How Is Minnesota's Offense This Stagnant?

Photo Credit: David Berding (USA TODAY Sports)

Sunday’s game was a perfect opportunity for the Minnesota Twins to get on track. Pittsburgh Pirates starter Wil Crowe came into the game allowing five home runs in nine major league innings, and the Pirates entered Sunday with the seventh-highest ERA in baseball. The Twins were also playing at Target Field, where they posted a 73-48 record since 2019.

This was the type of scenario where the Twins punished their opponents over the past two seasons. But that’s not what happened.

When the Pirates were putting the finishing touches on their 6-2 victory, the Twins didn’t look like a “Bomba Squad.” With a 7-13 record, they have plenty of time to make up ground in the AL Central, but there’s no sign that they’re capable of doing so. While other areas need to be addressed, Minnesota’s top priority is figuring out what is wrong with their offense.

The Twins have the makings of an offensive juggernaut. Nelson Cruz has continued to rake while Josh Donaldson has rebounded nicely after an Opening Day injury. Even Byron Buxton joined the party, compiling a 1.299 OPS entering Sunday’s game.

With a lineup like that, last Wednesday’s performance against the Oakland Athletics should be more common. The Twins hung 12 runs and 18 hits in their loss to the A’s, providing some optimism at the end of a bad road trip. They had a chance to build on that offensive surge against the Pirates but instead only mustered six runs and 15 hits over the three-game series.

One of the most glaring reasons could be they haven’t gotten into a rhythm. On Sunday’s broadcast, Dick Bremer likened the Twins start to the 2018 season. An April snowstorm hit the Twin Cities three years ago, and they had a weekend series with the Chicago White Sox postponed before heading to Puerto Rico for a pair of games with the Cleveland Indians.

With an off day on both ends of the trip, the Twins returned home to finish a stretch where they lost 13 of 16 games.

This season started with a stretch of day games followed by a COVID-19 pause last week. When they emerged, they were shut out in both games of a doubleheader for the first time since 1961. With the Twins playing a gauntlet of red-hot teams, they haven’t been able to find their footing.

But there have been warning signs that 2019 could have been an outlier year. The Twins lineup struggled in the spring, but it was dismissed as meaningless exhibition games. With Rocco Baldelli’s minimalist approach to Spring Training, they were trusted to be ready when the season began.

The Twins looked prepared in their series against the Milwaukee Brewers, Detroit Tigers and Seattle Mariners. But that success has faded over the past two weeks primarily because the players who played a key role in turning the Twins into the Bomba Squad have struggled. This includes Mitch Garver, who posted a 1.170 OPS against lefties in 2019 but has a .582 OPS against lefties this season.

Injuries have also played a key role. Buxton, Donaldson and Miguel Sano have missed extended time. Andrelton Simmons and Max Kepler were infected by COVID, which hasn’t helped.

The Twins have also dealt with changes behind the scenes. In 2019, James Rowson was the hitting coach who helped the team change its philosophy. He left to become the Miami Marlins’ “offensive coordinator,” and the Twins slumped to 20th in runs scored last season.

They also had another sudden change this season when bench coach Mike Bell died after a battle with kidney cancer. The human element could make a situation similar to the death of Tony Sparano in 2018. Sparano’s sudden death sent the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line into a tailspin, and the result was an 8-7-1 record that fell short of expectations.

It shouldn’t be a shock the Twins are having issues at the plate, given everything that has happened. But the biggest issue could be they don’t have the swagger that they had two years ago.

That 2019 team made a habit of sending balls into the seats. They knew they could hit the ball out of the park and backed it up on the field. While it could be the change in baseballs, their big, momentum-changing moments have been spaced out.

When they do happen, they’re overshadowed by the Twins’ other flaws. In Wednesday’s loss to the Athletics, Buxton hit the kind of go-ahead home run that inspired confidence during that 2019 season. In the bottom half of the 10th, a pair of errors left the Twins with a deflating 13-12 loss.

Whatever the issue is, the Twins need to find a way to get that confidence back. In a 162-game season, there’s a good chance the bats will heat up at some point. The hope is they’ll find a way to do that before it’s too late.

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