Minnesota Twins End Season on High Note, Hit 199th and 200th HR’s
Finally, mercifully, the 2016 Minnesota Twins season reached its conclusion on Sunday afternoon in Chicago. An inter-divisional series that many thought would have some significance back in April, was played out in near-anonymity as both teams failed to even reach the .500 mark.
For the White Sox, they were leading all of the American League in wins after six weeks, battling the Cubs for relevancy in Chicago. While the Cubs never let off the accelerator, the White Sox fall was so great that five-year veteran manager, Robin Ventura, stepped down shortly after Sunday’s final Brandon Kintzler pitch.
For the Twins, a trendy pick to compete for the division crown with two-time defending AL pennant holder, the Kansas City Royals, limped to their worst record in Minnesota history (59-103).
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While their own manager, Paul Molitor, is still employed, the Twins did let go of their long-time GM, Terry Ryan, in July.
Amid all the losses, there were some historic milestones this team achieved on the plus side as well.
Two of those took place on the season’s final day, and neither of them involved Brian Dozier, who ended the season on the bench with a strained oblique one RBI short of 100. Because, well, it’s the Minnesota Twins – 2016 style.
We’ll take a look at the year’s lowest of lows, and its highest of highs – trust me, there were some, I swear!
HOME RUNS: The Twins entered game 162 with 198 home runs and Dozier unavailable. Against Chicago’s ace, Chris Sale. Yet, 199 was notched after just one pitch, and it didn’t even leave the field of play.
Byron Buxton lined Sale’s first offering over the head of White Sox center fielder, Leury Garcia. Garcia slammed into the wall, slumping to the ground. That’s all Buxton needed as he circled the bases in 14.0 seconds, the fastest inside-the-park home run in Statcast history.
Various reporters have timed the video coming up with timings in the 13.8 range – either way, Buxton’s time was nearly a second faster than anyone else, despite his antelope jump around second base.
Molitor quipped, “If baseball was five bases, he probably would have been safe then too.” Seeing Buxton tear around the bases this past month have given Twins fans hope for next year that our budding superstar finally blooms in 2017.
Buxton struggled mightily his first two stretches with the big club, hitting just .193 with 1 HR in 193 at-bats before September. In his first 100 at-bats after his call-up, he slugged 9 HR / 5 2B / 2 3B / 22 RBI, hitting over .280 and, most impressively, slugging over .600 in the month and change.
His home runs in the final two games of the season gave him 10 on the year, the 11th Twin to hit that many this year. That ties the major league record for the highest number of players to hit double digits set by the Detroit Tigers in 2004, and tied by the Houston Astros last season.
In the top of the fourth, Miguel Sano bombed a 400-foot, three-run blast into the left field seats to give the Twins a 5-0 lead, and in the process hit the 200th home run for the Twins this season.
It was the first time since 1964, and only the third time ever since moving to Minnesota. Somehow, even through banner years in the 1980s and ’90s, and even through the Steroid Era – the Twins had not hit that magic number until this year – a year when they set the record for losses in a season.
Individually, Dozier set a record for AL second basemen when he hit his 42nd home run on September 22nd. Despite his end-of-the -season slump, Dozier led the team in batting average, hits, doubles, home runs, runs, RBI.
He achieved all that despite a line of (.203 AVG / 5 HR / 17 RBI) on June 1st. He also finished second in all of baseball in stolen base percentage (90.0%) to Chris Owings‘ 91.34 rate. He also tied the team record held by Harmon Killebrew (three times) and Marty Cordova when he hit home runs in five consecutive games in early September.
FIELDING: After doing all the little things right under Tom Kelly and Ron Gardenhire, the Twins did seemingly everything wrong in the field and “little things” like moving runners over, productive outs, and hitting with runners in scoring position.
But the errors! Fans at Target Field unleashed choruses of boos once subjected to the exploits of Miguel Sano in right field, and at third base, and Robbie Grossman in left field. Enough misplays to fill up an entire Marv Albert’s Bloopers segment on the old Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
Their 124 team errors was the most since the 1983-85 Twins booted 121, 120, 120 in a three-year stretch just prior to the Kelly Era. They finished “second” to the Milwaukee Brewers in both number of errors and fielding percentage for the season. Oof.
PITCHING: Luckily for Jose Berrios, he finally came through with a winning start on the season’s last day. Before lowering his ERA to its season-ending 8.02, he was sporting the fifth worst ERA since 2000 (pitchers who pitched at least 50 innings).
Crazy stat. Going into today’s start, Berrios would have needed to throw 40 scoreless innings to match Ricky Nolasco‘s 4.42 ERA he finished 2016 with the L.A. Angels.
The finishing series against the White Sox also allowed the Arizona Diamondbacks to finish 0.02 ERA points higher than the Twins in team ERA, keeping the Twins as only the 29th-worst pitching staff in MLB.
Throw in the worst start in franchise history (0-9), the Twins were going to be hard-pressed to win many games sporting the second-worst fielding and pitching team in baseball. You can get by being bad in one of the three tenants of the sport (New York Mets finished 24th in team batting average, but third in pitching and 10th in fielding and still made the playoffs), but being bottom of the barrel in two of out three? Sorry Lionel Richie, it’s bad.