Polanco's 2021 revival a boon for Twins

Fully healthy, 2B continues to mash, clubbing 16th HR in defeat Sunday

August 1st, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- Memories of 2019 might seem more distant than ever for these Twins following the departures ahead of Friday afternoon’s Trade Deadline -- but not for Jorge Polanco.

That’s when the Minnesota second baseman earned his only All-Star nod as part of a career-best half-season before ankle issues sapped him of much of his production for nearly two years -- and that’s the form that Polanco has found once again in the last three months. That carried into Sunday, when he crushed his 16th homer of the season and continued his solid run of defense at second base in a 7-3 loss to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

That made it 10 hits over the last five games for Polanco, who entered Sunday on the heels of a productive July in which he finished second in the American League with 34 hits, trailing only David Fletcher of the Angels. The sixth-inning solo homer off Adam Wainwright also marked his fourth extra-base hit among those knocks.

"I feel really good,” Polanco said. “I had an All-Star season and I want to get another one. I've just got to keep working, man. Keep working and try to get better every day."

That’s not to mention the continued sure-handedness in the field that has played up since the 28-year-old transitioned from shortstop to second base before this season to accommodate Andrelton Simmons, which was again on display with a rangy play to his left on a Tommy Edman grounder in the second inning and a run-saving play to end the fourth inning in which he charged a grounder hard to nab Dylan Carlson.

“All of these things when you watch a player gain comfort through hard work and through everything that he puts into it, it’s recognizable for us that watch him on a regular basis,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He looks that much better as we sit here right now. I think Polo would say the same thing.”

Despite Polanco’s run to form and an early two-run single from Simmons, the Twins couldn’t overcome a short start from Michael Pineda and consistent late pressure from the St. Louis lineup as they took their fourth loss in the last five games and a series defeat to the Cardinals to begin a three-city road trip that will next bring them to Cincinnati and Houston.

Part of that, too, was that for all of Polanco’s defensive improvements, many of his teammates on the field didn’t share that smoothness with the glove in Sunday’s game. The Cardinals took their first lead in the fourth inning when Wainwright worked a 10-pitch at-bat off Twins starter Michael Pineda before hitting a sharp liner to third, where Luis Arraez couldn’t make a clean throw to first baseman Miguel Sanó.

Another run scored on a wild pitch in the fifth. Work still remains, too, on outfielders’ throws into the infield -- the little things that Baldelli said will remain an area of emphasis for the Twins during the final two months of the season.

“We’re going to take note of all the things we do on the field, both on the positive end and on things that we can work on,” Baldelli said. “And we’re soon going to begin a little review process, too. Some of the things we’ve talked about -- the mental side of the game, the fundamental side of the game.”

It’s mostly been positives for Polanco since his problematic right ankle -- on which he underwent surgery in consecutive offseasons -- resolved itself earlier this year. Even through a difficult 2020 season in which he hit .258/.304/.354 with only four homers, Polanco said his confidence never wavered.

It was only a matter of his body catching up again -- and it very much has.

“The health aspect is just -- it’s a very big deal,” Baldelli said. “It’s something that he’s struggled with over a long period of time, and now he’s feeling good, he’s feeling healthy and it’s allowing him to have the kinds of at-bats and swings and forceful swings that he’s capable of.”

Polanco is now only six homers off his career-high of 22 set in that All-Star 2019 season, and if he stays on this tear, which has seen him post an .869 OPS since the end of April, he could well surpass that and build momentum to a full, productive ‘22 season -- hopefully, for the Twins, as part of a healthy and productive offense as a whole.

“Throughout the course of a difficult year when it comes to injuries, he’s been a guy that’s been a very solid player right in the middle of our action all the time,” Baldelli said.