July 22, 2024

Three Twins takeaways: Buxton’s bat heats up, rotation issues and improved hitting vs. righties


OAKLAND, Calif. — After he made a few mechanical changes in between starts, Pablo López was outstanding on Sunday afternoon.

By keeping it simple, López was simply overwhelming as the Minnesota Twins topped the Oakland A’s 3-0 in their final game at the Oakland Coliseum. López was perfect for 5 2/3 innings and tied a career-high with 14 strikeouts as the Twins headed into Monday’s off day with a 43-35 mark.

The Twins won for the 10th time in 14 tries and won their third series in their last four. Here are three Twins takeaways for the day off.

Buxton’s bat continues to heat up

He hasn’t taken over the way we’ve seen in the past but Byron Buxton’s production over the past few weeks has reached a very good level.

On Sunday, Buxton carried the Twins in support of López.

His booming solo homer in the second inning made a cavernous Coliseum look small as it soared into the second deck in left field above the high fence, a 432-foot shot. The ball exited Buxton’s bat at 112.7 mph and gave the Twins a 1-0 lead.

Five innings later, Buxton provided breathing room when he laced the first pitch he saw for a run-scoring double over a drawn-in infield.

“The swings that he was taking early on, it looked really good,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “There are days where he comes to the park and, for whatever reason, that swing, everything looks synced up really well and he can compete on different pitches in different parts of the zone and he’s firing really well. … It’s a nice thing to see the ball explode off of his bat like that.”

Over his past 14 games, Buxton is slashing .314/.352/.529 with three doubles, a triple, two homers and nine RBIs in 51 plate appearances. The current hot spell has increased Buxton’s Weighted Runs Created Plus to a league average 100.

“See ball, hit ball,” Buxton said. “Simplify and just go compete. That’s it. Too much information.”

Buxton’s stretch likely comes down to his knee feeling good on a consistent basis.

When Buxton’s twice-repaired right knee feels good, he’s able to get into his swing and reach more pitches. When he’s not, he’s standing more upright in his stance and unable to get lower, which often results in popups and strikeouts.

With the standout defense he provides in center, Buxton doesn’t need to be an all-world hitter to make an impact for the Twins. But they’re certainly a much better team when his bat is as formidable as it’s recently been.

Paddack in need of a breather

Chris Paddack is listed as the probable starting pitcher for Thursday’s game at the Arizona Diamondbacks. But the Twins are seriously mulling giving him a breather.

In June, dead arm and other minor issues have bugged Paddack, who is coming off his second Tommy John surgery. He’s healthy but has dealt with inconsistent velocity and feeling out of sorts.

“The ball felt like a dumbbell,” Paddack said Friday after pitching 4 2/3 innings. “We’ve got to stay on top of that. I’ve had a rough four weeks. As I entered June, the body felt just a little heavy. You can prepare all offseason, all spring training, but a man that hasn’t been able to throw this many innings in three years now due to injury, you can’t do enough to prepare for this.”

Paddack and the Twins knew there’d come a time when he’d need a rest. Kenta Maeda’s break occurred late last April as he returned from Tommy John surgery and lasted into June.

For Paddack, the time likely is now.

Paddack has posted a 7.43 ERA in 23 innings over his past five starts, as his ERA has increased from 4.39 to 5.29.

But how will the Twins replace him?

Louie Varland started Sunday for Triple A-St. Paul and allowed 11 earned runs and five homers in 2 1/3 innings. He’s out.

Caleb Boushley, who pitched Saturday, is on the 40-man roster and has a 3.52 ERA in 13 starts for St. Paul, qualifies as a candidate.

Though Randy Dobnak lines up well after throwing Friday and seems likely to pitch for the Twins later this season, he’d need to be added to the 40-man to make a start.

Top pitching prospect David Festa, who last pitched Thursday, also would need to be added to the 40-man. But Festa, who currently rates as the No. 100 prospect in baseball according to MLB Pipeline, is the biggest potential difference-maker of the group and could get the call. He has a 3.77 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 59 2/3 innings with St. Paul.

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Improved hitting against right-handed pitching

The Twins consistently have been one of baseball’s best teams at hitting left-handed pitching. Over the past two weeks, they’ve shown remarkable improvement against righties, too.

Through June 10, the Twins carried a .692 OPS against right-handed pitching, five points below the league’s .697 OPS overall. The low number was the result of poor production from Edouard Julien, Matt Wallner and Alex Kirilloff, who went on the injured list June 12.

But the loss of lefty bats hasn’t hurt the Twins.

From June 11 through Saturday, the Twins improved their OPS against righties by 31 points, carrying an .889 OPS in their last 333 plate appearances. Only Baltimore (.904) was better in all of baseball.

Over that stretch, Jose Miranda (1.465 OPS), Royce Lewis (1.340), Carlos Santana (1.193) and Willi Castro (1.074) led the charge with Austin Martin (.974), Max Kepler (.919), Buxton (.840) and Carlos Correa (.817) also serving as formidable options.

Obviously, the Twins won’t hit like this the rest of the way. But they aren’t a .692 OPS team, either. Lewis’ return has added a dynamic talent to the middle of the order, but it’s also helped relieve some of the pressure on other hitters.

Trouble against righties is one of the team’s biggest issues along with starting pitching inconsistency. If the former can be solved internally, it would simplify the team’s trade deadline needs.

(Photo of Byron Buxton: Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)





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