So you think you know baseball? Think you’ve figured out the 2023 Twins?
Did you predict any of this? (I didn’t.)
• That Luis Arraez would threaten .400 with the Marlins, yet not be able to match the OPS of rookie second baseman Edouard Julien.
One of the reasons the Twins were willing to trade Arraez was their logjam of young hitters, including Julien and Royce Lewis. Even as he surges to a second consecutive batting title, Arraez’s OPS is .888. Julien’s is a superstar-level .957.
• That the Twins would have one of their best offensive weeks of the season with almost no help from their most talented and powerful hitter, Byron Buxton.
Buxton is hitless since the All-Star break. He has one hit since July 4. In the first six games after the break, the Twins scored 42 runs — an average of seven a game. In the two games he was benched, they scored 16 runs.
• That Emilio Pagán, the last reliever most Twins fans would want to see jog out of the bullpen, would pitch consecutive shutout eighth innings in close victories to culminate a five-week stretch in which he compiled a 1.29 ERA, a .216 opponent batting average and a .498 opponent OPS in 14 games.
• That the Twins would go on their post-break offensive surge without contributions from three of their five best hitters: Buxton, Lewis and Jorge Polanco. Or that hitting coach David Popkins would keep his job despite the Twins’ season-long hitting problems — and, with the exception of Thursday, see the Twins take their best collection of at-bats on a West Coast road trip after the break.
• That the Twins, who set the big-league home run record in 2019, would excel at small-ball. They rank fourth in the majors in stolen base percentage and have been excellent at the squeeze bunt.
• That Max Kepler would surge and the popular choice to replace him, Matt Wallner, would do nothing to overtake Kepler as the starting right fielder.
Since the break, Kepler is hitting .360 with a 1.073 OPS and Wallner is 2-for-11 with one walk and five strikeouts.
• That Kyle Farmer, who looked worn out before the break, would hit a double, two triples and two home runs in his first six games after the break.
• That Jordan Balazovic, who had disappointed as a minor league starter and had his spring cut short after getting punched in the face at a bar, would become one of the Twins’ better relievers. He has given up two earned runs in 12 innings.
• That Carlos Correa, who isn’t particularly fast and doesn’t steal bases, would have his season rejuvenated by manager Rocco Baldelli’s decision to bat him in the leadoff spot.
Correa is batting .312 as a leadoff hitter, .196 in the second slot, .200 in the third slot and .333 as a cleanup hitter.
• That Bailey Ober, who didn’t make the season-opening rotation, or Kenta Maeda, who is recovering from a variety of injuries and surgeries, would look like the Twins’ best starters in July.
All of which demonstrates that baseball is under no obligation to make sense.
It is the least predictable of sports because seasons and careers can be altered by a change in a batter’s stance or a pitcher’s grip.
Let me be transparent: I would have changed hitting coaches, cut Kepler, moved Correa down instead of up in the batting order, relegated Pagán to the sixth inning, left Balazovic in the minors, rested Farmer and probably avoided taking risks on the bases, whether via steals or bunts.
The Twins displayed patience with a variety of struggling players and their hitting coach, and won five of seven on their West Coast trip following the All-Star break.
They have a long way to go to make this season a success, and a lousy homestand will bring a new wave of justified criticisms and second-guessing, but those of us who wanted to see dramatic changes should admit that we might have been too hasty.