A lot went wrong for the Twins during a 13-0 loss at Chicago on Sept. 3. Most notably, the team didn’t manage a hit off White Sox starter Dylan Cease until Luis Arraez poked a single to center with two out in the ninth inning.
Buried deeper in the box score was the fact that Chicago second baseman Romy Gonzalez went 3 for 4 with three RBIs and his first major-league home run from the No. 9 spot. That last spot in the batting order has been something of an issue for Twins pitchers this season.
“We look at each individual hitter, whether they’re in the 4 hole or the 9 hole,” Twins pitching coach Pete Maki said. “I don’t think there’s anything to write home about.”
Through Friday’s games, No. 9 hitters were batting .256 with 44 walks in 504 plate appearances against the Twins this season.
That .256 batting average against the No. 9 hitter is 30 points higher than the league average, and better than only last-place Kansas City (.274) and Washington (.270). Those batters’ .326 on-base percentage against Minnesota is fourth-worst in baseball.
“We’re trying to attack every (hitter),” Maki said. “I think the sample’s probably not large enough; you’d have to ask a stats person or someone with a math degree when that sample is big enough that it’s an actual signal and not just noise.”
Because of the spot in the order, No. 9 hitters have fewest plate appearances against Twins pitchers this season, but they have walked more times (44) than the fifth (41), sixth (38) and seventh (39) hitters who have an average of 38.3 more plate appearances.
The batting average, Maki said, would be less of a concern than walks. Free passes to the No. 9 hitter, he added, “is maybe the thing that will (give) any pitching coach in the country the most gray hairs.”
The way Twins pitchers have handled No. 9 hitters probably isn’t a tipping point for a team that has hit .246 with runners in scoring position (20th in baseball) or has a starting rotation that has thrown fewer combined innings (660⅓) than all but two teams. But it’s worth noting that the Cleveland Guardians, who started Saturday with a 1½-game lead on second-place Chicago in the AL Central, had walked 19 total batters in the 9 hole this season — best in baseball.
Manager Rocco Baldelli said Saturday he has caught up with Byron Buxton, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a hip strain and didn’t go on the Twins’ last road trip to Chicago and New York.
But they didn’t get into a deep discussion about when the center fielder might be back in the lineup. He hasn’t played since leaving a 2-1 loss to Texas early on Aug. 22.
“I’d say he’s still some time away from ramping up his baseball work on the field,” Baldelli said. “We still anticipate him coming back and playing for us, though. But it’s not this weekend and it’s probably not early next week.”
After Saturday, the Twins have 24 regular-season games remaining. Buxton still leads the team in homers with 28 in 92 games and is fourth with 51 RBIs.
Infielder Jorge Polanco, second in team RBIs with 56, missed his 13th consecutive game on Saturday, the first day he was eligible to come off the injury list. He was placed there retroactive to Aug. 31 with left patella tendinitis. “I do think early to mid-next week is probably a realistic timeline for him right now,” Baldelli said. … Right-hander Josh Winder was pulled from his Saturday start for Class AAA St. Paul, a good indication he will be recalled on Sunday to start the series finale.