KANSAS CITY, MO. – It’s just not the same.
The Twins aren’t winning with the same force as a year ago. The top-to-bottom aerial assaults on pitching staffs have been infrequent. Remember the eight-homer games against the Orioles and Angels last season? They’ve had one four-homer game this season.
After hitting a major league record 307 home runs in 2019 — on the way to winning 101 games — the Twins are on pace to hit about 70 fewer home runs, based on a 162-game schedule.
They haven’t been the BombaSquad.
But they entered Saturday’s game against Kansas City with a .630 winning percentage that equates to 102 wins over a standard non-virus-ravaged season. On Monday, the Twins will play their 30th game of the season — reaching the halfway point of a schedule altered by the coronavirus.
We don’t know this team anymore.
“The BombaSquad …it’s cool but it’s funny for me to say out loud,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “But it was amazing to watch last year and that group carried things on a lot of different nights. But there were also a lot of guys contributing in a lot of huge ways who probably didn’t get their due and who we ended up probably not talking a lot about enough.
“And these are the same guys a lot of time doing it right now and carrying us, pitching- and defense-wise. We’re seeing it almost every night now where these are the guys who are bringing us to where we need to be, getting us a lead in the ninth inning and holding it.”
The hitters and fielders
The Twins entered Saturday eighth in home runs and 12th in runs scored. Several players have gotten off to slow starts. Nelson Cruz, the ageless wonder, was the only player with an on-base-plus-slugging percentage over .800 entering Saturday. A year ago, the Twins had seven at .800 or above.
Catcher Mitch Garver, outfielder Byron Buxton and third baseman Josh Donaldson are on the injured list. Luis Arraez has been slowed by patella tendinitis.
Meanwhile, the Twins have seen their defense and pitching excel. They have committed a major league-low four errors. And, according to Fangraphs, the Twins are second-best in baseball in defense runs saved (DRS) with 21. DRS is designed to measure a player’s total defensive value.
Shortstop Jorge Polanco’s defensive rating on Fangraphs is 1.7, which ties him for sixth in the league. His DRS is minus-1, which is 14th. But he was 18th in that category a year ago, and Baldelli believes Polanco’s improvement has been key.
“I think we could look around at almost everyone,” Baldelli said. “I know Ehire [Adrianza] and [Luis] Arraez have spent a lot of time on their reactions and their first steps and their anticipation. I think Polo has done the same. Polo has been awesome out there. He’s been making plays going in every direction.”
While staff ace Jose Berrios stumbled early — before his six shutout innings against Milwaukee on Thursday — righthanders Kenta Maeda and Randy Dobnak have paced the starting rotation. Maeda, 3-0 with a 2.27 ERA, took a no-hitter into the ninth inning Tuesday against Milwaukee. Dobnak has stepped up in place of other injured starters to go 4-1, 1.42. If Berrios has turned a corner, the rotation will be in a better place.
The Twins bullpen is a diverse unit, combining youth, experience, power and craftsmanship. Righthanders Tyler Clippard, Trevor May, Tyler Duffey and Sergio Romo are setup men with a combined ERA of 1.81. Taylor Rogers has had a couple of poor outings, but his talent is undeniable. Overall, the Twins’ 3.52 team ERA is third-lowest in baseball.
Good pitching and defense can cover for a lack of offense. And the Twins offense isn’t poor. It’s just not what it was a year ago.
What’s holding the team back is injuries.
The Twins are on a 10-game road trip that includes four games in Cleveland this week. If they can get through the week without faltering, several players could be ready to come off the injured list when they open a homestand on Aug. 31.
“We’ve got four guys out of the lineup that we need,” first baseman Miguel Sano said. “Right now we try to focus on what we have and put something on the board until when those guys come back and help us win.”
On Aug, 31, righthander Michael Pineda will become available after serving a performance-enhancing drugs suspension — in time for the sprint to the finish. Righthander Homer Bailey could be ready soon after that.
In normal seasons, a club needs two months to figure out what kind of club it is. That’s not possible in COVID-19 times. As the Twins reach the halfway point of their season, they are realizing that pitching and defense might have a bigger say in their success.
“Every team is different and every team has a different personality,” Baldelli said. “And that’s a positive. We’re not trying to be the 2019 Minnesota Twins. That’s not our goal. Our goal is to have an identity, go out there and, I’ve said this before, our goal is to prove ourselves every single night that we deserve to win the ballgame, to go out there and do it. That’s all that we can worry about.”