Twins

Correa Needs To Be Minnesota's Rising Tide

Photo Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

On May 3, Chicago White Sox reliever Keynan Middleton was excited when he got to face Carlos Correa in the bottom of the ninth. Chicago had won Game 1 in extra innings, and they’d take the series if Middleton could get Correa out. Middleton missed with a slider, Correa fouled off a changeup, then swung and missed on a slider and a fastball. Game over.

“I knew I was going to face Correa, and I don’t like him. So it was kind of cool,” Middleton said after the White Sox’s 6-4 win. “I enjoyed that a lot. … I mean, he’s a cheater.”

Correa’s response?

“I’ve heard worse,” he said before the series finale. “I’m just glad he’s doing good, and he can take care of his family. Obviously, he’s tough. He’s getting better, and that’s why he’s pitching high-leverage situations for them.”

The Houston Astros drafted Correa first overall in 2012, one pick ahead of Byron Buxton. Correa quickly ascended through their system, winning Rookie of the Year in 2015, the World Series two years later, and earning two All-Star nods. He had resounding success in Houston but was also there when they got caught cheating in 2017 and 2018.

Last year, Correa purified himself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, signing a three-year deal with two opt-out clauses – essentially a one-year contract. He started slow but hit .355/.412/.589 in the final month of the season, trying desperately to carry Minnesota’s MASH unit to the playoffs. Correa finished the season with a .291/.366/.467 slash line and 22 home runs. Far from his best year but also above his career averages.

Alas, the Twins succumbed to injuries. The Cleveland Guardians won the division. Minnesota missed the postseason for the second straight year, and almost everyone expected Correa to depart to a big-market team on the coast.

In the offseason, Correa had dalliances with the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets. They offered him $300 million contracts but reneged after seeing his medicals. So he returned to his new home, trying to lift a team that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2004. Correa has the corner locker across from Buxton and on the opposite side of the room from Sonny Gray and Christian Vázquez. The locker Joe Mauer used to occupy.

Correa alone can’t elevate the Twins; no player can. But he invested in the team last year, even though he was under a short-term contract. Correa split leadership duties with Buxton, studied up on the minor league players, and offered championship insight from his time in Houston. Therefore, it’s unreasonable to think Minnesota’s offense is struggling because of Correa’s play alone. But he got booed in Tuesday’s game after going 0-for-5 and leaving six runners on base, and he knows he has to play better.

I’d boo myself, too, with the amount of money I’m making if I’m playing like that and I’m in the stands. Obviously, it’s acceptable. It’s part of the game, part of sports. Fans want production and fans want a team that’s going to compete out there and win games. It’s to be expected when you play poorly. But at the same time, the work doesn’t stop. I’m going to keep working and keep focusing on the things I can control, and the results will come.

Ironically, Correa said he thought he was on the right track before the game.

I don’t look at it like, ‘Oh, you know, hitting under .200 and all that.’ I look at it like, ‘I’m feeling really good at the plate. I’m seeing the ball real well. My swing feels really good. My work in the cage, it’s really solid right now, and I’m feeling a lot of confidence when I go in the game.’ For me, that’s what drives me every single day to go out there on the field and try to perform. Hit the ball hard, it gets caught sometimes. Sometimes, it leaves the yard. It’s the game we play. But at the end of the day, controlling the process is most important for me, and I feel like I’ve been doing that pretty well. Hopefully, a hot streak is coming up soon.

He’s had slow starts before. Last year, Correa hit .243/.309/.324 in April, but .318/.384/.500 in May and .342/.405/.608 in June. But we’re nearing mid-May, and he was hitting .185/.261/.363 when he said he’d boo himself. It doesn’t help that almost nobody in Minnesota’s lineup is producing at the plate. Donovan Solano, 35, and Vázquez, 32, are their most productive hitters. The Twins’ leadoff hitters, Buxton and Max Kepler, are hitting .233/.336/.508 and .213/.308/.427, respectively.

Joey Gallo, Nick Gordon, and Correa are hitting below the Mendoza line.

It will take a collective effort to get the Twins out of their hitting rut, but Correa needs to be the spark plug to replace Luis Arraez. Minnesota moved Arraez in the Pablo López trade, a fair swap. But in doing so, they removed their ignitor at the top of the lineup. Buxton can be that player, but he may take fewer at-bats once he’s back in center. Kepler hit 36 home runs in 2019, but he’s hit 37 in the last three years and has a career .232/.317/.427 line. Gallo can rip the cover off the ball, but he’s a boom-or-bust player on a prove-it contract.

Correa has the $200 million deal, a World Series ring, and an All-Star pedigree. He’s a career .276/.354/.475 hitter obsessed with the mechanics of hitting and willing to make adjustments. He embodies a unique combination of talent and grace. Call Correa a cheater, and he’ll wish you and your family well. Point out that he’s hitting below .200, and he’ll tell you he’s about to go on a hot streak. Correa has dunked in Lake Minnetonka’s cerulean sea, born again after the trash can scandals. Now he needs to help the Twins exorcize their demons at the plate.

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Photo Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

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