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Kepler, Buxton HRs help Twins to sweep

Minnesota goes 6-0 vs. Orioles in 2019 behind potent lineup
@dohyoungpark
April 28, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- It took only one pitch for the Target Field crowd to again hear that sharp crack of ball off bat as Max Kepler launched a leadoff homer off Dylan Bundy, a fitting way to set the tone in the finale of a series defined by the Twins’ relentless

MINNEAPOLIS -- It took only one pitch for the Target Field crowd to again hear that sharp crack of ball off bat as Max Kepler launched a leadoff homer off Dylan Bundy, a fitting way to set the tone in the finale of a series defined by the Twins’ relentless ability to leave the yard.

Kepler’s leadoff homer Sunday afternoon was his third in as many plate appearances, after he had gone deep twice in Saturday’s game. Byron Buxton later added an upper-deck homer, his first of the season, to give the Twins 12 homers in the series. Powered by an improved changeup, Kyle Gibson shut down Baltimore’s lineup over seven strong innings in a 4-1 victory at Target Field that secured a season sweep of the Orioles.

“I can’t tell you that’s exactly what’s going on, but I think it’s a thing,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “And when our guys are having at-bats like they’re having them, you try to ride it out as long as you can and keep it going.”

Minnesota has won seven of its last nine games. With a record of 16-9, the Twins have the second-best winning percentage in baseball, behind only the Rays.

Yes, six of those games, all wins, have come against the Orioles, who have the most homer-prone pitching staff in the Majors. But there’s also something to be said for the playoff-hopeful Twins convincingly taking care of business against less competitive teams. And the consistency at the plate has the team brimming with confidence heading into a more difficult seven-game stretch coming up against the Astros and Yankees.

"When your offense is swinging the bat like they are, that's one thing that really drives confidence for a team,” Gibson said. “It's when you put up one, two runs for a good seven-, eight-game stretch where you start to lose that confidence. When your offense is going to swing the bats like that, you're going to have a lot of confidence."

Here’s a look at the Twins’ domination of the Orioles in 2019, through five numbers:

23: home runs

The Twins hit 12 homers this weekend, including five each on Friday and Saturday, marking the most long balls in a three-game series against any opponent in Twins history. The previous record of 11 also came at the expense of the Orioles, the previous weekend in a three-game set in Oriole Park at Camden Yards. That included an eight-homer game in the nightcap of a doubleheader April 20.

It also marked the most homers the Twins have hit in a season against Baltimore. The previous record of 22 had been reached twice, in 1962 and ’64 -- but the teams clashed 18 times in each of those campaigns.

“You can’t anticipate to swing the bats like we have to this point,” Baldelli said. “There’s no way you can see that coming. But we have some guys that we knew were that type of hitter. If you look at our lineup, we have guys that are plenty big and strong and have good at-bats. And when they do hit a ball hard, it has a chance to go out of the park.”

6: multi-homer performances

Eddie Rosario, Jonathan Schoop, Mitch Garver, Nelson Cruz and Kepler all recorded multi-homer games against the Orioles this season, with Cruz having a pair of two-homer games.

“I looked at it before Spring Training, looked at the lineup, and I was like, 'Wow, this is a scary lineup if everyone stays healthy, mentally in the right place. It's going to be scary,'” Kepler said.

Highlighted by his two-homer game on Saturday, Kepler went yard in all three games this series. His four homers against Baltimore were the most in a three-game series by a Twins hitter since Brian Dozier hit four against the Royals from Sept. 5-7, 2016.

.684: team slugging percentage

The Twins have hit 49 homers through their first 25 games, the most in franchise history, and their hitting prowess isn’t limited to the homers. The Twins entered Sunday having collected extra bases on a Major League-leading 47.1 percent of their hits.

After hitting two doubles and two homers on Sunday, the Twins totaled 38 extra-base hits against the Orioles this season, compared to Baltimore’s 16.

“I think our main approach is to hit the ball hard, hit the ball as hard as we can, regardless of the count,” C.J. Cron said. “We have an aggressive team for sure, and we can kind of feed off the other guys’ at-bats. When guys are hitting the ball hard, usually good things are happening. And one through nine, we're pretty loaded. So it’s been fun to watch.”

2.65: bullpen ERA

Minnesota’s bullpen has been the shakiest part of the roster early in the season, but the relief corps appeared to get on the right track this weekend against Baltimore with eight shutout innings in the series, 13 strikeouts and only three walks. Twins relievers had allowed five earned runs in nine innings in the previous three-game set in Baltimore.

12: straight wins

With six victories over the Orioles in 2019, the Twins have extended their winning streak over Baltimore to 12 games, their longest active streak against any opponent and tied for the fourth-longest winning streak over any single opponent in Twins history. It is also their longest ever winning streak against the Orioles.

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.