On Saturday, the Oakland A’s had eight hits and 10 walks and scored just three runs. Their opponent, the New York Yankees, had six hits and one walk but scored the four runs necessary to win. Why? The A’s hit one only one home run. The Yankees hit four, all solo shots, including the walk-off shot to start and end the bottom of the 11th inning. That’s some 2019 baseball right there.
This has nothing to do with our thought of the day, but obviously I had to mention it.
The Minnesota Twins hit six home runs on Saturday … and lost. That’s also some 2019 baseball. We’ve been over this theme before but there have only been 28 times in baseball history that a team has hit six home runs in a game and lost. Three of them have been in the last two weeks.
The big news is that the Twins broke the Yankees one-year — well, actually 11 month — record for most home runs hit by a team in a season. It was fitting that Mitch Garver hit the homer that broke the record; if anyone represents this Looney Tunes season, it is Mitch Garver. He’s a 28-year-old backup catcher who went undrafted as a college junior and slugged .428 in the minor leagues.
But he’s also smart, hard-working and enterprising guy. He knows what he has to do to make it in today’s game. And, he’s doing it.
“We want to hit the ball hard, in the air,” he told Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “That’s where baseball is at these days. Defenders are so good, guys are so fast, you want to hit it over their heads or in the gaps.”
That is, indeed, where baseball is, and Garver has 26 home runs in 76 games.
Garver is one of EIGHT Minnesota Twins with 20-plus homers this year. That’s a record.
Five of their players either have 30 homers (Nelson Cruz and Max Kepler) or are within four of the mark (Garver, Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sano). If all five get to 30 (and C.J. Cron is not out of the picture with 24), yes, that also would also be a record.
The Twins are on pace to hit 322 homers. That’s ALMOST double what they hit last year, when they managed 166. It would be more home runs than they hit in 2014 and 2015 COMBINED.
And so on.
One of the many nutty things about this Twins homer barrage is that, you might remember, Target Field is supposed to be where home runs come to die. Target Field was opened in 2010, one year after Joe Mauer had his spectacular .365/.444/.587 MVP season. Mauer hit 28 homer in 2009, and it seemed like he he had added home run juice to his already remarkable game.
In 2010, Mauer hit only nine home runs … and just one of them in Target Field. The team as a whole hit only 52 home runs at home all year (to go with 90 on the road) and Target Field was by far the toughest ballpark in baseball to hit home runs.
In 2011, the Twins hit even fewer homers at home, 46 to be exact, and Mauer — who was hurt for much of the season, hit zero homers in 176 plate appearances.
It’s not quite as extreme a ballpark now, but it’s still a tough place to hit a homer. It wasn’t until 2017 that the Twins managed to hit 100 home runs at home.
So how do you break the home run record with THAT as your home ballpark? Understand that last year, when the Yankees broke the team home run record, they hit 144 of them home. When the 2005 Texas Rangers hit 260 homers, they hit 153 of them at home. Most of the great home run hitting teams, as logic insists, have played in good home run ballparks. And almost none of them — other than some of those power-hitting Oakland A’s teams — played in what you might call a bad home run ballpark.
So how are the Twins doing this? Well, For one thing, they ARE mashing their way through the limitations of Target Field — they have 120 home runs at home already.
But more than that, they have hit an almost unbelievable 148 home runs on the road this year. That is ALREADY ten more than any team in baseball history; the old record was held by the 2001 San Francisco Giants who had a guy you might have heard of. The Twins still have 14 road games to play — they could end up with 175 road home runs which, well, the thesaurus page with “unprecedented” is already worn out.
The Twins, you should know, are one of four teams that will probably break the old Yankees team home run record. This year’s Yankees will blow by it in the next week; the Dodgers and Astros* will probably get there by the end of September.
*Oh, speaking of the Astros — they scored 200 runs in a month, the first time that has happened in more than a decade.
Yes, this Twins team is really something. You can’t say this season is a complete shocker because scouts have been saying for years that Miguel Sano. Max Kepler, Byron Buxton (who, sadly, has been hurt for so much of this), Jorge Polanco and Eddie Rosario had chances to be big-time hitters. Then the teams added sluggers like Nelson Cruz, C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop. And a nice surprise like Mitch Garver emerged. So, what the Twins are doing now is not exactly illogical.
But it is unprecedented (that word again).
I will say, these Twins remind me quite a lot of the 1982 Harvey’s Wallbangers Brewers … remember them? Those Brewers had been kicking at the door for years with their young sluggers and they they got off to a lousy start in 1982. Buck Rodgers started as the team’s manager, went 23-24 and got canned. He was replaced by Harvey Kuenn.*
*Every time I see that name, I think of a voice saying “Two and two to Harvey Kuenn.”
In Kuenn’s third game as manager, the Brewers smashed five home runs in an 11-3 walloping of Oakland. And so the legend began. Two days later, the team began calling itself “Harvey’s Wallbangers.”
For the rest of the season the Brewers clobbered homer after homer and averaged almost six runs per game. On the last day of the season, the Brewers hit four home runs — three of them off Hall of Famer Jim Palmer — to beat the Orioles 10-2 to take the American League East title.
It was an incredible year all the way around. So many hitters. Robin Yount had his MVP season. Gorman Thomas led the league in homers. Cecil Cooper — what an underrated force — and Ben Oglivie and Ted Simmons and Paul Molitor and even bench-player Don Money all hit and with power. They hit many more home runs than any team in baseball and slugged their way to the World Series.
That Brewers team had — no joke — THREE TIMES the number of home runs as their World Series opponent, the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Brewers lost that World Series in seven games, managing just one homer in the decisive final two games. Still, they last in the memory.
This year’s Twins will hit 100 more home runs than Harvey’s Wallbangers, by the way.