Last year, the Twins managed to rank third in the American League in runs scored despite ranking dead last in homers with 111 and fifth-to-last in team slugging percentage. While members of the Twins brain-trust might try and convince you that this is an example of successful small ball in action, the fact is that the Twins' high run total was buoyed by a ridiculous .305 batting average with runners in scoring position that would be nearly impossible to replicate. It seemed clear to most observers that the Twins would be in for a serious regression in runs scored unless they could start hitting for more power.
Sure enough, the performance of Twins hitters with runners in scoring position has come back to Earth in a major way, dropping by over 20 points over the first two months of the 2009 season. Yet, the Twins have still managed to rank in the top half of the AL in runs per game, with 5.28 (a substantial increase over their 5.09 average last year). The reason is pretty clear: the long ball.
Entering play yesterday, only three teams in the American League had hit more home runs than the Twins. This bears repeating, because it is almost hard to believe for longtime followers of this team. We're through nearly two months of the season, and the Minnesota Twins rank fourth in the AL in home runs. They have hit a total of 55 home runs. Twenty-one of those have come with runners on base, and four have come with the bases loaded.
Members of the Twins front office can drone on all they want about the value of small ball and manufacturing runs, but there's no question that multi-run homers are the quickest way to put runs on the board in a hurry. Down by multiple runs late in a game, it used to be that the Twins would have to rely on stringing together a prolonged rally with several consecutive hits. Now that over half the lineup represents a credible home run threat, they're able to make up late deficits with a swing of the bat.
Tuesday night's game presents a great example of the value of the long ball. The Twins were going against a tough pitcher in Jon Lester who they weren't likely to get a ton of hits against. After falling behind 1-0 in the top of the fifth, the Twins managed to scrape a couple runs across in the bottom half to gain a slim lead. When Justin Morneau followed with a laser beam down the right field line that cleared the baggy for a three-run homer, the Twins suddenly had a comfortable four-run cushion, which they protected rather easily en route to a victory. The night before, Joe Mauer turned a seemingly insurmountable three-run deficit against Jonathan Papelbon to a one-run deficit with a homer to right field; under past circumstances, the Twins would have likely needed a lengthy rally against the elite reliever to get even the two runs across and make a game out of it.
Here in its last year as their home stadium, the Twins are turning the Metrodome back into the "Homerdome," a moniker which has seemed misplaced over the past several years. When it comes to scoring runs, that's no small thing.
On a final note, I received an email from someone named Paul Paquette last night with the following message: "Hey check out my song about Kirby Puckett and a turkey bucket." Naturally, this piqued my interest. After listening to it, I feel it's my duty to share with you the link to this wonderful work of musical genius. Here's the link. Have a good weekend.