Correa cooked pasta for Buxton, then asked him to give up center field
CLEVELAND — His mission was a sensitive one, and Carlos Correa figured a good meal would help. So on the night last March when he invited Byron Buxton to his house for dinner, Correa fixed one of his specialties.
"I cooked him a little chickpea pasta with lobster and shrimp," Correa said. "We were having it twice a week in spring training."
And over dinner with Buxton, his son Brix and a couple of friends, Correa talked the Twins' outfielder into … well, not being an outfielder for awhile.
"We had a four-hour conversation. I said, 'I think we're a better team if you're DH-ing and taking 500 at-bats and just focusing on hitting 40 or 50 homers during the season and let Michael Taylor guard the outfield,'" Correa recalled. "He took it very well."
That's not to say he agreed. But Buxton said his teammate was very persuasive.
"At that point, I was still trying to figure this out for myself. I literally try not to think about my at-bats, so I don't overthink," Buxton said of a decision that has so far kept him in the Twins' lineup in all but three games this season. "When I play the field, whatever happens at the plate, you can go back out and focus on that, like 'OK, then nobody else is getting a hit.'"
Correa, who revealed their conversation while wearing a microphone on the field during Friday's AppleTV+ broadcast, said he understood Buxton's hesitation, but focused on how much the team benefits when he is healthy.
"I don't lie to anybody. I try to be honest and direct. And I told him, just showing up to the plate every single day for four or five at-bats, that alone is going to give us so many more wins," Correa said. "Obviously he loves his position. He's played center field his entire big league career. But at the same time, we made sense of things and came to an agreement."
Buxton, who pondered his future for most of a week before endorsing the plan, laughs at the memory of that Fort Myers meal. It only ended, he said, because it was past 9-year-old Brix's bedtime. Otherwise, "we'd probably still be talking."
Correa and Buxton are key offensive players for the Twins, who remain in first place in the AL Central after their weeklong visit to Chicago and Cleveland. That seems remarkable considering their place in the league's statistical standings.
By batting .141 as a team during their 2-4 road trip, the Twins dropped into last place in MLB with a .220 team batting average. Their 256 total hits will go into Tuesday's homestand opener as the second fewest in the majors as well, and they have put only 301 runners in scoring position all season, fewest in the American League.
One more way the Twins distinguish themselves: No AL team has struck out as often as their 336 whiffs.
Yet they somehow remain in the middle of the pack in scoring runs, ranking eighth with 152 despite managing only 18 this month. That total is almost 50 percent fewer than runaway MLB leader Tampa Bay but trails Chicago by only three runs for AL Central leadership.
It's easy to see why: The Twins have become home-run dependent, and they're reasonably well suited for it, as their just-snapped 18-game homer streak illustrates. They have dropped to fifth in the league after ranking second coming into May, but their 45 homers trail Boston and Los Angeles by only two for second behind the Rays.
Especially telling: Home runs have accounted for 75 of their 152 runs scored, a 49.3% ratio that easily is the highest in baseball. Only five other AL teams get even 40% of their runs from homers, none over 45%.
That might not have been the Twins' intention this season, but manager Rocco Baldelli said he's not worried about becoming too homer-dependent.
"I just want to win, and the act of hitting home runs, that's fine with me," Baldelli said Sunday. "I don't care if most of our runs come from hitting the ball over the fence. You're going to have to win games sometimes in different ways, but if most of our runs come off homers, I'm fine with it. As long as we're hitting enough homers."
The Twins begin an interleague-heavy stretch Tuesday, with 12 of their next 15 games — including their next nine Target Field games — against National League teams. They are 2-4 this year in interleague play, going 1-2 against the Marlins and Nationals.
In the Padres, who open the homestand in their first visit to Minnesota since 2017, the Twins will face a similarly perplexing team: An offense with several talented hitters — Manny Machado, Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr. occupy the middle of the lineup — but shockingly mediocre results. At .233, San Diego ranks next to last in the National League in batting average, and it has scored 145 runs, 12th in the NL.