The Minnesota Twins have the best record in the majors.
Does that surprise you?
They're 23-12, a nifty .657 winning percentage. They just ambushed the Toronto Blue Jays in a three-game series, winning by scores of 8-0, 3-0 and 9-1. In Wednesday's victory, Jorge Polanco had five hits, including a home run. That's two five-hit games this season for Polanco. The Twins bashed four home runs in total, including Eddie Rosario's 13th, the most in the American League. Kyle Gibson recorded a career-high 11 strikeouts. It's as if they're fielding an entire lineup of Harmon Killebrews, and lately they've been pitching like an entire staff of Johan Santanas or Frank Violas.
How surprising is all this? It's surprising, although not necessarily shocking. The Twins were in the playoffs two seasons ago. A lot of stuff went wrong in 2018. A lot of stuff is going right in 2019. Some things are surprising. They signed Martin Perez as an inexpensive free agent and he added a cutter, found a couple of extra mph on his fastball and looks great. The catchers are hitting out of this world. Polanco is hitting .344/.412/.649 and has been one of the best players in the league.
At the start of the season, FanGraphs projected the Twins to finish 85-77 and gave them an 11.1 percent chance of winning the AL Central. The Indians were projected to win 97 games and had an 88.6 percent chance of winning the division. Now the Twins are projected to win 93 games with a 53.5 percent chance of winning the division. We're not a quarter of the way into the season, but the hot start coupled with Cleveland's struggles and injuries have quickly reversed the pecking order in the AL Central.
Yes, the Twins cleaned up on Baltimore (6-0). But they've also gone 7-6 against the Astros, Yankees and Indians. They're good on defense (plus-13 defensive runs saved). The back end of the bullpen has been solid. Their next 17 games are against the Tigers, Angels, Mariners, Angels again and White Sox. They might stay hot.
Jose Ramirez walks it off for Cleveland: Meanwhile, this also happened in the AL Central:
Maybe this will get Ramirez going. It was his first career walk-off home run and only his third homer of the season, and moved his batting average over .200. He has been in a deep slump since mid-August of last season, but you don't go from third place in the MVP voting to chump overnight. Look for him to get on a roll.
HE JUST DID THAT. pic.twitter.com/76SdgmsNkE— Boston Red Sox (@RedSox) May 9, 2019
The Red Sox then won it in the 12th on Andrew Benintendi's home run. The game featured another fun highlight: Chris Sale threw an immaculate inning in the seventh -- nine pitches, nine strikes, three strikeouts. He also threw 5⅔ hitless innings and induced 16 swing-and-misses with his fastball (his most since joining the Red Sox). Remember that he had only two swing-and-misses in his first four starts combined. Yes, it was the Orioles, but Sale is finally looking more like himself.
He finished with 14 K's and the Red Sox finished with 22 -- and no walks. It's the fifth time a team has had at least 20 strikeouts and no walks:
4/29/86: Red Sox versus Mariners (Roger Clemens' 20-strikeout game)
9/18/96: Red Sox versus Tigers (Roger Clemens' other 20-strikeout game)
5/6/98: Cubs versus Astros (Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout game)
5/11/16: Nationals versus Tigers (Max Scherzer's 20-strikeout game)
The 22 strikeouts, however, is not a record for a 12-inning game. On June 6, 2017, the Dodgers beat the Brewers 2-1 and four Dodgers pitchers fanned 26 Milwaukee hitters (Clayton Kershaw had 14 in seven innings). Still, good job, Red Sox pitching. Not so good, Orioles hitting.
It's the first time the Cubs had back-to-back walk-off home runs since Orlando Merced and Mark Grace in 1998. Guess what? Here's the Grace home run:
Final thoughts: Joey Gallo continues to rake, hitting his 100th career home run and 12th of 2019:
Gallo's 443-foot blast helped the Rangers beat the Pirates 9-6 (rallying with seven runs in the final two innings) -- although that wasn't even the longest home run of the game, as Josh Bell swatted a 472-foot homer, tied for third longest this season (one of the longer ones was his own 474-foot shot). Via researcher Michael Bonzagni of ESPN Stats & Information, Bell is the 32nd player to hit a ball into the Allegheny River since PNC Park opened in 2001 -- but only the fourth to do it on the fly.
Heck, I guess we better show this one:
Anyway, back to Gallo. He's hitting .274/.426/.679 and showing real strides to becoming more than just a .200 hitter who hits 40 home runs. Maybe he can be a .274 hitter who hits 50 home runs. He's still striking out (on pace for 214 whiffs) and his swing-and-miss rate is the same as last season. The big improvement, however: swinging less and thus swinging at more strikes.
2018: 48.6% swing rate, 29.3% chase rate
2019: 39.0% swing rate, 18.4% chase rate
Swing at strikes and better results will happen!
We leave you with this Joey Gallo fun fact:
Before Joey Gallo, the fewest career singles at time of 100th career HR was 172— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) May 8, 2019
Joey Gallo has 93!
Fewest career 1B at time of 100th HR:
1) Joey Gallo: 93
2) Russell Branyan: 172
3) Ken Phelps: 174
4) Ryan Howard: 176
5) Chris Carter: 179
6) Dave Kingman: 180