A group of returning Twins were becoming comfortable with their swings and were eager to influence games.
That’s how it all started.
Those players were joined by veteran newcomers with a history of hitting home runs.
Factor in a record-setting era of the ball flying over the fence … and whispers about balls being juiced ...
And you have the birth of the BombaSquad.
“I like it,” said Eddie Rosario, who coined the nickname for a Twins team that is on pace to shatter baseball’s single-season home run record. “It’s different. Something different in major league baseball.”
The Twins have stormed to a 10 1/2-game lead in the AL Central and lead the majors with 382 runs. They are on pace for 316 homers, which would make mincemeat of the club record of 225, set in 1963.
The Yankees set the single-season home run record of 267 last season, and it could fall by early September.
Note to Twins fans: Bring binoculars to Target Field.
Bomba is Spanish for bomb, and the name fits into a clubhouse where 10 of the 25 players on the roster are Spanish-speaking. And there are certainly bombers. Rosario is tied for second in the AL with 19 home runs. Max Kepler, who has batted mostly leadoff, has 15. C.J. Cron has 14, and four other players have 10 or more in a power-laden lineup.
“There’s not a break in there, I can tell you that,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said during the Rays’ recent four-game series with the Twins. “They’ve just got a good balance in there 1 through 9. They can challenge any pitching staff — good pitching, bad pitching, whatever.”
Game-planning for a team with so much power can make a pitcher smash his iPad.
“Sometimes with lineups you can kind of pick and choose a couple guys that you don’t want to let beat you in certain situations,” Twins righthander Kyle Gibson said when asked how he would approach pitching to his teammates. “But if you have seven or eight guys who can consistently hit the ball out of the ballpark, it’s a little bit harder to do that.”
Rosario (with 1,889 career at-bats), Kepler (1,446), Byron Buxton (979) and Jorge Polanco (1,051) entered 2019 at a point in their careers in which they were learning who they are as hitters. Of that group, Buxton had the farthest to go, coming off a 2018 season in which he hit .156. He and third baseman Miguel Sano were coming off slump-ridden seasons and eager to prove critics wrong.
New to the team this year were 37-year-old Nelson Cruz, who had hit the most home runs in the majors over the previous five seasons; Cron, coming off a 30-homer season for Tampa Bay; Jonathan Schoop, who hit 57 home runs over 2016 and ’17 with Baltimore; and Marwin Gonzalez, who hit 23 homers in 2017 with Houston and hit a big home run during the Astros’ championship run that year.
The mixture of emerging hitters and cultured batters has yielded astonishing results, even with 2017 All-Star Sano missing six weeks because of injury.
“You definitely have to have talent, and we have a lot of talented players who can do a lot of stuff with the bat,” said Cruz, who sat out two weeks because of an injured wrist but has since homered in each of the past four games. “We are a confident team. We know we can hit. We prepare well enough so, when you play, you do damage.”
Hard hitting, and hitting
Swinging for the fences has not been costly. The Twins’ 20.1% strikeout rate is tied for third lowest in MLB. It’s calculated destruction that drives them. The Twins swing at pitches inside the strike zone 71.5% of the time, trailing only the Mets. And their contact rate of 86.1% on pitches in the zone is fifth-best in baseball.
To add further context, the Twins, according to MLB.com, are fourth in baseball in average exit velocity of 89.6 miles per hour, trailing the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays. Their average distance of balls hit is 193 feet, tops in baseball. And their 449 balls hit at least 100 mph stood second only to the Rays.
They swing at strikes and can drive balls into orbit.
“When you tend to attack the zone, it is easier to lay off pitches that are not in the area that we are looking to attack,” hitting coach James Rowson said. “When you have a more passive mind-set, you start worrying about what is close and it is easier to chase pitches. I think it is part of the mind-set of these guys, to attack.”
Needing a moniker
When everything is clicking the way it has for the Twins, it was time for a nickname.
The 1983 Twins were called the Minnesota Lumber Company. The 2006 Twins were nicknamed the Little Piranhas by then-White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen.
There were attempts to identify a nickname for this year through social media. A more organic way was needed, and Rosario knocked another one out of the park.
He told Fox Sports North’s Audra Martin after a May 26 victory over the White Sox, “I hit a bomba.” Three days later, he told reporters, “Everybody is happy when you’re hitting a lot of bombas.”
After conferring with Twins senior director of communications Dustin Morse, Rosario endorsed BombaSquad.
“I’ve heard him say bomba quite a bit,” Buxton said with a laugh.
The Twins will hand out a limited number of #BombaSquad T-shirts before Tuesday’s game vs. Seattle — a team that actually has one more home run than the Twins, albeit in five more games — before making them available for purchase at the stadium.
The starting pitching has been more than reliable and the defense has been steady. But the 2019 season will be known for the rise of the BombaSquad.
“We will continue to do things like that, breaking records and whatever you want to call it,” Sano said. “As the weather warms up and the players stay together and work hard, I think those things are going to take care of themselves.”