Kepler clocks 3 hits for timely-hitting Twins

Right fielder's RBI single snaps personal skid, team's 0-for-19 slide with RISP

August 16th, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS -- With one swing of the bat in the second inning, Max Kepler snapped two dismaying streaks that played noteworthy roles in the recent scuffles of the Twins’ offense, and seemingly, that broke the ice for an offense starved of situational hitting.

That opposite-field RBI single snapped an 0-for-19 skid with runners in scoring position for the Twins, and also broke Kepler out of an 0-for-29 nadir of his own. Spurred by Kepler’s first three-hit game in more than a month and a continuation of Carlos Correa’s recent hot streak, Minnesota’s offense put forth a needed, well-rounded attack to open its homestand with a 4-2 victory over the Royals on Monday night at Target Field.

The Twins still stranded nine runners on the basepaths, and clearly, they could have added some more separation over the fourth-place Royals in the American League Central. But coming off a disappointing 1-4 road trip through Los Angeles and a series loss to the Angels, it was a step in the right direction -- especially for a Minnesota offense that felt like it was putting too much pressure on itself in those games.

“I think we were trying to do too much and carry too much weight as individuals,” Kepler said. “And today, we just tried to, you know, keep the line moving and trust the guy behind one another to get the job done.”

Eight Twins starters hit safely on Monday -- all but Gio Urshela -- and they got the job done in the second, fifth and sixth by simply stringing together line drives all over the field, with a two-run fifth inning marking the first frame since Aug. 6 in which Minnesota scored multiple runs without going deep.

“Everything becomes a little bit easier when you’re lining balls all over the ballpark,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We needed that, too. We needed someone to come to the plate and just bring the guy home. And Kep really got us going in that way and continued on the entire game with really nice at-bats.”

That all started with Kepler breaking the seal in the second inning, when Jorge Polanco and Nick Gordon led off with consecutive singles against Kansas City starter Kris Bubic -- later bringing the Twins’ scuffling right fielder to the plate with one out.

Knowing Bubic would likely attack him with fastballs on the outer half, Kepler lined one to left field for his first hit since July 23 -- before he broke his right fifth toe -- and the Twins’ first knock with runners in scoring position since Friday.

The Twins pulled ahead in the fifth when singles from Luis Arraez and Carlos Correa gave way to an RBI knock by Jose Miranda and a go-ahead sac fly by Polanco. And Kepler’s sixth-inning double led to an insurance run on a single by Gary Sánchez.

“It’s really great for [Kepler] to get rolling,” Baldelli said.

What did it look like for a team trying to do too much before this? Kepler said the Twins had noted their plate discipline had cratered in August, as they chased 32.3 percent of pitches out of the zone -- more than six percentage points higher than their marks in April or May, and ranking seventh-worst among all MLB teams this month (though, amusingly, they’ve still been the most disciplined offense in the AL Central).

A four-run output against Kansas City is far from an earth-shattering improvement and stood for a victory because of 5 1/3 strong innings from Joe Ryan and a tense sixth-inning escape by Caleb Thielbar, but the manner in which it occurred was encouraging -- and certainly a good sign.

“We saw some good at-bats; we always want more,” Baldelli said. “We’re always going to want more. We’re certainly not going to be satisfied with the runners in scoring position kind of situation we’ve had over the last week.

“But even when we are rolling, even when we are bringing guys home, you can never think you’re doing enough. We always need more. We always want more.”

“Small ball, bigger things happen, as opposed to trying to do big things,” Kepler said.