The Twins are 52-23 when Byron Buxton plays this season and 7-13 when he doesn’t. The center fielder is on the seven-day injured list for concussions, meaning he won’t play until Sunday at the earliest.
The Twins have to hope Buxton can make it back in time for their series with the Yankees starting on Monday, because there’s an argument to be made he is their most important player.
Buxton not only has been playing his usual tremendous defense, but he is the fastest player on the team. This club rarely steals any bases, and Buxton has the bulk of them, with 13 steals.
Buxton was injured making a tremendous diving catch Saturday night in Cleveland. That kept him from being able to share the outfield with Eddie Rosario, who returned from the injured list Tuesday, and Max Kepler. The Twins haven’t been able to field a full and healthy outfield since June 14, when Buxton went on the injured list because of a wrist injury after getting hit by a pitch.
Maybe the biggest difference this year for Buxton, and why he is such a key part of the club, is he is having a productive season at the plate.
Before he went on the injured list for the first time last month, he was hitting .266 with 21 doubles, three triples, nine home runs, 38 RBI and 40 runs scored. He had struggled some in the 10 games since returning from that injury, hitting .158 with three doubles, a triple, four RBI and three runs, but his absence is still felt both in the lineup and the field.
Buxton looked like he was on his way in 2017, when he played 140 games, hit .253 with 16 homers, 14 doubles and six triples and earned MVP votes as the Twins reached the playoffs. But 2018 was an injury-filled year that saw him end up back in the minor leagues.
The big concern for the Twins and their front office is that injuries are becoming a trend for Buxton.
Yes one of the great statements about sports was made by former Vikings coach Bud Grant. He always said, “Durability trumps ability.” Meaning that Grant would always want a player who was on the field over a talented player who missed a lot of games.
Unfortunately Buxton has already missed 20 games with injuries this season. Last year he dealt with migraines, a broken toe and an injured wrist, playing in only 28 games with the Twins — granted he could have played in more games had the Twins brought him back up from Class AAA Rochester at the end of the season.
The Twins know that Buxton’s health is key to their success and they have to wonder if these injuries are going to just be a part of his career.
But there is no question that while this club has dealt with their fair share of injuries, Buxton’s loss hits the hardest.
Of all the surprises this season for the Twins, the one who has stayed the hottest is Luis Arraez, the 22-year-old infielder who is batting .382 with a .453 on-base percentage.
The .382 batting average was the highest of any player in the majors this season with at least 100 at-bats; Arraez was right at 100 at-bats heading into Thursday night’s contest with Oakland. The next closest is Brock Holt with the Red Sox, who is hitting .350 in 117 at-bats. Jeff McNeil of the Mets leads all qualified hitters this season with a .345 batting average.
Arraez, who is Venezuelan, said through a translator that his career with the Twins started when he was 16 years old.
“I started in 2013 when I was signed and I started in the Dominican Republic in the DSL [the Dominican Summer League],” he said, noting that multiple teams were trying to sign him at the time.
Arraez was a hitter right away. At only 19 years old in 2016, he hit .347 at Class A Cedar Rapids over 114 games to win the Midwest League batting title.
He missed most of the 2017 season after he needed surgery on the anterior cruciate ligament of his right knee. But throughout 367 minor league games he hit .331 with a .385 on-base percentage, and it has been no different with the big-league club. And he has spent very little time at Class AAA Rochester, playing only 16 games there this season.
How does a 22-year-old hit nearly .400 in his first year in the major leagues?
“I’m just focusing on the little things I have to do when I’m hitting and I’m working on it every day,” Arraez said.
Asked to compare the minor leagues with the major leagues, he said: “The minor leagues and the umpires are not as good as the big leagues. They pitch differently [here] and they have obviously experience in the big leagues, so I am adjusting to that.”
Given that he spent so little time at Rochester, was he surprised when he got the news that he was going to be called up to the Twins?
“I was on the bus in the minor leagues and I couldn’t believe it,” he said.
So far with the Twins, Arraez has started 10 games at second base, seven at third base, two at shortstop and five in left field while being the club’s designated hitter three times.
He started Thursday’s game at second base and promptly committed a two-base error, but that was only his second error of the year, and Kyle Gibson pitched around it. He said second is his best position.
How does he figure he will stay with the club? “Just keep working hard every day and focusing on the things that are working for me.”
• Gophers wide receiver Tyler Johnson was ranked the 62nd best player in the nation by Sports Illustrated, which wrote: “Last season, the Minneapolis native tied the school record for 100-yard receiving games (six) and became the first Gopher to post four consecutive 100-yard games in conference play. As a senior, Johnson is the primary playmaker on whose shoulders the Gophers’ dark horse Big Ten West hopes rest.”
• The publicly owned Green Bay Packers announced that their profits fell from $34 million in 2018 to only $724,000 in 2019 — because of player contracts, coaching staff changes and paying into the concussion liability reserve. You have to wonder how much NFL teams are paying into that concussion reserve, including the Vikings and the Wilf family. The settlement stipulated that the NFL had to pay $674 million to former players and will cost the league over $1 billion over 65 years with teams paying annually. Another thing worth noting for the Vikings from the Packers’ disclosure was that national TV revenue went up from $255.9 million in 2018 to $274.3 million in 2019. The NFL’s TV contract, which was signed in 2011 for $27 billion, expires in 2022.