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Top of the Order: The Twins Are Surging

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Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to Top of the Order, where every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I’ll be starting your baseball day with some news, notes, and thoughts about the game we love.

It would be an overreaction to declare a good-on-paper team dead in the water after 20 games, but the Twins certainly weren’t doing themselves any favors with their 7-13 start. A few games before that, I wrote about their anemic offense, which at that point was third worst in the league overall, and second worst against right-handed pitching. But, as the Twins seemingly have figured out, the best way to recover is to simply not lose again.

Since their 6-1 loss to the Tigers on April 21, Minnesota has won all 10 of its games. That lineup that was so bad? Well, with the help of some summer sausage, the Twins have beefed up their offense, which leads the majors with a 167 wRC+ since the streak began.

Nearly every position player on their roster has contributed during the 10-game span, with five hitters posting a wRC+ above 200 since the losing stopped: Trevor Larnach (241), Ryan Jeffers (233), Willi Castro (229), Edouard Julien (218), and Jose Miranda (210). Meanwhile, after a dreadful start to his Twins tenure, veteran first baseman Carlos Santana has caught fire, too, blasting all four of his home runs this season during the winning streak.

Twins pitchers have been closer to good than great over these 10 games, with a 3.40 ERA and 3.56 FIP. They’ve kept opposing lineups in check despite some uncharacteristic struggles from ace Pablo López, who’s allowed seven runs combined over a total of nine innings in his last two starts. Flamethrowing closer Jhoan Duran, who returned from the IL with a scoreless inning on Tuesday in his first appearance of the season, should fortify the bullpen, and setup man Justin Topa is expected to be back soon.

But even the best of times can’t come without some heartbreak. Byron Buxton left Minnesota’s most recent win with soreness in his right knee, the same one he had two surgeries on last year. After entering camp healthy enough to play center field for the first time since 2022, he has appeared in all but two of the 30 Twins games so far this season, and was beginning to heat up at the plate following a slow start. They sent him for an MRI but have not yet announced the results. Buxton’s injury history is not encouraging, and depending on the MRI, he could join another often-hurt slugger, Royce Lewis, on the IL.

Things will get tougher for the Twins beginning Friday. Their winning streak has included a three-game sweep of the Angels sandwiched between two sweeps of the White Sox for the other seven wins — hardly stiff competition. Minnesota faces the Red Sox, Mariners, and Blue Jays for three games each before its next off day, and potentially having to continue the streak without Buxton could require even more creativity from manager Rocco Baldelli, who’s already using platoons at both corner outfield spots, second base, and DH. The hot-hitting Castro could see more time in the outfield if Buxton is out, and rookie Austin Martin, who was optioned when shortstop Carlos Correa returned from injury earlier this week, could come back up to carry some of the load.

Jacob Young and the Nationals’ Outfield Puzzle

When I played baseball, all I was good at doing was beating out infield grounders and bunting my way on so I could steal two bases and score on a hit. (I think I hit one ball in the air to the outfield in my whole playing “career”). North Chicago suburbs don’t exactly have a lot of catching depth in the youth ranks, nor could many infielders make a good enough throw to first to get me out, so I was a good player as long as I could actually make contact with pitches (which lasted until I was about 13). All of that to say: I love one-tool speedsters who don’t do much else on offense. I loved Tony Campana as a kid, was a Billy Hamilton believer for far too long, and now I’m hanging my hat on Nationals outfielder Jacob Young.

Young is 24 years old but comes with little pedigree; we’ve never ranked him as a top prospect within the Nationals organization since they drafted him in 2021 out of the University of Florida. He’s never been explosive with the bat: At Florida, he hit just eight home runs across 571 plate appearances with a metal bat. He had the same number of round-trippers in more than twice as many minor league plate appearances in the minors, and he’s still looking for his first major league dinger. But goodness, he can run.

Young was caught stealing for the first time in the majors on Wednesday, ending a 25-for-25 run to start his career. Those 25 steals came in just 54 games: a 75-steal pace over 162. His 98th-percentile sprint speed has buoyed his production, with a .306 average backed up by an xBA of .288. He doesn’t take walks, but he rarely strikes out, giving him enough of a floor perhaps to be a solid fourth outfielder.

When Victor Robles, Stone Garrett, Joey Gallo, and Lane Thomas return from injury (the first two are on rehab assignments), the Nationals will have some personnel decisions to make, but Young should stay for as long as he’s producing. Eddie Rosario has been absolutely awful (-19 wRC+); meanwhile, Alex Call has been great in limited time, but considering he was called up after Young, Call is probably behind Young on the depth chart. The rest of the puzzle may be harder to figure out without another injury, but it might be time for the feel-good Joey Meneses story to end when Gallo returns, and Gallo himself may have to perform better to keep his spot. All of that maneuvering could set up an outfield with Young, Robles, and Thomas, with Jesse Winker at DH and Gallo or Meneses playing first.

The Orioles Strike First

A four-game series this early in the season doesn’t tell us a whole lot about how a division race will turn out come October. So let’s not make any sweeping declarations about who will win the AL East just because the Orioles took three of their four games at home this week against the Yankees to move into first place. That said, the O’s looked like more complete team, though certainly the margin is tight.

Except for Thursday’s game, which Baltimore won 7-2, the pitching was excellent for both teams in this series. Interestingly enough, the only Orioles pitcher the Yankees beat was Corbin Burnes, who went six innings on Wednesday and whose only blemish was the two-run home run he allowed to Oswaldo Cabrera with two outs in the fifth. Those were the only runs scored in that game, as Luis Gil and the New York bullpen shut out the Baltimore bats. The score was flipped two nights earlier in the series opener, with the O’s shutting out the Yankees. In the second game of the series, Dean Kremer went seven innings and allowed two runs, both on solo home runs, in a 4-2 Baltimore win.

The biggest difference right now seems to be on offense, specifically that the Orioles have the more dynamic lineup. The two teams have produced about the same at the plate this season, based on wRC+, but the Yankees — as they’ve been for years — are more reliant on the home run. Five of New York’s six runs in the series came on homers, with only one dinger — the one Cabrera hit — coming with someone on base. Conversely, the O’s are better equipped to string hits together to score without the long ball.

Anthony Volpe represents the only real base-stealing threat on the Yankees — though after swiping two bags Wednesday, Juan Soto has four steals already this season — and overall, they’re the second worse base-running team in the majors by BsR, with only three players (Volpe, Cabrera, and Gleyber Torres) grading out as above average. Meanwhile, the Orioles rank fourth in BsR, and Gunnar Henderson alone has been worth 2.4 runs on the bases. Relatedly, the Yankees have hit into more than four times as many as double plays as the Orioles have this year, killing potential rallies before they really have a chance to get started.

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