweets: As you’d expect, scoring drops in the postseason, but home runs drop at a much lower rate, so the impact of each homer is even greater, and the share of runs scored on them is higher than it is during the season.
And the conclusion: For some reason, home runs have been falsely accused of being an impediment to postseason success, as “small ball” is considered a more virtuous way to play. The “too many homers” myth just won’t go away.
The Twins hit a lot of home runs — almost certainly enough to get them to the playoffs and maybe enough to break their streak of 13 consecutive losses in playoff games, much of which was compiled by teams who relied more on small ball.