Lack of situation hitting will cost the Twins a lot of runs and wins this year.
By David Weinshilboum
It’s the weekend; the Minnesota Twinkies snapped a hitting rut that extended through a dismal showing against the lowly Detroit Tigers. The good guys beat a very solid Blue Jays team. Byron Buxton’s bat appears to have come alive.
All is well with the offense, right? Wrong. I have to go killjoy on those fans who think the offense will be fine moving forward.
I offer you exhibits A and B from Friday’s game: moments when Twins hitters had a chance to be smart and improve the chances of scoring a run. In both instances, hitters showed no situational awareness and failed to move a runner from second to third.
Let’s start with a late-inning situation: in the 8th, the Twins led 6-3 and needed an insurance run. After a walk and balk, Nick Gordon was on second and Gary Sanchez had a 1-0 count. Jays hurler Andrew Vasquez tossed a sinker down. Sanchez swung hard and fouled it off. The next pitch was a curve that Sanchez floated to the second baseman.
Throughout the season, I’ve watched Sanchez poke balls to right, building up his average and reducing his K rate. In this instance, advancing the runner never seemingly crossed his mind. He swung hard and didn’t do his job.
Ultimately, the missed advance didn’t hurt the Twins. Gordon stole third and Luis Arraez got an infield single. But the lack of awareness – or the decision to just try to hit the crap out of the ball regardless – left me frustrated.
The other at-bat earlier in the game was, to me, more problematic.
In the top of the fourth, the Twins clung to a 4-3 lead. Gio Urshella doubled and needed Jose Miranda to move him to third. Why? According to fangraphs, a runner on third with one out has a 22 percent better chance of scoring than a runner on second with one out. Ground out to first or second, and suddenly Trevor Larnach’s job is MUCH easier.
Jays pitcher Yusei Kikuchi throws a breaking ball down and away. Miranda isn’t even considering hitting. The ball to right. Instead, he goes Sano – swings from the heels and misses.
Miranda had just blasted a solo homerun and he was focused on hitting another. But lack of the situation just bothered me. Worse, Kikuchi threw a pitch that is EASIEST to hit to the opposite field. It’s as if he knew Miranda wasn’t going to do his job, hit situationally and move the runner over. After a ball down & away, Kikuchi tossed YET ANOTHER pitch made for an opposite-field slap – a fastball down and away. Best case scenario is a run-scoring base hit to right. Worst case is a grounder that puts Urshella on third—increasing the chance of scoring by 22 percent. What’d Miranda do? Swung from the heels and fouled it back. He flied softly to center on the next pitch and wasted an at-bat.
The Twins didn’t score that inning.
What is particularly galling to me is that Kikuchi never even considered altering his pitching approach. It’s as if he knew Miranda and the Twins don’t think about situations, about anything beyond the cro-magnon “hit ball hard” approach.
Too often this year, I’ve watch Minnesota hitters seem oblivious or disinterested in the situation. As a result, the bases are left loaded, runners remain unadvanced and scoring opportunities get wasted. That’s why I expect this offense to continue to struggle. Because Buck’s bat will go silent at some point, slumps will happen, and the Twins will continue to waste scoring opportunities by overlooking the situation.
Thoughts on my take? Email me at David_weinshilboum@yahoo.com.