ST. PETERSBURG -- After what must’ve seemed like an endless drought but was really just two games, the Twins brought back the bombas on Saturday afternoon during a 6-2 win against the Rays at Tropicana Field.
Home runs weren’t the only victory of Minnesota’s afternoon: The Twins’ offense operated like a well-oiled machine during their second consecutive win against their American League East foes, scoring runs in five straight innings, scattering 13 hits and employing a variety of tactics.
“It's a good win for us,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “This is not an easy ballpark to come and play in when you don't play here very often. It's very unusual, and it has its quirks. Sometimes people have trouble just relaxing and going out and playing their game. But I think our guys have adjusted very well.”
Let’s take a look at three impressive offensive stats the Twins added to on Saturday:
Minnesota scored eight combined runs during its first two games here even without the long ball, so the squad wasn’t necessarily hurting for offense. Still, the on-field show had lacked some of its usual electricity without the big bats’ booms.
Marwin Gonzalez and Byron Buxton brought power back to the show Saturday, each ripping his sixth home run of the season, solo shots in the middle innings that broke up the dry spell and padded Minnesota’s lead. The two bomb(a)s also boosted the Twins’ season total to an MLB-best 108 and ended the team’s longest stretch without one since April 2-3.
“I think … we’ll continue doing things like that, breaking records and whatever you want to call it,” third baseman Miguel Sano said through translator Elvis Martinez. “I think as the weather warms up and all the players stick together and work hard, those things are going to take care of themselves.”
Saturday’s victory ensured the Twins of at least a series split heading into Sunday’s finale, a good start toward snapping another slump: They haven’t won a season series against Tampa Bay since 2015, when they finished 4-2. The Rays will travel to Minnesota for three games, June 25-27.
Strike early, often
The Twins set a single-season franchise record Saturday by scoring three or more runs in 25 consecutive games, a streak that dates back to May 6 against the Blue Jays.
It’s a feat that not only takes pressure off specific hitters but provides extra security for the pitching staff day in and day out, said Kyle Gibson, Saturday’s winning pitcher.
“We’ve talked a lot this year about it really being the confidence-driver for the team,” he added. “When the offense is going to score three or four runs a game, you show up to the park knowing -- especially as a starting pitcher -- one or two runs probably isn’t going to beat you, and if it does, it’s going to be rare.
“When the offense goes out and scores five or six a game, that’s ultimately what gives this team the life and the confidence that we have today.”
Three is the magic number
The Twins have scored 64 of their 485 runs in the third inning, nearly 20 more than their second-best frame, the fourth, during which they’ve plated 45. Entering Saturday, they led the Majors in runs scored in the third.
Saturday’s victory began with the same kind of spark, when consecutive doubles from Jorge Polanco and Gonzalez drove in the Twins’ first runs to hand them a 2-1 edge they wouldn’t lose. By the time Buxton plated an insurance run in the fourth with a chip shot to center field, the Twins had cranked the pressure with eight baserunners against Rays starter Yonny Chirinos, and it was only a matter of time before they added more.
“The second time around, we made our adjustments, and we were able to get him,” Sano said. “I think after the second or third inning, we were more patient at the plate, and he wasn’t throwing those for strikes or locating those for strikes. So we were just patient and swinging at pitches in the zone.”
Is there a secret to three? Baldelli agrees with Sano: It’s a little less mystery and a little more direct reflection of his hitters’ collective baseball IQ.
“I think we have the kind of hitters that learn from previous at-bats, and once a pitcher has to go through the order one time and go back around, I think our guys do go up there with a good plan and a good approach, and they do again what good hitters do,” Baldelli said. “Is there any way to know why the third inning has been a good inning to us? No … but I think we do have the kind of hitters that can make adjustments and increase their odds going around next time.”