Ailing Twins seek 'different ways' to get job done

June 2nd, 2022

DETROIT -- This isn’t how this stretch of games was supposed to go for the Twins.

This 15-game sequence against only the Tigers and Royals, the bottom two teams in the American League Central, should have given Minnesota a chance to pad its lead in the division. Instead, the Twins are barely clinging to a winning record in that span, with their 5-0 loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park on Wednesday sending them to their sixth loss in the past nine games.

It’s a stretch of malaise that’s seemed all the more difficult due to the Twins’ offense having been held scoreless for 20 consecutive innings. Minnesota only mustered a pair of weak singles -- 57.9 mph and 67.4 mph -- off Detroit left-hander Tarik Skubal on Wednesday, one day after being held to three hits in a shutout by rookie Joey Wentz and a quartet of relievers.

“Hitting comes and goes in waves, and right now, it's just, we're at the bottom of it,” Kyle Garlick said.

He’s right. This Twins offense has been up and down in this stretch, with 25 runs scored across the three wins and 12 in the six losses. The Twins have actually been quite a successful offensive team in aggregate, leading the American League in on-base percentage while sitting fourth in OPS and third in total bases. They just haven’t played like it of late.

What could help them snap out of this?

Get out of this stretch of schedule
Many of these issues can be attributed to the fact that the Twins are in a stretch of 18 games in 17 days, which forces them not only to use their starting pitchers differently (pitch them deeper into games, even when they’re not as effective) but also muddles up rest schedules for banged-up players and keeps them less fresh.

Wednesday’s lineup was a prime example. Because Byron Buxton played both halves of Tuesday’s doubleheader and the Twins are measuring his usage due to knee problems, they ended up fielding a lineup without Buxton and Carlos Correa (COVID-19) and also lacking Max Kepler and , who sat against the left-handed Skubal. These sorts of factors won’t be as prevalent later in June, when the Twins have three off-days in three weeks.

“It is a long stretch of games,” Garlick said. “I think we're feeling it a little bit, a little fatigued. But just [have to] try to get through this.”

Things will only get more complicated when the Twins head to Toronto for a series that begins Friday, as the club is expecting to lose several unvaccinated players to the restricted list, requiring the Twins to dig further into their depth.

Give them a few days to heal
It’s unfortunate for the Twins that this stretch of schedule comes with several key contributors banged up. Buxton’s situation has been discussed at length, and though he’s getting to the point that he requires fewer rest days, he’s still not at full health. Kepler, dealing with a quad issue, also sat Wednesday. Both are expected back in the lineup on Thursday.

That’s not to mention the absence of both Correa and Gilberto Celestino due to COVID-19, a pair of right-handed bats that would normally figure prominently into the plans against lefties like Wentz and Skubal. (Royce Lewis is part of that group, too, and the club’s No. 1 prospect is also down with a bone bruise in his right knee.)

Had it been August or September, manager Rocco Baldelli would likely be more aggressive with the usage for situations like Buxton’s and Kepler’s. But in May and June, they’ll err on the side of caution -- and coupled with the scheduling considerations, that sometimes leads to lineups and performances like that of Wednesday.

Get Buxton and Correa back together
The final point here is that the Twins’ lineup just feels different -- particularly against lefties -- without Buxton and Correa, their superstars, atop their lineup. Buxton owns a .984 OPS against southpaws this season; Correa has posted a .928 mark.

The former is slowly on the mend; the latter has hit a snag due to COVID.

It’s certainly a distinct look in these games when it’s and Gary Sánchez in those two spots atop the lineup instead of Buxton and Correa, with the Twins needing to backfill from elsewhere on their roster to complete their lineup. A week from now, that could look unfamiliar.

“It's definitely a different feel,” Baldelli said. “We've got to find ways to get it done in different ways.”