After picking up a triple as part of his 4-for-4 night in Tampa Bay last month, Aaron Hicks expressed a little empathy for Rays right fielder Wil Myers, who had to run more than 100 feet to retrieve the baseball after it hit an oddly angled wall near the Tampa Bay bullpen.
“The ball hit that wall where it juts out,” making his triple a simple matter, Hicks said. “It almost wasn’t fair.”
The Twins must feel the same way about triples in general, because they avoid them like they’re illegal. Hicks’ wall-aided three-base-hit, back on July 8? It was their lone triple of the month. Brian Dozier and Oswaldo Arcia both tripled Saturday, their first two since Hicks’.
Those two gave the Twins 12 triples all year. With Hicks and Eduardo Escobar in the minor leagues, the current roster has a collective total of seven. With a little more than one-third of the season remaining, the Twins are on pace to collect 18 triples — easily the fewest in franchise history. (The previous low: 23 in the strike-shortened 1994 season.)
So have the Twins become a team of turtles, dragging themselves from base to base?
Their general manager doesn’t think so. “We’ve got guys who can run. ... I’m not saying they’re burners — they’re not,” Terry Ryan said. “But I think our team speed is fine. That’s not something I’m worried about.”
Still, it’s quite a change from last season, and not just because the Twins collected 30 triples. They also led the American League in stolen bases in 2012, racking up 135, on a 78.4 percent success rate; this season, they rank 14th. Four different players swiped at least 17 bases — but none of the four are on the team this year. Ben Revere (40 steals) and Denard Span (17) were traded, Alexi Casilla (21) was allowed to walk away as a free agent, and Darin Mastroianni (21) had ankle surgery that has kept him out of all but eight games.
With those players gone, the Twins have only 35 steals (the 35th coming Saturday), ranking ahead of only the power-laden Tigers, and their 61.4 percent success rate is worst in the AL. Hicks leads the team with nine steals, Pedro Florimon and Brian Dozier eight apiece. No other Twin has more than two.
Those numbers are merely a symptom, though, Ryan says. The problem isn’t speed, it’s opportunity, he points out.
“We aren’t stealing bases because we’re not getting on base,” Ryan said. “When Hicks was in the leadoff spot, he couldn’t use his speed because he couldn’t get on base. But Hicks can run every bit as well as Revere and Span. He doesn’t look like it, but he can fly.”
Steals and triples don’t necessarily correlate to victories anyway, although first-place Boston leads the AL in both. And as Ryan pointed out, all those steals didn’t do much good last year, when the Twins scored only 701 runs.
“Doesn’t matter if you steal them, if you can’t get them across,” Ryan said.
But the Twins, like several teams, believe the running game is about to undergo a resurgence.
“It looks like the game may be trending more toward speed again, because of the efforts to get PEDs out,” said Mike Radcliff, Twins vice president for player personnel. “So [fast] guys have a real shot, because the running game is going to pick up.”
The farm system isn’t loaded with speed, but there are some good prospects, Byron Buxton (and his 38 steals) chief among them. The Twins drafted speedy center fielder Zach Granite in June, and he has 11 stolen bases at rookie-level Elizabethton. Shortstop prospect Danny Santana has 21 steals for Class AA New Britain, and 29-year-old journeyman outfielder Antoan Richardson has stolen 36 bases at New Britain and Rochester.
“Everybody is always looking for speed, and we are too,” Ryan said. “But that’s not our biggest problem now.”
With the White Sox on pace to suffer their first 100-loss season since 1970, grumbling has begun about manager Robin Ventura. But General Manager Rick Hahn said Ventura is not to blame. “The effort hasn’t changed. The level of communication and energy hasn’t changed,” Hahn said on the team’s flagship radio station. “At this time, we don’t feel changes are merited in the near future.”