Max Kepler will lead the 2018 Twins in games played, plate appearances and walks. Entering the final two games, he had 56 RBI and a .400 slugging percentage, compared to 69 and .425 when he ended 2017.
And there’s a number that is unfathomable: Kepler’s batting average sat at .222 after the doubleheader sweep of the Chicago White Sox on Friday.
Miguel Sano allowed himself to get in horrible physical condition, became injury-prone and will finish a lost, 25-year-old season batting .199. Byron Buxton doesn’t have hitter’s hands (like Eddie Rosario), compensates by being a guess hitter, has remained injury-prone, and his 24-year-old season was a waste.
Kepler is tremendously well-conditioned, has a swing that should be successful, and he has spent much of his 25-year-old season batting in the .220s. Even with the baseballwide de-emphasis on average, the .220s are preposterous for a corner outfielder with Kepler’s abilities.
“He pulls his hands in trying to power the ball to right field and gets tied up inside too often,’’ a former big-leaguer said this weekend.
Manager Paul Molitor was asked how Kepler — injury-free, excellent condition, a swing flaw that should be correctable — can be a .222 hitter?
“I think a lot of this game is momentum and confidence,’’ Molitor said. “I think that the numbers staring at you … sometimes you’re just trying too hard to prevent them from going the wrong way. It’s like the more you try to correct your slice, the farther it goes right.’’
Asked if he “liked Kepler’s swing,’’ Molitor said: “You look at the ball he hit [Thursday] for a base hit … coming off the bat at 104 miles per hour. We like him — like other guys, we’re trying to get him to see the bigger picture of a game, and not always about your swing, your swing.’’
Sano doomed his season by showing up for spring training over 290 pounds. Buxton was in trouble from the time you saw him again confused and flailing at the start of exhibition games.
For me, the unexplainable regression for the 2018 Twins has been Kepler. He has so much going for him in dedication and talent, he should have been outstanding in Year 3, not in the .220s.
Read Reusse’s blog at startribune.com/patrick.
On the plus side for the Twins:
• Kyle Gibson proved he deserves a multiyear contract. Gibson and Jose Berrios are an excellent start for a rotation for 2019.
• Jake Cave can be written in as a fourth outfielder and lefthanded DH. He’s one actual success for the Twins’ DFA diving.
• If Joe Mauer retires, Mitch Garver can move to first, and then the Twins can have a 2019 platoon at catcher — Jason Castro and, yes, Willians (The Wonder) Astudillo.