Twins look ahead to 2nd half after offensive struggles persist

Julien drives in Minnesota's only runs in finale loss to Baltimore

July 9th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- For the vast majority of the first half, the Twins could not possibly have asked for more from a pitching staff that surpassed even the most optimistic of expectations with its consistency, depth and high-end performances.

And yet, they’re heading into the All-Star break with a losing record, the second-place team in a bad American League Central, because the same cannot be said of the hitters -- and far from it. That first half ended in a 15-2 thrashing at the hands of the Orioles that swept away any hopes of positive momentum for a team that desperately needs a sustained spark.

The lopsided number in Baltimore’s run column is what it is. The pitching staff has had very few of those performances, as it has ranked at or near the top of the Majors in most categories. But the Twins finished Sunday with only four hits in a continuation of their offensive struggles -- and the fate of this season will depend on the current group’s ability to find some way to play to its potential.

“We've said this all along through the course of the season: We've wanted more offense out of the group that we have, and I still believe the vast majority of the offense we'll get the remainder of the season is going to come from the guys in that room,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “It's not going to be via acquisition that's going to make the primary difference.”

And after the Twins “squeezed a lot of rough play out of the tube” ahead of the break, according to manager Rocco Baldelli, they still feel they have what it takes in the tank to turn things around and make the playoff push they’ve envisioned all season.

“I couldn't believe in our team any more,” Baldelli said. “I don't know any other way to say that. That's pretty straightforward. We have a lot of not just ability, but character and leadership -- and all the things we want as a staff, as a manager, that you have in a roster, we have it.”

Though the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline offers a chance to supplement the group, they feel the core hitters’ need to perform will far outweigh the production any trade acquisition could bring to the lineup.

“At the end of the day, some guys in there need to perform better,” Falvey said. “When I look at the top of our lineup and I look at the key cogs of our offense and the guys that we expect to perform for us, those guys are going to need to carry us.”

Consider the Nos. 1-5 hitters in the Twins’ Opening Day lineup: Max Kepler, Carlos Correa, Byron Buxton, Trevor Larnach and Jose Miranda.

Kepler is hitting a career-worst .207 with a .688 OPS, Correa is hitting a career-worst .225 with a .700 OPS, Buxton’s .208 average and .736 OPS are his worst since 2018, and Larnach and Miranda have spent the bulk of the season in Triple-A. Jorge Polanco should have been in that lineup, too, but he has missed 59 games due to his lingering offseason knee issues and a recurring oblique strain.

And that all brings the Twins to this point.

The Twins’ 380 runs scored in the first half are their fourth-fewest since the turn of the century, behind only the 2011, ‘12 and ‘13 teams that went a combined 195-291. Their 708 hits are their fewest before the All-Star break since 1995, which was a strike-shortened first half.

They entered Sunday with 904 strikeouts and added 12 more, putting them on pace for 1,630 for the season, which would shatter the current AL/NL record of 1,596. Entering Sunday, they ranked 25th in MLB in average and on-base percentage, and 24th in runs scored.

Even if some form of help were eventually to come, the Twins’ ability to compete will ultimately depend on the core they assembled. They’ve said all season long that there’s too much potential in that room for things not to turn around -- and they still maintain that’s coming.

“When you’re playing up-and-down baseball for an entire half, there’s no way to be in a clubhouse and not ride that a little bit,” Baldelli said. “But we still have an entire half ahead of us with a good team and we’re right in striking distance of everything that we want to be. It’s still right there. It’s right in front of us. It gives us something to charge at.”