Winless Twins have been striking out at a historic rate
The metaphor for the start of this season for the Minnesota Twins is obvious: one big swing and a miss.
The Twins have lost all seven of the games they've played, and the leading culprit is their performance at the plate. They're last in the majors with 13 runs, a serious problem rooted in an alarming lack of contact. Their 79 strikeouts are more than their combination of hits (51) and walks (21).
"We've got to continue to work on that, because it's been glaring so far," manager Paul Molitor said after the Twins lost their fifth straight home opener, a 4-1 defeat to the Chicago White Sox on Monday.
They reduced their rate a bit by striking out seven times in that game, still too many on an afternoon when they managed only one extra-base hit.
"Guys are struggling," Molitor said, "and I'm sure there's some pressing going on."
The 2013 Houston Astros, who finished 51-111, have the major league record with 1,535 strikeouts. That's an average of 9.5 per game. The sample size for the 2016 Twins is unfairly and almost ridiculously small, but for the sake of comparison they're on pace to crush the record and whiff a whopping 1,828 times.
The recent influx of young hard-throwing pitchers into the game has helped make the strikeout more prevalent than ever. Nine of the 10 highest team totals of all time have come since 2010 and all of them have been recorded since 2001, according to STATS research. The 2013 Twins struck out 1,430 times, the sixth-most in major league history. Five position players remain from that team: Oswaldo Arcia, Brian Dozier, Eduardo Escobar, Joe Mauer and Trevor Plouffe.
Dozier set the season club record with 148 strikeouts last year. Plouffe has never been a contact hitter. South Korean rookie Byung Ho Park's power stroke is adjusting to major league pitching, as is 22-year-old center fielder Byron Buxton and his highly touted bat. Slugger Miguel Sano is young, too, as is another swing-first regular in Eddie Rosario.
"We're not an organization that just accepts strikeouts," general manager Terry Ryan said.
With only four home runs in seven games, the Twins haven't exactly been reaping the benefits of an aggressive hitting approach.
"If you look at our lineup, it's not like we're going to be some Punch-and-Judies that spray the ball all over the place," Dozier said. "But there are times when you can cut down on strikeouts, and we have been striking out too much. I'm not going to say we're going to go up there and keep trying not to strike out. That's not how you play the game, and anybody that does is delusional."
There's no easy solution.
"You can work on your mechanics and trying to hit the ball to the opposite field and choking up and all of those different things, but when you get out there and the game gets sped up, it's a combination of different things for different people," Molitor said.
The Twins, who had a much-needed break in the schedule on Tuesday before resuming their series with the White Sox on Wednesday night, are the only American League team yet to win. No club has started 0-7 and qualified for the postseason in MLB history.
"There's a lot of disappointment and I think people are frustrated," said Molitor, whose team started 1-6 in 2015 before a 29-13 stretch that took them through the end of May. "But I don't think they're overly downtrodden and conceding anything at this point."