Twins respond to rallying cry: 'Let the season begin'

After precedent-setting players-only meeting, new-look lineup ends weeks of struggles

July 1st, 2023

BALTIMORE -- Rare is the team that sits in first place halfway through a season and … wants a total reset.

But that is the unusual position the Twins found themselves in Friday, which they entered having lost 15 of their past 24 games before leapfrogging Cleveland atop the American League Central standings without doing anything -- simply by virtue of the Guardians’ loss to the Cubs earlier in the day. The Twins then reported to Oriole Park, where a pointed message greeted them on a clubhouse whiteboard.

It read: “Let the season begin …”

And so it was with the desire to turn the page on their first 82 games that the struggling Twins went out and recorded one of their most complete wins of the season in Game No. 83, running away with a lopsided 8-1 win over Baltimore in which their slumping offense sprung to life. Minnesota mashed three homers, and excelled out of the leadoff spot behind winning pitcher as the Twins moved a full game ahead of the Guardians atop the Central.

"The response everyone was looking for is what we got," manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We're sitting here with the whole season in front of us. Because everything that's already happened, we don't have any control over that at this moment in time. But we do have control over today's game, and an entire half of baseball in front of us. And we have the ability to do absolutely anything in the second half. And we have the players on this team to do it. So let's begin this thing as the team that we know we are.”

Displeased with an offense that entered Friday listless with runners in scoring position and on pace to set the MLB single-season team strikeout record, the Twins held a players-only meeting after being swept this week in Atlanta and arrived in Baltimore to changes both on the field and behind the scenes. Baldelli shook up his lineup, moving Correa to the leadoff spot for only the fourth time in his career. It paid dividends immediately. Correa singled and scored to lead off the game, doubled later, reached three times and scored twice.

“I think we all can get better,” Correa said. “If you look around, there is nobody having a spectacular offensive season where you’re saying, ‘He’s killing it.’ But at the same time, there are a lot of people in here capable of doing that. A lot of people are taking accountability, and I put myself in front of it. I know that going out there and doing my job better will result in more wins.” 

Another result of this week’s players-only meeting is that the Twins’ hitters will now lead their own pregame meetings, working collaboratively to devise plans and strategies to take collectively against that night’s opposing pitcher. The players also soft-launched a performance-based incentive system they’ve designed to encourage competition within the clubhouse and produce better quality at-bats. 

The early results? Extremely positive. , and  all homered as part of Minnesota’s 13-hit attack -- their most in more than a month.

"I think it's a big step and kind of a statement from our hitters as far as what this second half is going to look like as a team,” Baldelli said. “The biggest part of it is the ownership that the players take. Because instead of just sitting there and listening and hopefully absorbing something from your hitting coach, now you actively have to use your brain and think about what you’re going to do when you go out there for the game and contribute in that meeting with the rest of the guys in the room, and I think there is something to that. It promotes growth and preparation and ultimately hits, I’m hoping. A few more runs.”

All of which, the Twins hope, will simply work to help an underachieving offense reach its real potential. Consider these numbers:

• Entering Friday, the Twins had averaged 3.3 runs per game over their past 25 games.

• They’d entered play 0-for-their-last-23 with runners in scoring position, tied for their longest such streak since April 2016.

• Their 849 strikeouts this season are 55 more than any other team. Minnesota is on pace for 1,657, which would shatter the Major League single-season record and make it the first team ever to strike out 10 times per game in a season (excluding pandemic-shortened 2020 season).

• Correa ($33.3M AAV) and Buxton ($14.3M) have combined for 508 at-bats this year. Together they’re batting .213 with a .724 OPS -- well below their career norms.

• Entering Friday, Minnesota’s leader in fWAR was Willi Castro -- its fourth outfielder.

“To tell you the truth, we’ve [stunk],” said infielder Kyle Farmer. “Once you can be accountable, then you can learn how to change.”

Simply put, the Twins believe they are much, much better than their 41-42 record indicates -- and that their upside moving forward is immense. Friday offered a display of what the change Farmer alluded to might look like when everything clicks -- and it was explosive.

“I would assume that they’re going to get hot at some point,” O’s manager Brandon Hyde said. “Because there’s a lot of talent on that team.”