MINNEAPOLIS -- After winning two of out of three against the Blue Jays over Players Weekend, the Twins find themselves 1 1/2 games up on the Angels and Mariners for the second American League Wild Card spot.The big storyline was the continued emergence of center fielder Byron Buxton, who had
MINNEAPOLIS -- After winning two of out of three against the Blue Jays over Players Weekend, the Twins find themselves 1 1/2 games up on the Angels and Mariners for the second American League Wild Card spot.
The big storyline was the continued emergence of center fielder Byron Buxton, who had a huge series -- including a three-homer game on Sunday, the first multihomer game of his career. He has been incredible in the second half, and his improvements have steadily been coming over the past year. Buxton's play has Minnesota in the thick of the postseason hunt, and leads us to this week's Inbox:
Buxton and Eddie Rosario have been impressive in August, as Buxton is hitting .330/.362/.649 with eight homers, eight stolen bases and 21 RBIs in 27 games, while Rosario is hitting .300/.336/.570 with seven homers and 20 RBIs in 26 games.
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Rosario has shown better plate discipline each month and the results are coming, as he's cut down on his swings on pitches out of the zone, which has helped him put more balls in play and draw more walks. His breakout year offensively shows he can be a legitimate everyday left fielder, although the advanced metrics show his defense has been down this year compared to previous seasons.
But it's Buxton's stratospheric rise that could buoy this team in the long term. He's already the best defensive center fielder in baseball and one of the game's two fastest players, per Statcast™. That, combined with Buxton's improving offense, has led to a team-leading 4.3 WAR, according to baseball-reference.com. Muting his leg kick during the season has led to great results, improving his contact rate without sacrificing his power. But Buxton has been trending this way for a while despite his rough April, as he's hit .257/.321/.459 with 22 homers and 25 stolen bases in 140 games over the past 365 calendar days.
Third baseman Miguel Sano remains out with his stress reaction to his left shin, and the club announced Friday he's not expected to be activated once eligible on Wednesday. The injury has hobbled Sano, and he hasn't been able to run or do fielding drills. When he does return, it's very likely he'll be limited to designated-hitter duties at least in the short term. Same with Robbie Grossman and his fractured left thumb.
Right-hander Dillon Gee gave up four runs over four innings against the Blue Jays on Saturday, and the Twins could look to right-hander Aaron Slegers to replace him as the fifth starter. Slegers was solid for Triple-A Rochester on Sunday, allowing two runs over seven innings, and he fared well in his Major League debut on Aug. 17 (6 1/3 innings, two hits, two earned runs) vs. the Indians.
Left-hander Stephen Gonsalves, ranked as the club's No. 3 prospect by MLBPipeline.com, also remains on the radar, but right-hander Fernando Romero was placed on the Minor League disabled list with a shoulder impingement on Monday, which is expected to end his season.
It's an interesting question, as Minnesota has seen improvements across the board regarding plate discipline. According to a fangraphs.com article last week, all 12 Twins regulars have improved their plate-discipline numbers from last year. They've improved by an average of 5.6 percent collectively, which is more than double that of the next-best team -- the Braves at 1.9 percent.
Some of it is due to the natural progression of the club's young core of Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, Rosario and Buxton, but hitting coach James Rowson does deserve credit. He helped retool Buxton's swing, and players have commented on how his positivity has helped them on the mental side. It's hard to measure how much those improvements are due to Rowson, but he and assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez do get a lot of praise in that clubhouse.
No, but I am headed to the Minnesota State Fair this week. So any food recommendations are always appreciated.
Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter **@RhettBollinger** and **Facebook**.