During the 2019 season, Rocco Baldelli was a rookie manager, and the Bomba Squad Twins set the MLB home run record. As a manager, there were few in-game moves he needed to make with the line-up because everyone was hitting so well. He could sit on his hands and have a front-row seat to a team hitting many home runs. Baldelli has been forced to be a more active manager in recent years because there was no way for the Twins to duplicate their offensive production from that record-breaking season.
Entering the 2023 season, the Twins added multiple veterans to serve off the bench, but many have taken on even more critical roles. Willi Castro, Kyle Farmer, Michael A. Taylor, and Donovan Solano have over 330 plate appearances each, with Castro and Taylor ranking among the team's top 10 in rWAR. Bench options have changed throughout the season, and Baldelli has been fearless in pulling some strings even when the offense struggled in the first half.
Minnesota ranked 11th out of 15 AL teams in the first half in runs scored, with three of the teams behind them being from the AL Central. Twins' pinch hitters also struggled in the first half with a .173 BA and a .512 OPS. Offensively, the team has seen a resurgence in the second half, with Houston being the lone AL team scoring more runs. The team's OPS from pinch hitters has risen nearly 500 points in the second half, and the team leads MLB in batting average, OBP, SLG, runs, and RBIs from bench players.
There is also some question about who will be on Baldelli's bench for October. Royce Lewis, Carlos Correa, and Byron Buxton are currently on the IL, and there is some question regarding whether or not they will be ready for the postseason. The player's health might force the team to make tough decisions about who is active for the Wild Card Round. Buxton has the potential to be a big bench bat when the team faces tough left-handed relievers, so can he have a Kirk Gibson-style moment for the Twins? Lewis is running out of days for his hamstring to heal, so he might be relegated to DH duties if he can play.
After the Twins clinched, Seth outlined which Twins players he felt would make the team's Wild Card roster. The Twins will carry two catchers, leaving Ryan Jeffers or Christian Vazquez as a bench bat on games they aren't in the starting line-up. At first base, the Twins can platoon Alex Kirilloff and Donovan Solano. Baldelli had the opportunity to pinch-hit Kirilloff for Solano early in one of the games versus the Angels and made the move. Kyle Farmer is a backup infield option if Lewis and Correa aren't ready to go.
In the outfield, it seems likely for the team to start different players depending on the opposing starting pitcher's handedness. Matt Wallner, Willi Castro, and Max Kepler are the likely starters versus a right-handed pitcher, while Michael A. Taylor will probably sub in against a left-handed pitcher. If Buxton is ready, Minnesota can utilize a platoon at DH with Edouard Julien facing right-handed pitchers and Buxton seeing action against lefties. It remains to be seen if the Twins want Buxton to serve in a part-time role for the postseason, but things should be more evident by the season's final series when more is known about the team's injured players.
Baldelli will use pinch hitters no matter the inning to put his team into favorable offensive match-ups. The Twins have a deep bench, which can be critical to success in October. Do you believe Baldelli will continue to be aggressive with pinch-hitting in the playoffs? How will Minnesota's current injury concerns impact the team's bench options? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.