Now that this year’s World Series has come and gone, there are some lessons the Minnesota Twins can learn from the postseason as they try to get back into contention next year. Despite an 89-loss finish that landed them in the basement of the AL Central, there is some hope that the Twins can turn things around and be back in the playoff hunt in 2022. A large amount of that hope stems from the bats they have in their lineup.
The Twins lineup smacked 228 home runs, the fifth-most in the league last season. While the unit will no longer feature Nelson Cruz, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the power in this lineup. Veterans including Jorge Polanco (33), Miguel Sanó (30), and Josh Donaldson (26) are still leading the lineup. Alex Kirilloff (8) and Trevor Larnach (7) will only get better with more at-bats at the big league level.
Byron Buxton’s health will also factor in. He only played 61 games last season but was producing at an MVP-caliber clip with 19 home runs and a 4.2 fWAR until injuries kept him out of the lineup for most of the season. Even if his production doesn’t extend that high over an entire season, there’s no question that even two-thirds of a season with Buxton takes the Twins to another level.
Last year, the immediate goal was to break the playoff losing streak that dates back to 2004. That was until everything fell apart. To get their first playoff win since the Bush administration, the Twins need to look at how other teams are finding success in October. From an offensive perspective, it’s all about the longball. Luckily for the Twins, it’s what their offense does best. It’s what teams need to do best to make a deep postseason run. According to Sarah Langs of MLB media, teams that out-homer their opponents in the postseason went 25-2.
Minnesota may not have made the postseason, but seven out of the top 10 home-run hitting teams made the playoffs in 2021. The World Champion Atlanta Braves hit the third-most home runs (239). The Twins offense may be on-par with teams like the Braves in terms of home runs. But a few areas separate Minnesota from the postseason teams like Atlanta that they’ll need to improve on if they want to be in the playoff conversation.
For starters, the team wasn’t as effective in run-scoring as their home run numbers would suggest. The Twins were tied for 14th league-wide in runs scored (729). The Braves were eighth with 790 runs.
How can there be such a drop in run production? There are a couple of answers to that question. One is Minnesota’s high number of strikeouts. The team that used to pride themselves on putting the ball in play has modernized to strike out 1,405 times in 2021, over 8.5 times per game. This could lead fans to think the reliance on the boom or bust nature of home runs could hurt the lineup.
That may be true. But the stats continue to show that just like in the 1990s, chicks (and winning MLB teams) dig the longball, even if it means swinging and missing more frequently. The Braves struck out more than the Twins last season with 1,453 punchouts. The top two teams in each league, the San Francisco Giants (1,461) and Tampa Bay Rays (1,542), also struck out more than Minnesota. It’s still a good idea to lower the number of strikeouts, but it’s not as vital as we might all think.
The biggest nemesis for the Twins in 2021 wasn’t strikeouts but hits in high-leverage situations. Yes, the Twins had 343 punchouts with RISP. But of the 228 home runs clubbed, only 91 of them came with men on base — the team only had a .723 OPS with RISP. The answer isn’t just in striking out less. It’s more making the most out of opportunities with men on base. If the Twins scored 15 more baserunners off those 137 solo home runs, the Twins would be among the top 10 teams in run production.
Looking back at the World Series champions, Atlanta was better situationally than Minnesota in those areas. Even though the Braves struck out more than the Twins, only 312 came with men on base. They blasted 103 home runs with men on base and recorded a .882 OPS with RISP.
More importantly, the success in those areas continued into the postseason in a big way. And the playoffs are where the Twins have been chasing success for the last 15-plus years. The answer is the longball. During the postseason, the Braves led all teams with 23 home runs and out-homed their opponents 23-13 through the playoffs. They also had a third-ranked .733 OPS clip and a .420 slugging percentage.
This Braves team is an excellent example of how to win offensively in the postseason because they make each opportunity count, usually with the longball. It’s something the Twins have struggled with during recent postseason runs. In their last three trips to the playoffs, beginning in 2017, the Twins have played in six games and have only hit six home runs.
The Twins may put the bulk of their offensive stake into hitting baseballs into the bleachers, but they are not alone with how the game is played in this era of baseball. Even though the team might not look the same as they did the previous season, this will still be a lineup that can mash. There is hope that the team won’t only reach last season’s home run total but that they’ll have the ability to improve in other offensive areas to create more runs. Productive veterans are returning, there should be more games with Buxton, and the young hitters should continue to improve.
With the correct strategy in mind, the Twins have plenty of solid pieces in place offensively. They just need to find ways to execute in more high-leverage situations and continue to put the ball in play for their offense to be at an elite level again.