As has been the case on the pitching side, a talented group of rookies has continued to step up in the absence of top contributors, and on Saturday night, it was time for LaMonte Wade and Luis Arraez to shine in Buxton’s and Kepler’s roles for the Twins’ offense in a 12-5 loss to the Royals at Target Field.
The Twins also staked another claim to history in the loss, as the five runs scored pushed them to a franchise-record 894 runs this season. The 1930 Washington Senators previously held the record with 892.
“We probably don't sit down and appreciate every single thing as it comes along, because things are coming along quickly, and everyone's thinking about … winning games in October and those kind of things,” hitting coach James Rowson said. “But I think we'll be able to sit back when everything is all said and done, and kind of look back on the year and go, 'Wow, man. Some special things happened this year.'”
Wade clubbed a massive homer into the second deck in right field and legged out the first triple of his Major League career, while Arraez continued his standout rookie campaign with an RBI double as part of a two-hit game against the Royals. The pair combined for four hits, three runs and two RBIs, but a pinch-hit homer by Cheslor Cuthbert off Taylor Rogers sparked a decisive seven-run ninth for Kansas City.
“LaMonte got it going and kept it going for us,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We expect that from our guys. We expect our guys to come in and contribute. We’ve started some different lineups, we’ve had some different guys in the lineups playing different positions and we believe in them. They have the ability to go out there and do it, and I hope they can feel that.”
José Berríos also had a largely solid outing derailed by a two-out, two-run homer by Ryan O’Hearn in the sixth inning, as the Twins’ ace was charged with five runs in six innings following a solid two-start stretch.
Though Wade missed 47 games in the middle of the season with a dislocated right thumb, his ability to slot into the outfield in the face of mounting injuries has proved valuable to the Twins in September, and his continued production of strong plate appearances has now made a difference in several games.
“He’s a guy that commands the zone exceptionally well,” Baldelli said. “We’ve used him in a lot of different situations where we thought his strengths would really play up, and he’s come through for us. He’s done some big things. It doesn’t always matter how many hits you have. The quality of the at-bats is real, and you can see from the number of times he’s been on base that it’s also real.”
Not only did the 25-year-old center fielder reach base three more times on Saturday night to raise his on-base percentage to .391, but he also showcased his rare power in the first game of his career with multiple extra-base hits.
Wade crushed a third-inning fastball from Royals starter Glenn Sparkman for a Statcast-projected 416-foot homer into the right-field upper deck, the second of his career. He only hit five homers in 77 games for Triple-A Rochester this season.
"That might be the furthest one,” Wade said. “I've never heard of myself hitting one that far."
Two innings later, he tagged a hanging changeup into the right-center-field gap and raced to third for a triple that keyed a four-run rally, including Arraez’s run-scoring double. Wade’s pitch recognition has always been good throughout his career, as evidenced by only 281 strikeouts, compared to 303 walks, in five Minor League seasons.
By smashing both the fastball and a changeup early in counts on Saturday, the young outfielder remained confident that he and his keen eye, too, are playing their part in this playoff chase by helping to maintain the outfield’s production in Buxton’s and Kepler’s absence.
"It felt good today,” Wade said. “Being able to square some balls up today felt good. Just got to keep working, keep getting in the cage, keep doing my routine, and keep trying to put together good at-bats, and hopefully come out and do it again the next time."