The most pivotal weekend of the Twins’ season has come and gone, and it ultimately didn’t go the way Minnesota would have hoped, with four Cleveland victories in five games all but eliminating the Twins from the postseason in 2022. What should Twins fans watch out for in these final two weeks of the regular season? Let’s talk about one of those storylines to open this edition of the Twins Beat Newsletter.
For much of the season, the idea that Luis Arraez would cruise to his first career batting title seemed like all but a foregone conclusion. The Twins’ young contact king held a massive lead over the field with a .338 average entering the All-Star Game (where he represented the Twins for the first time), with little reason to believe he’d slow down considerably before the end of the season, given his track record.
And yet, here we are. Let’s take a peek at the AL hitting leaders as of Wednesday morning:
1. Aaron Judge, NYY - .316
2. Xander Bogaerts, BOS - .315
3. Luis Arraez, MIN - .314
Whoa. How did we get to such a crowded field?
The Twins don’t love getting into specifics about how banged-up their team is at any given time, but with Arraez, it’s plenty evident just in standing around the Minnesota clubhouse that the young infielder has been hobbling around the last few days, hardly able to walk and yet still hitting leadoff for the Twins, doing the best he can to keep the club’s playoff hopes alive.
But that’s taken a visible toll on his hitting. Entering Wednesday's game versus the Royals, his .338 average in the first half had dropped to .277 in the second -- and it’s undeniably a reflection of our high expectations for Arraez that his second-half batting average could be construed as a struggle in any way, especially in the modern game. Here’s the problem, though: Judge is hitting a mind-boggling .372 in the second half in an electric surge for the AL home run record.
“I just want to say that I want to try to help my team,” Arraez said last month. “If I win the batting title, I'm going to be happy. It's one of my goals. I just want to do something good for my teammates and to win the playoffs.”
Here’s an added layer of intrigue to this batting race: Judge is all but assured to lead the AL in home runs and RBIs by very wide margins. That means that in the home stretch of this season, Arraez might be the only thing that stands between Judge and MLB’s first hitting Triple Crown since Miguel Cabrera achieved the feat in 2012 -- which, in turn, could have tangible impacts on what should prove to be a historic MVP debate between Judge and Shohei Ohtani.
Think the stakes are high?
“You don’t want to get between Aaron Judge and probably anything in this world, but I think it’s a pretty wonderful visual when someone pastes it all together on the internet to have Luis Arraez standing in between him and the Triple Crown,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said with a laugh. “That would be, actually, a pretty funny image if someone does it the right way.”
At this point, there likely isn’t time for Arraez to get considerably healthier before the end of the season, with 14 games and just over two weeks to go. But count on him to be out there, making his push.
“I think Luis ultimately cares about winning,” Baldelli said. “That’s the more important thing to him than anything else, but if there is a second thing, I think winning a batting title would be important to him and he takes a lot of pride in what he does and the work that he puts in. My money’s on Luis.”
The Twins entered their decisive five-game series in Cleveland over the weekend needing to play their best baseball to close a four-game deficit between themselves and the division leaders. They couldn’t do that, ultimately dropping the season series, 13-6, despite actually matching the Guardians in runs scored (89-89) across the 19 head-to-head matchups this season.
What made the difference? Here are three illuminating numbers:
7: Losses to Cleveland in which the Twins led in the seventh inning or later
In fact, all six of the Twins’ losses to the Guardians before the All-Star break came as a result of Cleveland scoring the eventual winning run in the seventh inning or later. This also includes the 7-6 loss in the 15-inning marathon on Saturday to cap the season’s decisive doubleheader sweep by the Guardians.
.695: Twins’ OPS against Cleveland with runners in scoring position
The Twins’ season-long struggles around missed opportunities with runners in scoring position were evident against the Guardians, as Minnesota went a combined 35-for-155 (.226) with a .695 OPS in such situations during its 19 head-to-head matchups against Cleveland this season, including a 3-for-21 performance in that 15-inning game. The league as a whole has hit .253 with a .742 OPS with runners in scoring position this season.
19: Twins players on the injured list by the end of the Cleveland series
This number spans all sorts of key contributors on both sides of the ball -- and doesn’t even include the loss of Sonny Gray after two innings due to his recurring right hamstring issues during Monday’s series finale against the Guardians.
How many players in Twins history have won batting titles?
A URL SAGA COMES TO AN END
Perhaps this is something you’ve noticed over the years; perhaps it had escaped your notice all together. But a fascinating bit of Twins minutiae over the years (and, in fact, decades) has revolved around the domain name www.twins.com, which never did redirect to the Twins’ website. The vast majority of domain names bearing MLB team names redirect to the respective clubs’ websites.
That was the subject of a fascinating feature story in 2015 by Ben Lindbergh of the now-defunct Grantland website, in which he paid a visit to the twin brothers who privately owned the domain name, Durland and Darvin Miller, and explored why the domain, first registered in 1995, hadn’t made its way into league hands.
Well, there’s finally a coda to the story. On Monday, Lindbergh revealed via Twitter that the brothers Miller had, at last, sold the URL to the league. And, indeed, if you now type in that URL, you’ll be redirected to the homepage of the Minnesota Twins, where you’ll find plenty more content from yours truly and my talented colleagues.
“I'm not ready to talk about the season like it's behind us. I don't think that's appropriate. We still have guys in that clubhouse that are ready to work and that are ready to play, and we still have games to play. So the way that we've gone out there and competed against these guys, we've been winning a lot of the games against them and it's our job to finish those games. If we don't, then that's all that matters. You mention the bullpen. Some of that is the bullpen, but it's not just the bullpen. These are team efforts. We have to do a better job, overall, of playing the game if we're going to complete these games against good teams like that.” -- Baldelli, talking about the overall course of the decisive season series against the Guardians
Arraez is aiming to become the fifth player to win a batting title while with the Twins. The others include a trio of Hall of Famers in Tony Oliva (1964, '65, '71), Rod Carew (1969, '72, '73, '74, '75, '77, '78) and Kirby Puckett (1989); and a potential future Hall of Famer in Joe Mauer (2006, '08, '09).
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