MINNEAPOLIS -- The Bomba Squad will officially enter the record books as the most prolific group of sluggers ever assembled in Minneapolis, but the minds of most at Target Field were far from that record as the Twins’ lead in the American League Central finally dwindled all the way to zero.
Eddie Rosario clubbed a no-doubter into Target Field’s right-field upper deck off Shane Bieber during the sixth inning of Friday night’s 6-2 loss to the Indians for the Twins’ 226th homer of 2019, breaking the franchise record for most long balls in a season that had previously belonged to the 1963 club.
But with the loss, the Twins fell out of sole possession of first place for the first time since April 26, as the Indians erased what had, at one point, been an 11 1/2-game deficit in the division by taking the first two contests of a four-game series at Target Field. Minnesota has dropped four straight games for the first time this season.
“Probably not playing our best, but we're talking about four games,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “You don't want to make any assumptions or judgments based on four games. Do we want to play better? Of course we want to play better. But, I have no doubt we're going to play better. We're going to turn this little spurt around.”
The rough four-game stretch aside, it’s not as though the Twins have had the bottom completely drop out -- they’re actually still above .500 since they led by 11 1/2 games entering June 4, with a 30-28 record since then. Their difficult run of starting pitching has just come at the worst possible time against the red-hot Indians, who are 41-16 in that stretch.
“I think they have been playing extremely well,” C.J. Cron said. “We haven't been playing up to our standard, that’s for sure. We just need to get back to the basics. We need to start hitting the ball hard. We need to start throwing the ball better. That's everybody in here.”
As Cron said, the Twins “have a lot of work to do” to get back to where they were when the offense was crushing homers at a historic clip, while the starting rotation was also throwing at least five strong innings on a regular basis.
It might just take a jolt to get the machine humming again.
“[Max] Kepler might lead off the game tomorrow with a home run, and all of a sudden, we're right back to hitting how we do,” Cron said. “It's going to be something like that. Like I said, we are super confident in our abilities. We're confident we can pitch. We’re confident we can hit. Hopefully we can get back on track."
Though the Twins have made a routine out of mounting late rallies on this homestand, no amount of homers were going to make up for the continued recent struggles of the starting rotation, which has allowed 26 earned runs in 20 1/3 innings (an 11.51 ERA) over the last four games.
Devin Smeltzer was effective for four innings but couldn’t complete the fifth, when five runs came across on six hits and a sacrifice fly -- the left-hander became the second straight Twins starter unable to complete five innings. Though 24-year-old Randy Dobnak threw four scoreless innings of relief to again preserve the bullpen, the Twins’ offense again couldn’t climb out of the early hole despite setting the homer record.
“When you're talking about really small sample sizes of just a few games, it's easy to get emotional and talk about it because we're here and play the games, and we're giving it our all and it's not going our way,” Baldelli said. “But it's not going to go your way sometimes.”
The Twins entered Friday with 224 homers and moved even with the old record when Jason Castro clubbed an opposite-field shot to left field to lead off the fifth inning. Rosario followed one inning later with another leadoff blast that traveled an estimated 409 feet into right field according to Statcast.
Not only did the Twins break the record, but they also did so in only 116 games, leaving them plenty of time to challenge the single-season Major League record of 267 bombs that was set by last season’s Yankees. The Twins are also on pace to shatter that record, as they would smash 316 long balls at their current pace.
“It seems like no matter who we roll out there, they have the potential to go deep, so it's a fun lineup to be a part of,” Cron said. “They say power's contagious, and when you see four different people hit a home run in any given night, you kind of want to do the same thing.”
This was just the latest record to fall in a season full of home run-related superlatives for the Twins, who already own the Major League record of 10 games with five or more dingers in a season, and could also challenge the mark for most 20-homer hitters in a year. The Twins already have five hitters with 20 or more long balls (Nelson Cruz, Mitch Garver, Miguel Sano, Kepler and Rosario), two shy of the record.