Twins: Players-only meetings were a hit, but coaches do it best

15 July 2023

OAKLAND, Calf. — The Twins might have used the all-star break as a reset, but in their first game back they went back to running their hitters meetings the old-fashioned way. With hitting coaches.

“They’re all going to be in the same meeting going forward, and I think it’s certainly the right place for us to be,” manager Rocco Baldelli said Friday before the Twins’ first pitch against the Athletics at Oakland Coliseum.

After getting swept in Atlanta June 26-29, the team refocused with a players-only meeting and started having hitting meetings without any of their hitting coaches, co-hitting coaches Rudy Hernandez and David Popkins and assistant Derek Shoman.

Initial results were positive. The Twins scored eight runs out of the game in a victory at Baltimore, won two of three from the Orioles, then averaged 6.66 runs in a three-game sweep of last-place Kansas City before the lineup went cold again — 1.66 runs a game — in a three-game sweep from Baltimore to send the Twins into the break.

The idea of the players-only hitting meetings was to get the hitters more involved, to take more ownership of the process. That worked, Baldelli said, but it wasn’t “a sustainable plan for preparing for Major League Baseball games.”

“I don’t think it’s big news,” shortstop Carlos Correa said Friday. “I haven’t thought much of it.”

The Twins went into the break hitting .232 as a team with an MLB-high 916 strikeouts, on pace to break the major league record of 1,596 set by the Chicago Cubs in 2021. The Twins’ 380 runs ranked 24th among MLB’s 30 teams.

Many of the players the Twins expected to hit well, or at least above average, struggled through the first 91 games. That includes Correa, who hit .291 last season, second on the team to American League batting champion Luis Arraez (.316). But it’s a nearly lineup-wide issue.

Max Kepler entered the break hitting .207, Byron Buxton .208 and Michael A. Taylor .217. Joey Gallo, signed on a $13 million flier in December, hit 15 home runs but had 95 strikeouts and a .186 batting average.

“I’m not going to try and dissect why we’re not catching fire right now offensively,” Kepler said. “I’m just going to try personally to give it my all to help us kind of catch a wave and ride it as long as possible.”

It’s been particularly frustrating, for the team and its fans, because the pitching has been good — especially the starting rotation. Through last Sunday, Twins starters had combined to lead the majors in innings pitched (517) and strikeouts (561), and were third in earned-run average (3.68).

The team’s message the lineup as they returned from the break, Baldelli said, was about “doing our best to dominate every at-bat, every pitch, and bring the level of focus up to a better place — to where you get the one-through-nine action as opposed to scattered good at-bats.”

After hitting well against the Royals, against whom the Twins are 9-1, they were beaten by the Orioles at Target Field 3-1, 6-2 and 15-2.

“It was a tough loss, the last game of the (half),” Gallo said. “It’s always tough when you lose like that. (The break) came at a good time. Kind of reset. The reality is, we are human. It’s a grind and it’s tough to play every day. It’s good to get a little bit of a mental reset and a break and get away from the guys and everybody and get back to it, kind of refuel a little bit.”

“It has to come from within us, and it has to be an energy, more so than what we’re capable of doing,” Kepler said. “There has to be an energy, and everyone has to be committed to that energy and have each other’s backs.

“We’re capable of it all; I think maybe some energy was lacking as a group. But I’m not going to blame one specific thing. I wouldn’t say I’ll have it figured out until the end of the year, because we still have a lot of baseball left.”

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