There has never been a Twins team quite like the 2019 squad under manager Rocco Baldelli and the front office of Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine.
After a disappointing 10-inning loss to Seattle on Wednesday night, the team got right back to work Thursday with a 10-5 victory over the Mariners to move back to 23 games over .500.
Nelson Cruz went 3-for-4 with three RBI, two runs and his 12th homer, and he has been on fire since returning to the lineup.
In eight games since returning from a wrist injury, Cruz is hitting .344 with five homers and nine RBI in 32 at-bats. And the Twins continue to roll.
They are on pace for 109 victories, which would easily top the previous franchise high of 102 in 1965, when they lost the World Series in seven games to the Dodgers.
But just as impressive as their win total is the way they are doing it, by hitting a ton of home runs.
The team is on pace for 319 home runs. Their previous franchise high was 225 in 1963. They also have scored 404 runs on the season; last year they reached that number on July 13.
“I don’t think it has ever happened before,” Baldelli said about the power production from his lineup. “So I don’t know if you can expect something like that. But I’ll say it again: We have high expectations for our players, and they have high expectations for themselves. I don’t think anything that happens on a daily basis here, I don’t think it surprises them because I think they believe in what they’re doing.”
The 1963 club featured some great power hitters. Harmon Killebrew led the major leagues with 45 home runs, just beating out NL stars Hank Aaron and Willie McCovey, who had 44 apiece. But Killebrew did it in only 142 games compared to 161 for Aaron and 152 for McCovey.
Bob Allison hit 35 homers, Jimmie Hall 33 and Earl Battey 26 for the 1963 Twins. They also had Don Mincher with 17 home runs, Rich Rollins with 16 and Vic Power and Zoilo Versalles had 10.
While that club had eight hitters with at least 10 home runs, the club record is 11 such hitters in 2016. But eight of those players had between 10 and 12 homers.
Power and options
This year’s team should match that record. There really is no comparison for the kind of power the club is showing from all different kinds of players.
The Twins reported this week that they became the first team in MLB history to have seven players with 10-plus homers in the first 70 games of a season.
Eddie Rosario leads the team with 19 homers. Max Kepler has 16, C.J. Cron 15, Nelson Cruz and Jonathan Schoop 12 and Jorge Polanco and Mitch Garver 10.
And with Byron Buxton with nine homers, Jason Castro and Marwin Gonzalez with eight and Miguel Sano with six, it’s only a matter of time before the team has 11 players with at least 10 home runs to match that 2016 record.
Baldelli said that early in the season, one of the biggest benefits for the Twins is how many different lineups they can play and still have power threats all over the place.
“We have a lot of different guys that can do a lot of different things, and there’s a lot to factor in when we make our lineups. But I think we have an entire roster of guys that can produce for us and play well and come together and get the job done,” he said. “I have never been a fan of playing a certain number of guys and then having the rest of the guys you know sit most days. I enjoy getting guys in there, and I think the players respond and they actually perform better when that happens.”
And it’s worth noting that the Twins have only played Sano for 19 games, and he is already proving to be a big threat in the lineup.
After struggling last season and hitting .199 with 13 homers in 71 games, this year he is hitting .247 with six home runs in only 73 at-bats, which is the second-most home runs per at-bat on the team, trailing only Garver, who has homered 10 times in 106 at-bats.
And while Baldelli said he wasn’t surprised at how quickly Sano has gotten up to speed after his injury, he has been impressed.
“We knew when he was going to be back, he was going to be ready. I think facing major league pitching is sometimes difficult when you have been off for so long. So the quality of the at-bats, some of the pitches he has been taking and some of the swings he has had, they have been very, very impressive, from my perspective.”
The Twins and Mariners have been in a back-and-forth race for the MLB team home run lead, but Seattle has played five more games than the Twins.
When it comes to the number of at-bats per home run, the Twins are clearly the best in baseball. They hit one out of the park every 17.6 at-bats, compared to Seattle’s mark of 19.3 and Milwaukee’s 19.6.
The Twins lead the AL Central by 11 games with a huge weekend of sold out games coming up against Kansas City as the team prepares to retire Joe Mauer’s number.
This is the most excitement around the Twins since their opening season at Target Field nine years ago.
• It’s amazing to think that the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins will rank only fifth in the league with $28 million in salary for 2019, trailing fellow quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh ($45 million), Matt Ryan of Atlanta ($44.75 million), Russell Wilson of Seattle ($35 million) and Nick Foles of Jacksonville ($30.75 million).
• The Chicago Bears have signed Roseville High School product Jesper Horsted after his standout career at Princeton. He set school records with 196 catches for 2,703 yards and 28 touchdowns. An all-state receiver in high school, he played baseball and football in college. The Bears will convert the 6-4, 225-pounder to tight end.
• With the Toronto Raptors’ push to the NBA Finals, one of their top executives has local ties. Teresa Resch, the Raptors vice president of basketball operations and player development, is a Lakefield, Minn., native who went to Jackson County Central High School who got her undergraduate degree at Augustana in South Dakota and her master’s degree at St. Thomas.
• Twins pitcher Ryan Eades, who was called up from Rochester and relieved in two games before getting sent back down Thursday for Fernando Romero, became the first player in MLB history to wear No. 80. The only unused numbers now are 86, 89 and 92.