Twins unleash small-ball barrage on Tigers

Minnesota extends division lead with route in Detroit

August 31st, 2019

DETROIT -- It is a near certainty that the Twins will break the Major League record for homers in a season before the conclusion of this road trip. But an overly homer-reliant offense, they are not. Just ask the Tigers and the White Sox.

One day after the Twins showered Chicago right-hander Dylan Cease with singles in a six-run barrage, Minnesota’s lineup again clogged the basepaths with a flood of singles, walks and ground balls to open Friday’s contest against Tigers starter Edwin Jackson. finally hit a three-run shot to fulfill the Twins’ daily homer quota, but most of the damage had already been done in a 13-5 rout at Comerica Park.

“It's not like we go up there trying to hit a homer every time,” Cron said. “We have guys that have a ton of pop, and I think when you look at our strikeout numbers and how low those are, it kind of speaks to how solid we are at hitting in general. So I kind of just think the homers are just happening.”

The victory, coupled with a 4-0 Cleveland loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field, expanded Minnesota’s lead in the American League Central to 4 1/2 games for the first time since July 16, when the Twins led the Indians by five.

The Twins have matched a season-long six-game winning streak and also won their eighth straight game on the road, their longest winning streak away from Minneapolis since 2006. As was the case at Guaranteed Rate Field on the first leg of this road trip, the formula Friday was simple: Hand the starting pitcher an early lead and keep the pressure on.

The Twins have now combined to score 23 runs in the first three innings of the four games on this road trip, and their latest early outburst helped make a winner of , who labored through the first two frames before settling down to complete five innings in a 107-pitch outing.

The benefits of scoring first obviously speak for themselves on the stat sheet, as the Twins improved to 67-21 this season when jumping out to a lead. But the drawn-out nature of the small-ball attack also provided benefits that weren’t as apparent.

“I know I gave up a run there in the second, but the fact that they came back in and had another long inning really helped,” Gibson said. “It gives you a chance to kind of sit back and think about the at-bats a little bit more and game-plan a little bit better. Other than the double to [Jake] Rogers there in the second, I started feeling a whole lot better as the game went on."

Jackson struggled from the first at-bat, as the Twins opened the game with a walk, three singles and a pair of run-scoring fielder’s choice plays. They added two more in the second, chased Jackson in a two-run third and plated four more in the fourth as they sent 26 men to the plate through the first four frames.

Before Cron homered for the Twins’ 262nd long ball of the season, moving them five homers away from tying the record, they had scored on two singles, a double, a sacrifice fly, a passed ball and four balls that went for a fielder’s choice or groundout. From his perch in the third-base dugout, Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire likely recognized a throwback to Minnesota’s “piranha” days of old.

“You’re going to have to win games by putting the ball in play and having good at-bats and getting on base and making things happen that way,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We have done it a couple times now in the last couple of days. It’s a good feeling. It’s nice to see guys running around the bases and using their instincts out there and seeing a little baserunning, too.”

And as the Twins have now displayed four times on this road trip, it’s simply difficult for opposing starters to get comfortable early when , the team’s home run leader, is ready to pounce on any strike from the first pitch of the game.

When starters try to establish the strike zone and throw over the plate, the Twins attack. When they nibble, the superior discipline of Kepler, Jorge Polanco and Nelson Cruz often win out. At times, that leads to the lopsided early results that have been the hallmark of this road trip.

The Twins entered Friday leading the Major Leagues with 290 runs scored in the first three innings of games, and that only ballooned even more with their output in Detroit.

"I think in general, we're always ready to hit,” Cron said. “I can't remember a time this year when we wanted to be patient. I think when we're aggressive in the zone, we're at our best. When we're giving the pitcher pitches over the plate, they kind of get into a groove. Once they get into that groove, it's a little bit harder for the offense.”

“We haven’t just gotten ahead and put a run on the board and kind have gone dormant,” Baldelli said. “We have put a few runs on the board and have continued to attack, When you keep that pressure on the other team and you continue to have those types of at-bats you end up where you want to be when you do that."