Lewis’ clutch gene gearing up for stretch run

September 12th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins manager Rocco Baldelli spoke at length before Monday’s game about how the modern game has arguably made it tougher to be a young big league hitter than ever, thanks to the wealth of information available to pitchers. The league is just better equipped to adjust to young hitters’ success more quickly.

Try telling that to .

It sure looks like the league is still struggling to adjust to the rookie’s continued production -- and Lewis just seems to have a knack for finding his biggest swings with runners on base. He did it again in Monday’s 7-4 loss to the Rays at Target Field, crushing a three-run blast in the sixth inning to pull the Twins back into the game from a big deficit.

  • Games remaining: vs. TB (2), at CWS (4), at CIN (3), vs. LAA (3), vs. OAK (3), at COL (3)
  • Standings update: The Twins (75-69) hold a 7.5-game lead on the Guardians (68-77) for the AL Central title. Cleveland clinched the tiebreaker by winning the season series, 7-6. Minnesota is currently the third-best division winner, meaning it would host a best-of-three Wild Card Series vs. the final Wild Card entrant starting on Oct. 3.
  • Magic number: 12 (for AL Central)

“He’s continuing to adjust along with the pitchers that he’s facing, and I don’t want to say cover up, but he’s been able to do different things with the barrel,” Baldelli said. “He’s been able to do different things with his swing decisions that I think have put him in a position to just keep succeeding.”

In only 50 games this season, Lewis has already amassed 44 RBIs, fourth on the team behind Carlos Correa, Max Kepler and Michael A. Taylor -- all of whom have played more than twice as many games as Lewis. But his homer wasn’t enough to bring the Twins back from a 7-1 deficit created by a short start from Sonny Gray and a rough outing from a pair of relievers.

The loss, paired with the Guardians’ defeat to the Giants, kept the Twins’ lead in the American League Central at 7.5 games with only 18 left to play and no head-to-head matchups remaining against second-place Cleveland.

“We were probably a little ways away from really winning that game,” Baldelli said. “We played some good baseball recently, and today -- not that we couldn't get anything rolling -- [but] we made some mistakes, we couldn't capitalize on a couple of opportunities. I think it's a good day to forget.”

Lewis’ eighth homer in his last 18 games -- and his 12th of the season -- was a 112.9 mph laser to left-center field off Rays starter Tyler Glasnow, who had looked overpowering early on. Though Lewis waited on the fastball, it’s been awfully tough to pitch to him with any offering this season, as he entered the game hitting .330 off fastballs, .288 off breaking balls and .333 against offspeed pitches.

He’s now slashing .312/.363/.540 for the season with a team-leading .903 OPS.

As the former No. 1 overall pick describes it, he often goes into an at-bat waiting for a certain pitch, regardless of what kind it is, and when he gets beat, he doesn’t wear it too hard since he’s facing big league pitchers who are paid to make quality pitches.

But when Lewis does get a mistake -- as he did on the center-cut fastball from Glasnow -- he makes opponents pay. Though he only saw four pitches from Glasnow in his first plate appearance, he saw what he described as “the kitchen sink” -- fastballs, sliders, curveballs -- in his seven-pitch strikeout in the fourth.

And apparently, that’s all it took for Lewis to feel comfortable in the sixth, when he took advantage of consecutive singles by Edouard Julien and Alex Kirilloff to begin the frame.

“As a rookie, I feel like the hardest part is coming up with a plan, as well as seeing what the stuff looks like [for the first time],” Lewis said. “Luckily enough, I've been blessed to have good opportunities and good outcomes and just seeing the ball well.”

Lewis’ uncanny knack for grand slams has already been well-documented this season, but that prowess continues to extend to key opportunities in general, with Lewis now slashing .391/.451/.797 for a 1.248 OPS in his career with runners in scoring position.

Of his 14 career homers, seven have been either three-run blasts or grand slams.

“Just being patient, waiting for your pitch,” Lewis said. “And if it's not your pitch, then just see it, because you've got to learn.”

If this is what the learning process looks like for Lewis as he continues to drive in runs in key situations from the No. 3 spot in the order, it’s anyone’s guess how he’ll continue to progress as he gathers information down the stretch in preparation for a possible playoff run -- because the league still doesn’t seem to have figured out how to stop him.