Souhan: Twins pay homage to Garnett by sending balls into stands

·4 min read

There were a lot of bold colors and exposed armpits in the Twins clubhouse late Sunday afternoon.

The team had decided to wear NBA jerseys on the flight from the Twin Cities to Los Angeles, where the Twins will play the Dodgers on Monday, so manager Rocco Baldelli donned a Kevin Garnett jersey, and the players represented NBA stars past and present.

Paying homage to Garnett, this weekend the Twins swatted a few balls into the stands. Sunday, they beat the Cubs 16-3 to finish a 4-2 homestand.

About a quarter of the way through the 2023 season, the Twins are five games over .500 with a 3½-game lead in the division. They are on pace to win 91 games.

Which is not to say their season has gone as planned.

A 23-18 record isn't ideal, but it's impressive when you consider …

• Byron Buxton, their best fielder, hasn't played in the field, and he went 26 at-bats without a hit before his third-inning single Sunday.

• Carlos Correa is hitting .207, and Jorge Polanco didn't start the season with the team because of injuries.

• They are missing 40% of their desired starting rotation, with Tyler Mahle opting for Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery and Kenta Maeda not close to returning from injury.

• Their two key lefthanded relievers have been injured (Caleb Thielbar) and ineffective (Jovani Moran).

• They have already sent down their Opening Day third baseman (Jose Miranda) and left fielder (Trevor Larnach), although Larnach has since returned, and their top utility player, Kyle Farmer, missed a month after getting hit in the face with a pitch.

• Alex Kirilloff, who could be one of their most important players, has played in only eight games because of continuing wrist soreness.

• Christian Vázquez, their new starting catcher, has a .258 slugging percentage and has made a number of uncharacteristic mistakes in the field.

The Twins entered the season with excellent depth, and they have needed it. To become a team that can run away with the division, instead of slog through it, I believe they need to make two moves in the next month or so:

1. Insert Royce Lewis at third base.

This team needs righthanded power and speed. Lewis can provide both. The former No. 1 overall draft pick brings dynamic athletic ability, a strong arm, charisma and fearlessness along with a potent bat. He's on a rehabilitation assignment and could be ready to move to the big leagues within a couple of weeks.

2. Play Buxton in center.

Buxton seems quite comfortable as a DH, and he has played in 37 of the Twins' 41 games. He rested on Saturday more because he was slumping than because he needed a break.

If Buxton continues to DH, the Twins will have to play either Michael A. Taylor or Nick Gordon in center. Neither can be counted on for much offense. If Buxton can play center field, the Twins' fielding improves, and the DH spot allows manager Rocco Baldelli to put another offensive player in the lineup.

On Sunday, Louie Varland, who began the season as the Twins' seventh option as a starting pitcher, pitched a career-high 6⅓ innings to get the victory. The rest of the current rotation — Sonny Gray, Joe Ryan, Pablo López and Bailey Ober — has ranged from exceptional to solid.

No longer can anyone complain about Baldelli pulling his starters too early. The Twins have gotten more innings out of their starters than any other team.

Asked about taking this version of his team to Southern California to face the Dodgers and Angels, Baldelli said: "I like how we're playing right now, going in there. I think we have to be very pleased at the general game our guys are putting out right now. It's not just the big scores. It's the way we're pitching, the way we're throwing strikes, the way we're attacking hitters and making plays and taking good at-bats."

The Twins have scored 27 runs in two games with Joey Gallo batting leadoff. "Everybody's driving the ball," Gallo said. "You come in and it's like, 'We're gonna win again.' "