Minnesota Twins: Remembering the Piranhas, the Pinnacle of Small Ball

Apr 13, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Minnesota Twins hat and glove in the dugout during the game against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 13, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Minnesota Twins hat and glove in the dugout during the game against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Minnesota Twins once boasted the most interesting lineup in baseball. They were speedy guys with little power and lots of fight known as the Piranhas.

The Minnesota Twins lineups in the middle of the previous decade were not full of power hitters. In fact, the exact opposite seemed to be what manager Ron Gardenhire liked best. In 2006 and 2008 the Twins wheeled out lineups with four lead off type guys, and they were nicknamed the Piranhas. They will forever be remembered in Twins lore.

Origin of the Name

The name Piranhas came from an unlikely source of praise, former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. Speaking about the original Piranhas of 2006, Guillen said:

"“All those piranhas — blooper here, blooper here, beat out a ground ball, hit a home run, they’re up by four. They get up by four with that bullpen? See you at the national anthem tomorrow. When I sit down and look at the lineup, give me the New York Yankees. Give me those guys because they’ve got holes. You can pitch around them, you can pitch to them. These little guys? Castillo and all of them? People worry about the catcher, what’s his name, Mauer? Fine, yeah, a good hitter, but worry about the little [guys], they’re on base all the time.”"

While the hitters in the lineup weren’t feared, they were effective and it all started during the 2006 season. A 2006 season that saw the Twins win an American League Central Division title.

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2006 Piranhas: The Originals

The original Piranhas were shortstop Jason Bartlett, third baseman Nick Punto, second baseman Luis Castillo and outfielder Jason Tyner. They were four guys who were fast and hit for average, but had very little power.

Usually, Gardenhire would bat them in the one, two, eight and nine spots in the order which would make for them all to bat one after another. At times, that would provide interesting results, such as bunting multiple times in a row while beating them out for singles.

That season, their collective average was .299. The four combined for six total home runs on the season, with Castillo leading the bats with three. They walked a combined 136 times.

Not only was the team a hit on the field, but the Twins had a field day with marketing them too. There were multiple promotional giveaways, apparel items and memorable commercials revolving around the four pesky hitters.

It was a hit in 2006, but there would be a revival of the thorn-in-your-side lineup Gardenhire put out. It would just feature different names.

2008 Piranhas:  The Revival

The 2008 Piranhas featured shortstop Punto (batting eighth), center fielder Carlos Gomez (ninth), right fielder Denard Span (first) and second baseman Alexi Casilla (second). That team had much more power, combining for 22 home runs and all of their averages hovered around .280 (besides Gomez’s .258).

This version was pesky enough to squeak out one and two run innings thanks to the small ball approach they used. Along the way, Gomez would lead the league with 30 bunt singles, which also broke Rod Carew‘s franchise record of 29 set in 1974.

What makes this Piranhas lineup even more interesting is the fact Gomez would later go on to hit 20 plus home runs in multiple seasons, something no other Piranha would come close to doing.

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While hitting home runs has been viewed as the sexy thing to do in baseball, the Piranha Twins lineups definitely made small ball look more and more attractive. There may never be four hitters in one lineup like that ever again. The Piranhas are a rare baseball breed and should be remembered as such.