Twins reintroduce speed element
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It may feel like the Twins are running wild on their opponents on the basepaths right now, but let’s take a step back and calm down a bit, noting that Minnesota still ranks 29th of 30 teams in stolen bases.
It really feels like night and day from seasons past, though, because… well, there was nowhere to go but up. Under manager Rocco Baldelli, the Twins have twice finished dead last in the league in steals -- including last season -- and have never finished in the top half of the Majors in sacrifice bunts.
Which made it all the more stunning when Willi Castro went and did something on Wednesday that the Twins haven’t seen since 2013: He stole home during the third inning of the Twins’ 7-1 victory over the Giants. Here’s a measure of how long it’s been since that last happened: The last player to do that in a Twins uniform was Clete Thomas.
So, when Giants starter Anthony DeSclafani wound up to deliver with runners on the corners amid a Twins rally created by a pair of Giants errors, Matt Wallner took off for second, and when catcher Blake Sabol made the long throw, Castro took off from third and slid into home while the ball got away for the Giants’ third error of the inning.
“We were anticipating it,” Castro said. “If they were to [throw] across, make sure they threw across so I could have the chance to steal home.”
Later in the game, Castro added a steal of third to become the first Twins player to steal both third and home in the same game since Greg Gagne did it in 1990 -- and had it not been for a foul ball on a steal attempt of second base earlier that inning, Castro would have swiped all three bags in one game.
“I think I would have had it for sure,” Castro said. “The third-base coach, he told me I would have had it at second, too. We're going to keep trying. We're going to get as many as I can.”
Castro already has seven stolen bases, more than any Twins runner had during the entire 2022 season. Byron Buxton and Michael A. Taylor have six apiece. And now that the Twins have the personnel to do so, they’ve been trying to manufacture runs in certain situations by freeing up Castro, Taylor, Ryan Jeffers and Nick Gordon to drop down some bunts, putting them in the top half of MLB in that statistic for the first time under Baldelli.
And while Castro has had the most significant impact in small ball, it has also been quite rewarding to watch Buxton turn on the jets on the basepaths again, re-introducing that element as a significant factor in his game -- stealing bases, going first to third -- after having had to exercise so much caution last season.
“As a DH, it’s probably allowing himself to conserve a little bit to be able to do those things on the bases, because those things are really important,” Baldelli said. “If he were in the field, and trying to play in the field on a reasonably regular basis, you might not see that stuff on the bases just due to the amount of running that he would have to do.”
It’s early this season, and the Twins will never be stealing bases at one of the top rates in the league -- but it has certainly been a nice change of pace to spark an oft-stagnant offense.