'Heck of a run' for Polanco in second half

September 5th, 2021

Just as ’s rejuvenated performance has been a needed bright spot in a lost season for these Twins, his bat proved one of few highlights in a Saturday afternoon at Tropicana Field that Minnesota would otherwise prefer to forget.

Polanco went yard for the second straight game with a two-run blast in the fifth inning as he fell a triple shy of his second career cycle, continuing his torrid run in the second half with his 12th three-hit game of the season. Otherwise, Tampa Bay’s lineup put up crooked numbers against and the Minnesota pitching staff, which matched a season-high with six homers allowed, while exited with a left shoulder contusion after colliding with Rays catcher Mike Zunino in an 11-4 Twins loss.

Polanco’s shot off Rays right-hander Chris Archer marked his 26th of the year, extending his career high and moving him three shy of Chili Davis’ club record for most in a season by a switch-hitter.

He also singled in the first and led off the fourth with a double before scoring on ’s groundout, putting him in position to become the first player in Twins history with multiple cycles for the team, but he popped out against reliever Dietrich Enns in the eighth to fall shy of the feat.

“It’s been fun to watch,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It’s been a heck of a run for him.”

Though the triple eluded him, Polanco still continued to hit for both power and average -- as he has since May -- while taking his over-the-fence ability to new heights by far surpassing his previous season-high total of 22 homers, set as part of the “Bomba Squad” in 2019 when he started the All-Star Game at shortstop for the American League.

Polanco’s .506 slugging percentage this year is by far a career high and trails only Max Muncy and Marcus Semien among qualified second basemen. His barrel rate (9.1 percent), average exit velocity (89.1 mph) and hard-hit rate (35.9 percent) entering Saturday are all career highs, though he and Baldelli have attributed his added thump this year to newfound health following two right ankle surgeries in two years more than any change to his approach.

“He’s not swinging any harder,” Baldelli said. “He’s not trying to really lift the ball in an overly apparent way. These are subtle changes that some hitters make and some talented guys are able to do at certain points of their careers. I think he has all the other skills that we talk about that good hitters have, and he’s just kind of adding this layer on top of all of these other positive, productive things that he does.”

While Polanco accounted for three of Minnesota’s runs, driving in two and scoring another, Sanó also helped the cause with a towering blast to straightaway center in the fourth that traveled an estimated 444 feet, placing him eighth among all hitters with 24 homers of at least 440 feet since Statcast began tracking in 2015. He exited the game in the bottom of the frame after he and Zunino collided on an inning-ending popout, though Baldelli said the slugger was doing OK after the game.

“We don’t see anything right now that warrants any kind of further injury-related, IL-type discussion,” Baldelli said.

All that proved inconsequential to the outcome as Albers’ outing got off to a tumultuous start with a near-balk call and lengthy discussion with the umpires on the second plate appearance of what became a two-run first inning before an actual balk call played into a five-run second for Tampa Bay. The Rays added two solo shots in the third to make Albers the first Twins pitcher since 2007 to allow four homers in a start of three or fewer innings.

Albers said that the issues stemmed from a miscommunication between him and the umpiring staff as to whether he was throwing from the windup or the stretch -- but regardless, he still needed to execute better as the Twins fell one shy of the club record for homers allowed in a game.

“I was leaving balls up in the middle before that and I continued to leave balls up in the middle after that, so I can’t say that had an effect,” Albers said. “Obviously, it takes you a little bit out of your rhythm, but at the same time you have to find a way to overcome that and be better than what I was today.”