The 2021 season was a disappointment for the Minnesota Twins. The two-time defending American League Central champs clinched last place in the division with an 11-6 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Friday night.
But as the Twins (71-89) and Royals (74-86) prepare for the penultimate game of the season Saturday night in Kansas City, Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli is plenty excited about how one center fielder Byron Buxton is closing the season.
The Twins will give the Saturday start to Griffin Jax (3-5, 6.78 ERA) while the Royals will counter with Kris Bubic (6-6, 4.52 ERA).
With nothing left to play for this season, Baldelli can look for bright spots from individual players. None shines brighter for Minnesota at the moment than Buxton. The oft-injured 27-year-old is on a hot streak.
In his past 10 games, Buxton is hitting .429 (15-for-35) with five doubles and four homers. He had three hits, including two doubles, in Minnesota’s Friday defeat, his second consecutive three-hit game. He hit two homers Thursday in the Twins’ 10-7 loss to the Detroit Tigers.
“It’s a treat to watch,” Baldelli said of Buxton. “It’s one thing to hit the ball hard. There’s a lot of guys in this league who have some snap in their bat and can really drive the ball and hit the ball hard. It’s another thing to go out there against major league pitching and be on the fastball, be on the breaking balls. Today, even on the changeups.”
Whether Buxton can remain healthy is the biggest challenge. He has only played in 59 games this year. He has played in more than 100 games only once in his seven-year career, though his 39 games out of the 60 games played in 2020 would translate to 105.
“(Opposing teams) are starting to pitch him in some ways you don’t necessarily see with a lot of guys,” Baldelli said. “Only the most dangerous hitters see some of these different sequences. You see a lot of guys get attacked with fastballs and breaking balls. Once a guy shows he can handle those things, pitchers adjust. Bux is getting pitched like that, and he has an answer for that. It’s very impressive.”
Jax hasn’t been impressive lately, losing his past four decisions. Over his past seven starts, he is 0-4 with a 9.00 ERA. In his latest outing, Jax allowed four earned runs on six hits, including two home runs, in five innings during a Sunday loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.
“These are major league hitters, and they’re up here for a reason,” Jax said after that start. “Down in the minors, some of the pitches that I could be making, they’d be outs or they’d be missing it. But up here, they don’t.”
Jax has really struggled against the Royals, going 0-1 with an 8.18 ERA in two career starts.
Bubic is 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA in four appearances (three starts) against the Twins this year. For his career, he is 1-2 with a 5.18 ERA in six games (five starts) against Minnesota.
He won each of his past two starts overall. In his most recent outing — maybe the best of his short career — he allowed no runs on two hits in seven innings during a win over the Tigers on Sunday. He walked one and struck out six.
“I was in a good rhythm with (catcher Cam Gallagher) all day,” Bubic said after the game. “I think making pitches and getting ahead in the count was huge today, because at the end of the day, the game’s designed for the pitchers to win.
“You get in good counts, you stay ahead in the count, you execute your pitches, more often than not, you’ll get the job done.”
–Field Level Media